Compassion in Action
By: Krista Rausin
I never imagined that my beautiful blonde curly haired daughter with her vibrant personality and smile that could melt my heart would one day be confined to a wheelchair. and I met on September 16, 1993. I gazed wondrously into her bright blue eyes staring at me with such intensity as if she was asking was I the one chosen to guide her in this life. Could she sense my fear as I held her tiny hand?
Thanksgiving day in Mexico
We jet skied on the clear aqua Gulf, drank margaritas at a poolside bar and swayed to sounds of Reggae wafting through the air. Eric joined in on a game of beach volleyball, something he hadn't done since our carefree days of dating in sunny California. That evening I traded in my suit for a sexy new sun dress and we went dancing in the moonlight. This was not a traditional Thanksgiving, but it certainly was relaxing. We returned to our hotel after midnight and exhausted I fell into a deep sleep. At three am. I woke to a loud ringing next to my ear. Drowsily, I picked up the phone and heard strange voices on the other end. My first thought was that it was Eric's buddies from work still out dancing, calling us as a prank. I almost hung up. Then a female spoke, "Is this Krista Rausin?" My insides began to stir. "Yes" "Wait, hold on!" …..
Moments of uneasiness were broken by a voice I clearly recognized, my father. "Krista there's been an accident. We need you to come home. Kai's okay, your mom is in the hospital…we are worried about Arielle." I was numb, my mind flashed back to that September 16th afternoon and those eyes, my baby girl, was she being taken from me? It's not real. This couldn't be happening. I was dreaming. The pause was broken. "Arielle has a bruise on her spinal cord and she's unable to move her legs." Oh I thought, a bruise, it's just a bruise, she's okay. "We're coming home." I hung up the phone and tried to think clearly. My husband was in hysterics. Our world was upside down. There were no planes out of Mexico for four hours. We were trapped, and our daughter was in intensive care.
There I was just as ten years earlier sitting in a hospital room, Arielle gazing at me searching for security, while I secretly hoped from within that someone would come along and hand me the magic manual with a special chapter on how to parent a paralyzed child. "Everything's going to be okay" was all I could muster.
What lessons did I need to teach Arielle? Before the accident she was extremely bright, caring, could play the piano and violin and loved being around people. Lucky for us, after the accident, all of this was unchanged. She still had all of these qualities, but faced with the obstacle of paralysis she chose an attitude of success and was becoming very independent. I realized my lessons were the same. I taught my children compassion for others and to believe that they could reach any goal they set for themselves. I needed to continue with these lessons now more than ever for Arielle. She needed to know that the wheelchair was not going to stop her from reaching her dreams. So, seeing those pictures of our happy family in the mountains inspired me to schedule more family vacations regardless of the wheelchair. Our traveling adventure began and oh what adventures we had!
We quickly found out that most of the world is oblivious to the hardships that face people in wheelchairs. Countless people park in front of ramps to sidewalks, use designated handicap bathrooms, park in handicap spaces because they are going to just run into the store for a minute, clutter the aisles of stores, and allow their only elevator to go unrepaired indefinitely. This is particularly true of city subways. Or the one we find most hysterical is the admission of "Yes, we are handicapped accessible, there are just three stairs leading to the elevator." We could let this stop us from traveling or we could face it with a smile and a chuckle and figure out a way around each obstacle. We chose the latter.
Our family traveled to New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, Burlington, Detroit, and Canada over the course of the next three years. What we found was that even though people often behaved in ways that presented obstacles for those with disabilities, they really did it out of pure innocent ignorance. For in our most desperate times of need it was always a kind stranger that helped us to freedom. One memory that sticks out clearly in my mind was a trip to Philadelphia with Arielle. We were staying in a hospital for her annual check-up and decided to venture into the city for the afternoon. It was just the two of us.
We took the subway and made it to downtown Philly. We spent hours exploring and then found our way back to the subway entrance. The elevator that we had used earlier that day was broken. We searched and searched for another way down. A security guard with arms that resembled logs noticed our confused faces. He helped me carry Arielle and the wheelchair down several flights of stairs. I offered to pay him for his help but he politely refused. I soon found that it didn't matter which city we were in, everywhere we went there was someone willing to lend a helping hand.
More helping hands
Who was this kindhearted person? Did he know how truly grateful we were for his help? We never had a chance to ask his name. We had to make our way back up the muddy slope before the concert ended in order to catch the last train to our hotel. We left him standing in the rain with a "Merci!" and four bright smiles. How we made it back up the impossible slope and what we did when we discovered there was no train back to our hotel in Lausanne … well, that's a whole other story!
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