I often wonder about the hidden meaning of the good things and bad things that happen to us. This morning I received some personal bad news. I have been diagnosed with an early stage of melanoma. (I was a wicked sun worshipper as a teenager.) The good news is that it probably is not life threatening and can be surgically removed. But it makes me contemplate our fragility and how we learn to adjust along many difficult paths.
Jay Ruckelshaus’ story helped me sort through my own unexpected news. As an Indianapolis high school student, he was given a scholarship to one of the best universities in the nation, only to find his dreams dashed after graduation. Here is an exceptionally bright young man who had a freak diving accident, and felt vanquished. But he worked through his physical and emotional pain, after spending an entire year in rehabilitation at the remarkable Shepherd Center in Atlanta. There he learned how to navigate life anew. It was a huge step for him to learn how to live as a quadriplegia in a world that is designed for able bodied people.
During Jay’s “gap year,” there was an outpouring of love from his community, family and Duke University. Going to Duke became Jay’s “mantra.” Imagining life at Duke kept him motivated to learn how to live differently. Once at Duke, he drove the steep campus paths in his power chair, and developed different living arrangements. He figured out new methods of note and test taking. It wasn’t what he had planned in high school, but he transformed himself to meet the challenges. Not only is Jay a rising sophomore, but he spent a part of the summer studying at the University of Oxford, with its bumpy paths and narrow gothic hallways.
As the parent of a college student with a disability, I have travelled down some dark days before and find great strength in our different journey with our son. It is through the difficult times that I gain a sense of serenity. My doctor is very confident that she is catching the cancer at a very early stage. But I know that many aspects of my life will forever change. Although these transformations will put me on an unexpected track, I will not only be okay, but maybe even better than ever.