At 25 years old, I’m not exactly in the position I envisioned for myself back when I was a narrowly focused 21-year-old ready to take the world by storm. Let’s just say life got in the way. Very quickly. A life-changing car accident that resulted in paralysis below the shoulders stopped my story as I knew it. On a dime. In the four years since, I’ve been on a journey hard to put into words. Incredible. Eye-opening. Frustrating. Rewarding. Humbling. Empowering. It would be tough to put my finger on it at any given moment, so I never really have, aside from documenting the journey in the solitude of my computer through my voice software. Sure, I’ve gotten to share my story over the past few years: speaking to groups, schools, and churches on numerous occasions; but it became fairly easy to hide what was really going on beneath the surface, behind a dramatic replay of a graphic car accident and a few Bible verses to make the crowd feel good.
I keep tabs on the blogs of a few close friends. One focuses on social justice, one on life in seminary, one on great beer, and another on sports. Each are interesting in their own way, but the other day I came across a blog that really got to me from another guy who also has a spinal cord injury. I could not believe his vulnerability. As I sifted through his writing, I could not help but wonder, “Did he really just put that out in cyberspace?” I knew exactly how he felt and what he was thinking, but in my innermost being I felt it most socially acceptable in the name of “masculinity” to hide behind the facade that I was never fazed by my current physical condition.
About 10 years ago, Craig Gross came to my high school to talk about “the number one Christian porn site on the Internet” (yes it is suitable to open at work). There was something that really drew me to the guy. The dude was as transparent as I’ve ever seen someone. He describes this critical attribute of vulnerability in his new book “Open“. Throughout the book Gross stresses how necessary it is for each of us as human beings to be open with others in community. (Sounds like I read the book right? I didn’t. It just said something of that nature on the back cover. Somewhere my high school English teacher Ms. Barron is cringing.)
As my dad churned out devotional-worthy CaringBridge updates throughout my four-month stay in the hospital, my skin crawled as my motionless body laid still in the hospital bed. Even if it was simply generic content shared with family and friends, I would be wary of the idea of my day-to-day happenings being broadcast to the cyberspace world. On numerous occasions, both before and after the accident, friends have called me out for being a “closed book”. Staying mysterious about what’s going on in my head, and life for that matter, had become my M.O. However, over time, something just wasn’t sitting right. I guess I was missing out on a key element of human interaction described by CS Lewis:
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, then you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your own selfishness. But in that casket safe, dark, motionless and airless, it will change. It won’t be broken; but it will become unbreakable, impenetrable and irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
Jefferson Bethke has quickly become a favorite spoken word artist of mine. His raw “Why I Hate Religion but Love Jesus” YouTube video is what gained him notoriety with 25 million + views. However it was his recent video, “What Does It Mean to be Truly Human?” that sped along my thinking that being brutally honest with those around me actually isn’t that bad of an idea.
Jefferson says, “To be truly human is to be truly known, and someone who hides can’t be known.” It looks like I’ve been hiding. I guess it’s my turn. Time to open up. So here it goes…
What initially began on November 20, 2009 as what I believed would be a brief pit stop from the life I was accustomed to, transformed into a journey in which my world was turned upside down forever. I think it’s about time to let others in on my journey of being Flat on My Back.