​Looking Back, Looking Forward

Posted by Howard Menaker in Life After Paralysis on July 20, 2022 # Travel, Lifestyle

Howard with family and friendsMy husband and I have been a couple for 43 years, and married for 12 years. Those 43 years have been amazing; full of adventure, travels, unique experiences, shared family celebrations and many wonderful friends. Over the Fourth of July weekend, we brought out the photo albums that have recorded the 26 years since we purchased our home in Rehoboth Beach, DE and began living here part-time.

What was immediately apparent were the happy times spent with friends. Candlelit dinner parties, warm days on the beach, and gatherings to mark Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve. But within those years, there is a definite gap. For two years after my spinal cord injury, I did not set foot in our beach house, and there are no happy photos of friends and family.

Howards home in DEOurs is a historic home, not exactly built for wheelchairs or other mobility devices. There are steps to the front porch, steps to get inside, and a steep flight of worn wooden stairs up to the bedrooms. The doorways to the bathrooms are narrow. And to adapt the home to my needs would have destroyed its essential beauty.

But then photos reveal our return to our beloved home. As I regained my ability to walk, we came back. I could enjoy hot summer days in the house and cool fall evenings on our welcoming front porch. I could walk upstairs to our cozy bedroom at the end of the day. Family came to visit, and friends gathered once again around our dinner table. Smiles and laughter were recorded anew in our photo albums.

These photos are precious, not just to evoke memories, but to help us remember that everything in life is temporary. There were days I thought I would never see our beach house again. There were days and nights I just knew it would be too difficult for me to handle it, to regain the shared good times and build new memories. But I was wrong.

rainbow at the beachI still have a disability, there is no denying that. I may never totally “recover” from my spinal cord injury. But for me, like for many others, things have gotten better. October will mark eight years since my injury. Throughout the year I receive physical therapy and personal training at the Kennedy Krieger Institute, where their mantra is “Hope Through Motion”. And thanks to them, I am more mobile than I ever thought I could be.

Will everyone with a spinal cord injury have my experience? No, of course not. But many will. And for many of us, circumstances we thought were permanent will turn out to be temporary. I talk to others with spinal cord injuries at my gym, and I am inspired by their ability to regain strength, flexibility and mobility. I see adaptive sports athletes and marvel. I see people with paralysis starting a family they never thought possible, and I delight in their joy.

Looking back at our photo albums, one lesson is loud and clear: Life changes. Life is exciting. And yes, sometimes life sucks. But…it is all temporary – the good times and the bad times.

Hold on to the good times. Appreciate them. Even though they will not last forever, they will sustain you and bring a smile to your face.

And when you are going through bad times, keep going. “Stuff Happens”, but with hard work, the right attitude, and the help of great doctors, physical therapists, family and friends, life can change for the better. It can, in fact, be wonderful. Moments we thought we could never accomplish can become real.

When you look back, you will see that everything in life is temporary. But if we learn to appreciate the good times and keep working through the bad times, we can also see clearly enough to look forward.

Howard Menaker is a retired communications and public affairs executive, with over 30 years of experience in international corporations and trade associations. Previously, he worked as an attorney, specializing in civil litigation. He now devotes much of his time serving on non-profit boards of directors, including a prominent theater company and a historic house museum in the Washington, DC area. He and his husband split their time between Washington and Rehoboth Beach, DE.

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.