It must be four years now. The last time I was here, I was walking on old train tracks. The leaves crunched under my feet, and I watched to make sure that I wouldn’t trip on the tracks. I looked down on that day, watching my feet, hearing leaves crunch. It must’ve been fall, because everything was brown. The train tracks are gone now, replaced by a bike path that connects most towns in the area.
This is my first day taking my wheelchair outdoors. The weather is finally turning to spring, and I commit to my partner that today is the day. Both he and my dog support my decision. I get outside and start rolling away from my house. Almost immediately, I am in tears. This feels like an important moment. Not one that I want to miss. I’m not sure what I’m scared of, nor what I’ve been hiding from for the last two years, but then again, people can see me. I am outside. And I am disabled.
It must’ve been five years since last time we took a family walk. The dog wants to smell everything, and I just want to be. To be outside, to be moving. I wheel my way down the bike path and am overwhelmed: by the blue sky, by the trees and the sun and the evidence of growth around me. I weep. With gratitude and a sense of overwhelm. I am outside. And in a way I never thought I would be. And I am so grateful because the trees are more beautiful than anything I’ve ever seen. And I am outside. I pass another walker and later a jogger. We exchange the usual pleasantries of humans enjoying the first nice day in months. They smile at me, and I at them. And then I’m back on the sidewalk and the cars pass and the people see me and I am outside and I am grateful. I’m not going to miss another beautiful day inside. Disability has impacted my life in several ways, but most poignantly, it has changed my experience of being in nature. I miss hiking and exploring and crouching to see the new growth. And I will not do those things again. But I won’t let my old experiences stop me from creating new ones. My wheelchair is a tool, a vehicle. And it has given me the gift of being outside again.
This is a lesson learned over the course of several years. I have a body that doesn’t move as it used to. I have worries about the judgement of others. And I have a choice. To embrace my new body and explore the planet in a different way, or to stay inside, hiding. I am so grateful for this day. And for the decision to stop hiding. And for this beautiful planet.