May 10, 2014

Beautiful People

One of the reasons the incredible blessings outweigh the excruciating challenges in this journey is because of the beautiful people that have come into my life that I would have never met if I weren't on this "alternative path".

My journey is full of beautiful people - people who have special needs, people who parent them, people who are married to them, people who care for them, people who teach them, people who love them.  My list of beautiful people has grown by 14 this past week of Team Training with Bridger to receive his service dog.

It is starting to feel a bit like college here.  All of the Training Teams live in dorm rooms connected by the same hall.  We all eat in the same kitchen.  We go to class together. We do our laundry together -- making sure (just like in college) that you don't leave your clothes lingering for too long after the completed drying cycle.  We all hang out after the day is done and chat.  You learn a lot about people after even just a week of such close quarters, and, what I have seen, heard and learned is beautiful.

There is an older couple in which the husband had a spinal cord injury a few years ago and has limited use of his arms and legs.  I am sure that a wheelchair and canes were not anticipated parts of their vision of the empty nest stage of life, but the husband is as jolly and friendly as any man I have ever met and his wife is just the same.  They are beautiful people.

There is another older couple, they are quiet and reserved.  They are here receiving their second service dog to help the husband, who is in a wheelchair, since the first dog has retired after many years of service.  Despite being quiet and reserved, they wanted to do a Mother's Day barbecue to honor the moms here this week and brought up several large racks of ribs, purchased a grill which he assembled last night bolt by bolt, and is busy stirring up his own special recipe barbecue sauce in the kitchen as I am typing at nearly 10:00 at night.  So incredibly thoughtful and generous.  They are beautiful people.

There is also a younger couple here.  The wife had a traumatic stroke two years ago and has left her severely disabled.  I can only imagine the dreams that young couple had for life that are forever dismissed, replaced by the husband lovingly caring for his brave wife and she pushes forward to take on challenge after challenge.  She is one of the most courageous and tough people I have met.  She knows what "normal" felt like, and now is holding her head up high as she faces her "new normal". Her husband is the most tender soul that sits in the shadows. He speaks quiet encouragement to her, supporting her from behind as she walks slowly down the hall as she practices using her walker to keep circulation and movement in her one functioning leg.  The quiet love he oozes combined with her bravery is beautiful.

There are two dads here with their sons that have special needs.  I'm sure their other friends are spending the week on the baseball and soccer fields with their sons, coaching their boys and bonding during games, practices and teamwork drills.  But not these two dads. These dads are taking notes during dog lectures and tenderly coaching their sons during practice attempts as they show a father and son bond and teamwork of a whole different kind.  If you want your heart to melt in a matter of minutes, just watch a dad interact with his son with special needs.  I have yet to witness more tenderness emitted from a man than in scenes such as those.  They are beautiful people.

Then there is the most lovely young woman that exudes such radiance that when she leaves the room you still feel the light she left behind.  She suffered a spinal cord injury a decade ago when she was in her early 20's.  She doesn't have function in her legs and limited function in her arms.  She is the most positive, energetic and fun loving person.  She keeps an entire class smile during the long rainy days. Even her new service dog has caught on to her radiant energy and reflects that too.  She is a beautiful person.

Her mom is here helping her.  She was the first person that caught my eye and caused my eyes to brim with tears from my observations of her - because she is the mom.  She is the stoic caregiver that I look at and see what I will be in 20 years.  I see that her face is filled with smile lines, because her refined perspective sees that there is so much to smile about in life. I see that her hair has plenty of gray, because she has had more worry in the past 10 years than 20 people combined and has done a few billion insurance submissions and appeals to get the care her daughter needed. She is always looking to help those around her, including me, because that is just who she is.  She is positive, energetic and chipper - just like her daughter.  She is a beautiful person.

What a lucky girl I am, in this little spot on the map in NY at the training campus for service dogs, to be surrounded by such beautiful people.