Saturday, October 22, 2011


Six Years On

I'm lying in bed, warm sheets pulled up around me, lost in a where I'm hiking the trails in the Porcupine Mountains with my friend Mark Hatfield.  (Mark and I actually hiked in this region of Michigan's Upper Peninsula when we were in high school.  This is where we lost our food to a black bear and had to hike 14 miles on an empty stomach, but that's a story for another time...if I haven't already told it.  I've been writing this blog for almost six years now, and it's hard to remember what tales I've spun.)  This dream is a little bit different than the actual experience.  As I'm climbing over an outcropping of rock to get to the top of a cliff, I hear Mark tell me to be careful of my footing, then laugh.  I look down and realize that he's laughing because I'm not actually climbing, so much as hovering in front of the rock face and using my arms to steady myself as I rise.  There appear to be small jets attached just above each ankle and the jets are allowing me to float high above the ground.  The legs look nothing like the prosthetics that I currently have. 

These are made of a shiny metallic material that looks black, but gives off shades of purple, red, and dark blue as they catch the light.  There are no shoes at the end, rather a solid looking foot made out of the same material, with five long almost bird like talons instead of toes - clearly meant to add stability and traction.  The legs feel super light; I can't feel where my body ends and these semi monstrous, yet eerily elegant limbs begin.  As I pull myself over the edge of the cliff I watch the little jets at my ankles retract into my calves and my feet settle to the ground.  I am immediately shocked to feel the ground beneath my feet.  I turn to look back over the edge at Mark, down below, and am amazed to discover that my legs and feet aren't reacting to what my upper body is doing; they are moving independently based upon my thoughts!

"Come on!  Throw down the ropes so the rest of us can get up there!  We don't have much time left."  There is a sense of urgency to his voice.  That's when I realize that we aren't alone.  I can see other people starting to emerge from the edge of the tree line at the base of the cliff.  Mark's wife Lauren approaches him, barefoot as always, and waves up to me.  "Well, will we be safe up there?" she calls out.  She looks stressed.  Both of them also look older than they should.  Then a young man, maybe 16 years old, and a young woman who looks to be about 18 step out of the trees. 

In this world I have never met them, may not ever, but in the dream world I recognize them immediately.  The boy carries in his hand the very same bow and quiver of arrows that I had when Mark and I backpacked through this mountain range during our youth.  I can tell by the distinctive coppery color of their hair that these are my children.  Then, my heart catches as the woman who I instinctively know to be their mother steps partially into view.  She has long dark hair, delicate looking porcelain skin, and a slender build.  Her mere presence causes me to hold my breath in anticipation.  She is just lifting her face to look up at me when I feel something furry rub against my cheek, then something pulls on the hair of my goatee.

The dream shatters before I can get a clear look at her.  I'm in darkness, there is a chill to the air around my face but my body is nice and toasty in the sheets and blanket.  Where was I?  Something furry rubs up against my cheek again.  Then I hear a timid "meow" and feel the cat nibbling at the chin hairs of my goatee.  Another furry rub across my face and I pin the cat beneath my arm.  I become aware of birds chirping outside my window.  I open my eyes to the faint, surreal light of dawn.  As I sit up the days light is already beginning to intensify and I'm keenly aware of what morning this is.  For most of the world it's just a day, which in someways makes today feel like a birthday, because for myself and those closest to me it is the six year anniversary of the accident. 

On Saturday October 22nd, 2005 I left work around 8pm and had the misfortune to cross paths with a sixteen year old girl who had only had her license for 20 days.  The next morning Pastor Kevin Armstrong would begin the worship service at North United Methodist Church with an announcement that I had been in a tragic car accident and that I was currently in surgery at Methodist Hospital, a surgery that was expected to last until about noon that day.  (Six years later and there are still tears streaming down my face as I type this, though the tears are not for what I've lost, but for the life I've gained and the support I've received along the way.)   Kevin asked the congregation for ministry through prayers and additional support for my family.  Later in the service Pastor Sharon White led the congregation in a special prayer for my healing and survival.

About four months after the accident I asked for a recording of that worship service.  That tape has been sitting in my room, untouched, for six years.  Believe it or not, I still have a cassette tape player in my house (which has also been untouched for at least six years).  Today, for the first time, I finally wanted to listen to the service.  It was beautiful, and helped me enter a period of reflection on what this day now means for me.

Each year I have taken the time to sit down and share, through this blog, my thoughts and feelings on this day.  Reflections on how the accident has shaped my life and the perceived lessons that help me carry onward.  During the weeks preceding "Survival Day" as my father seems to have named it, I tend to think about what I will write and have a solid idea before the actual day arrives.  This year has been different, I've been struggling for inspiration, which may be partly why I chose this day out of the 2000+ days that have passed since the accident to listen to the worship service from October 23rd, 2005. 

What makes this year different, is that with each year that passes my life becomes more "normal" and it grows more difficult to see how much has changed from one year to the next.  There have definitely been some new adventures.  I've travelled more this year than I have since the pre-accident days.  I'm more comfortable with my current situation than I've been in years.  My independence has been restored and I feel in control of my life.  Another shift, which is evident if you read the older anniversary posts (2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006), is that on this day my thoughts no longer turn toward what I have lost.  Rather, I find myself thinking about the progress that I've made and (based on this morning's dream) what the future holds...

What does this day represent for me?  It is no longer the day that I lost everything; it is the day that I didn't die, that I survived and gained new life.  Traumatic events have a tendency to cast long shadows, but if we take a step back and look at the other side of the coin, we will also find a shining light of hope.  We determine what these moments in our lives will mean to us.  Think about the moments in which your lives have been changed, be it through the loss of a loved one, the ending of a relationship, losing a job, the loss of limbs, etc...these are your "Survival Days".   When that day comes, reflect on all the positives that came before and raise your eyes to the future, to a time when life will seem "normal" again.  My life has become "normal" again, and tonight I ask that you to share a toast with me to my Survival Day!           

                                   (Now, where can I find that woman from my dream...?) 


Wow! All I can say is, you do us proud!!! Happy Survival Day! Love, Mom
Congratulations, Jeremy. You have been an inspiration to so many with your positive attitude. Wishing you many joys in the coming year, and for many, many years to come!

How beautifully written. Your spirit and outlook are so inspirational. Congratulations on this Survival Day!

Eva Jo
Clink! Cheers to you and your family on your Survival Day! Such an inspiration and amazing story.
Jeremy, I was just telling someone about you today. About how God used that day in your life to His glory. Your plans for the future before that day, most likely involved many more years of a successful career in hotel management. But although "man plans his steps, God directs his path." And God's direction in your life - beginning with that day - has probably been far different than you could ever have imagined. He has used this event for good for so many people. When I think of your courage and gumption over these past 6 years, I'm amazed - and proud of you. And especially thankful for God's grace in you and the way He continues to use you to help others, and bring glory to Himself.
Love you!
Kelly for the Orrs
Jeremy, I am pouring the glass of wine now! Jack and I have followed your journey through these past 6 years through your mom and dad and other Park Avenue neighbors. Step by step - both figuratively and literally - you have made your way to the confidence and independence you described today in your blog. We admire you so much for never giving up on yourself when things seemed so tough and for sharing your thoughts. You provide a real inspiration as we will all face tough situations. Thank you and Happy Survival Day! Julia and Jack Wickes
Jeremy, I came across your card and handouts the other day when I was cleaning my office and organizing my grad school papers and I found it almost divine because I remember your speech to our grad school class and how inspirational it was and how moved we were to hear you share your story. Its funny how someone can cross your path and leave an impression that is remembered years later. As I myself am going through a rough period find it uplifting your story and your strength. In fact, I am amazed at how you have found a way to find peace. Thank you for being brave and strong enough to share your story! And Congratulations on your Survival Day.
Very well written. You're a good man, Jeremy. I'm proud to know you and count you as a friend. Best wishes now and always.

Awesome, young man! Sending you many big hugs and continued love!
Ms S!
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