This month, I met Los Angeles author, W. Bruce Cameron — "A Dog's Way Home" (2017) — at the National Writers Series. Cameron, born in Petoskey, still frequents his family cottage on Holy Island in Lake Charlevoix. Years ago, he worked in Traverse City.
Cameron talked a lot about dogs. He adores them. But it was a remark he made about himself that night, that stayed with me.
“When my last dog died, I knew I wouldn't get another; it was so hard. Yet four year later, I did adopt another dog, Tucker. What had I been thinking? How could I be without this much joy? Though I know we'll eventually have to say goodbye, I'll never be without a dog again,” he said.
The next day, I saw a co-worker in Manton. She told me that she'd borrowed a wheelchair to help her mom get around the National Cherry Festival. Mother and daughter shared several long, fun-filled days together. In past years, her mom skipped most festivals; walking was too difficult.
“Before now, I worried that if my mom used a wheelchair in public, people would think she was seriously ill and treat her accordingly. That didn't happen. My beliefs, not the wheelchair, were the problem,” she said.
For the July 4th holiday, I explored Manistee; saw friends, watched the parade, fireworks and duck race, caught a movie at the restored Vogue Theatre, shopped, dined and rode the historic trolley. Initially, I'd dismissed the trolley. I was on vacation and reluctant to use the precious time I had, researching if it was truly accessible.
But I'm glad I did; the trolley's wheelchair lift was outstanding and the one-hour ride, smooth. We toured historic downtown sites, beaches, a state park and rural areas. Looking at the passengers; young couples with small children, older folks, and college students, I marveled at Manistee's ability to offer this beautiful, unique and inclusive transportation.
This summer, my friend, Mrs. Prindl, has returned to her cottage. She'll be 106 years old this year. She's the first to recognize her good fortune, great health, strong family and friends and sufficient resources. She's a great listener and takes a sincere interest in other people, devours books and enjoys learning and contributes to the world by tutoring children, crafting gifts and writing her family's history. Like most people, Mrs. Prindl has had her share of heartbreak. And that's not where she focuses her energy.
All of these vignettes remind me of the early months after my stroke. I was 18, and well-meaning people told me that I needed to repeatedly pray that I'd walk again. I couldn't do it. Instead, I asked that my disability not break my heart. Even at 18, fearful of my new circumstances, I somehow suspected that having an open heart, not waiting to walk, was the key to being able to create a full life.
That summer, I heard folks who could walk say, “If only, I was more attractive, confident, smarter, thinner, richer, partnered, older or younger, I'd return to school, volunteer, change jobs, or love again."
These beliefs were limiting and had nothing to do with being able to walk.
I wonder what opening your heart would allow you to try? Like author, W. Bruce Cameron, what will you, never be without again?
Susan Odgers is a 30-year resident of Traverse City and has been using a wheelchair for 41 years. She is a faculty member of Northwestern Michigan College and Grand Valley State University. She can be reached by contacting the Record-Eagle.