Reflections: Crossing off the Bucket List

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, my husband and I wanted to cross something off our bucket list. This list has grown and shrunk, been scratched with   but has lasted longer than all our glassware that has been broken in our numerous moves. When we were first married, our bucket list held adrenaline-fueled, romantic dreams of holding hands mid-jump of skydiving, scuba-diving in the Great Coral Reef and riding horseback through the desert of New Mexico. Two years into our marriage, though, I was in a motorcycle accident during a rider-safety course. I was trying to get my license, but life was trying to tell me something else. I woke up a paraplegic, with my husband by my side. When he carried me home, that bucket list met us at the door tacked onto the wall with dreams that seemed to be cruelly laughing at me. We took it down and when we PCS-ed to Germany, I thought it had been lost forever.

At the beginning of our arrival here, settling in Germany seemed impossible. Whether it was trying to wheel myself over the endless cobblestones, trying to figure out the Bahn schedules or waiting on the duty bus, each step forward in “getting settled” was met with two hard kicks back.

Scenes at the Rathaus (like a city hall) in our village, Vaihingen of Stuttgart, Germany
Scenes at the Rathaus (like a city hall) in our village, Vaihingen of Stuttgart, Germany
The accessible entrance of the Rathaus (like a city hall) in our village, Vaihingen of Stuttgart, Germany
The accessible entrance of the Rathaus (like a city hall) in our village, Vaihingen of Stuttgart, Germany
The Rathaus (like a city hall) in our village, Vaihingen of Stuttgart, Germany
The Rathaus (like a city hall) in our village, Vaihingen of Stuttgart, Germany

I began to forget which things in my day I was actually doing right because of the seeming magnitude of the things that I was doing wrong. On a particularly bad day of unsuccessfully trying a German SIM card and missing the duty bus in the rain, all I wanted to do was go home to our still not-unpacked apartment. One of the last things on my to-do list was fill out paperwork for the health clinic. When I reached into our crammed file folders for my medical records, I started to cry when I saw that bucket list in my hand. It was the last thing I wanted to see in the world and I just couldn’t take feeling like a failure anymore.

Angrily, I grabbed a pencil and crossed out some of our older dreams and wrote in what I wanted, at that moment, to be able to do more than anything in the world. The list grew as I wrote “get cellphone to work” and “pass Germany driving test” around the borders when I ran out of room. The next day I was able to cross out “ride duty bus successfully alone” and that weekend “go to the commissary” was checked off. And as I crossed out each of these new dreams, I felt just as victorious and powerful as if I had been kayaking in the Bahamas and seen a shark (one of the older dreams, believe it or not). These new dreams may seem smaller, but not to me. They’re not any less rewarding, any smaller or less validating, they’re just different. As different as I am now, in my new body with my new wheelchair. And so that list has returned to its’ spot on a new wall in our new kitchen, as a reminder of not what I can’t do, but as a reminder of what I CAN do. We still look at the old dreams and instead of seeing impossibilities, those old dreams have turned into challenges we want to meet.

The first dream on that list was to someday go skiing in the Alps. So Thanksgiving, we drove down to Austria to a disability-friendly resort and with the help of an instructor, I rode a monoski with my husband by my side down the Kaunertal Glacier of the Austrian Alps. No disability takes away the ability to dream, no matter how small those dream may seem.

 

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