​Celebrating the Moment

Posted by Tim Gilmer in Life After Paralysis on July 19, 2022 # Lifestyle

spinal cord I’m running out of ways to celebrate the anniversary of the plane crash that crushed my spinal cord and paralyzed me eons ago. This month (July) will be year 57. Usually, I find some unique flying toy that is cheap and con a friend or family member into a competition — longest flight, highest flight, most pathetic flight, most dramatic crash. Lately, I’ve settled on paper airplanes since I seem to be running out of money. No one told me that would be a problem at 77.

So, most likely, it will be paper airplanes again. In the last several years, my oldest grandson has joined me in the tradition. He is game for any kind of competition, as long as he wins. He’s 13 now and becoming a serious paper airplane expert. Last year he won every single competition, four out of four. It was humiliating. I play-sulked for a day or two just to make him feel superior. That’s a granddad’s job.

I find it interesting that I’m not the only one who chooses to celebrate the anniversary date of their paralysis. The opposite — mourning — may seem fitting for a while, but it doesn’t take long to tire of that routine. For some time, because my friend, the pilot, died on that day, I always drank a toast to him or remembered him in some way, but that may have had to do with my feeling survivor’s guilt for years after the crash. Finally, I let him go, but I still think of him often. He will remain forever young and hopeful that way, at least in my mind.

The older I get, the younger I feel. Let me explain. I think it’s related to what my friend, Albert Einstein, once said: “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.” I’m not saying that I feel more youthful in terms of energy or strength or ambition. It has to do with time. The more time passes, the less time remains in the future, as if we are on some kind of time treadmill that has a fixed number of years on the spool. That makes me seek ways to appreciate the moment — now — like I used to do without trying when I was a kid. How easy it was to get lost in the moment back then.

I think that has something to do with why I try to do something, anything, to celebrate the day I might have died. It’s a way of recognizing that I got a second chance. Each time a new anniversary day rolls around, I try to treat it as yet another second chance, an opportunity to renew hope and optimism, which can be hard to come by when your body starts to feel rundown and your hearing and memory get spotty and … don’t get me started.

That attitude — feeling grateful for another new beginning — is so important to our mental health, whether we’re disabled or not. The trick, I’m convinced, is to find the new beginnings as they are happening before our eyes, not as a realization of some plan or goal that you set. When you plan or create a goal, you might never get there, because there is not here.

As I write this, I am definitely here, sitting on my deck, looking at the blue sky and fluffy clouds. A beautiful swallowtail butterfly just fluttered by in the yard and disappeared. Have you ever noticed how a butterfly in flight looks like it might not have a clue of where it’s going? It seems to impulsively change flight directions and body angles, and sometimes circles back to where it began. If you are like me, you appreciate the beauty, grace and form of butterflies. You marvel at how a butterfly lays an egg, a caterpillar hatches from it, then becomes a cocoon, and months later, a beautiful butterfly emerges and flies away, completing the life cycle. Did you ever notice that a silhouette of a butterfly has the same exact shape as a cross-section of a spinal cord’s grey matter?

OK, I’ve changed my mind. I’ve decided what to do on my anniversary date, and it won’t involve flying paper airplanes at all. The main reason is that my grandson won’t be here on that day, so I may be alone, as I am now. And there is nothing better to do when you are alone on a beautiful day than relax and enjoy the moment. A hummingbird just buzzed me. I hear distant birds chirping, the breeze rustling the leaves on a 100-year-old cottonwood tree, an airplane droning in the distance.

What the heck, I’ve decided to celebrate my anniversary right now, a few days early, at this very moment. I think I just might be in heaven. Celebrating the Moment.

Tim Gilmer graduated from UCLA in the late-1960’s, added an M.A. from the Southern Oregon University in 1977, taught writing classes in Portland for 12 years, then embarked on a writing career. After becoming an Oregon Literary Fellow, he went on to join New Mobility magazine in 2000 and edited the magazine for 18 years. He has published upwards of 100 articles, 200 columns, occasional movie reviews and essays. He and Sam, his wife and companion of 47 years, also own and operate an organic farm south of Portland, where they live with their daughter and son-in-law, four grandsons, and a resident barn owl. An excerpt from a memoir about his early post-SCI years, as part of a compendium of his writing over the past 30 years, can be read at his website — All You Need

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.