43. Still Good

43. Still Good

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Inner Strength

Still Good

Happiness is a function of accepting what is.

~Werner Erhard

How does a young man in his twenties keep moving towards his goals when he’s going to have to do it in a wheelchair? How does a mother not fall into a canyon of depression — and stay there — when her son is fine one day and paralyzed the next? And how does a friend find the right words to comfort that mother, when really, no words will ever make things right again?

For years, Darice and I bragged about our boys. My friend had three, but Aaron was her youngest. Ian was my baby but also my only boy. Aaron and Ian headed off to college the same year; they both played sports with unbridled enthusiasm; they both majored in therapy (Aaron in physical therapy and Ian in music therapy); they both graduated college with honors. I figured we would continue to share and tally up our maternal joys — uninterrupted — until they were too numerous to count.

I was wrong. One spring morning, when Aaron’s wife had already left for work, a young man broke into their home. When the intruder found Aaron still in bed, startled, he told Aaron to lie back in bed. My friend’s son refused. He refused to just lie there and die. After wrestling over a gun, Aaron was shot several times. The most devastating bullet lodged next to his spine.

In the hours that followed, all I could do was pray and worry at home while Darice and her family sobbed and paced during the examinations and surgery. In the days — and then weeks — that followed, she didn’t live; she existed. Taking turns sleeping in a chair next to Aaron’s hospital bed, taking turns crying in the bathroom so no one shed tears in front of him, their lives revolved around X-rays and surgeries and catheters. Family flew in from California and surrounded them, but so did the police and nurses and doctors.

When something horrific happens, people who are not directly touched by the tragedy sometimes say, “I know how you feel.” But I couldn’t, because I didn’t. I didn’t have any idea how Darice felt because my son was still healthy and whole. I could imagine the hysteria, the anger, the sense of loss my best friend felt, but in reality, I didn’t truly know what she was going through. However, a part of me was sure that if it had been my son, I would still be in a crumpled-up heap on the floor. Deep down, I wondered if I would still be screaming — for weeks — if it had been my boy.

Phone calls, texts and e-mails kept us close. Only family was allowed to visit, so Darice and I would meet in the hospital lobby for a few minutes. Offers to help were appreciated, but there was nothing anyone could do. I felt helpless as a friend.

When the young man who paralyzed Aaron turned himself into the police, we all breathed a sigh of relief. One hurdle was crossed. The security was loosened; now friends could visit. By that time, he had been moved from the hospital to a rehabilitation facility where he would learn how to live as a paraplegic. A circle of college friends would come, all of them joking and laughing, and no trace of tragedy was present. Aaron popped wheelies in his wheelchair and spun around the room like he had been doing it his whole life.

When the trial was over, I wanted to go to the prison and spit on the kid. He had taken so much from my friend. I wanted to shriek at him, to make sure he knew the ripple effect he had caused. My friend’s son was paralyzed, which devastated an entire circle of people. A couple would no longer be able to have a family in the same easy way they had envisioned. The home they bought, renovated and decorated had to be sold — there were too many nightmares from that morning. I asked Darice how she kept her rage under control, and what she said blew me away: “That young man’s youth is gone. He’s going to be imprisoned for a long time.” She saw what that young boy had lost. And she also saw what her son had never lost.

Aaron is still the most charming man I have ever met. He can put anyone at ease with his affable chatter and his genuine smile. After wheeling across the stage when he graduated with his master’s degree, he continues to move forward. While looking for a job, he volunteers helping other paraplegics. He still plays basketball — on a wheelchair team. He and his wife found a new home and worked on it for weeks, retrofitting the basement stairs so Aaron can do his own laundry. He worked right alongside their church friends, college friends and family as they put down new flooring and constructed a shower stall and set up the kitchen so Aaron could cook. Aaron sat on the floor and scooted around, painting and installing the trim.

Now when I ask about Darice’s sons, when I ask about Aaron, a smile spreads across her face. The light in her eyes, the grin, the simple two words say it all: “He’s good.”

They’re moving forward — on a different path, but forward nonetheless.

~Sioux Roslawski

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