A friend of mine sent me this link, and I decided to join in on the forum.
Hiking the Appalachian Trail was, by far, the most difficult thing I've ever done in my life.
From March 22, 2004 to November 7, 2004, I covered some 1,900 miles. When I was just 300 miles short of the goal, I received word that my only brother had commited suicide in Atlanta. I left the trail to go assist with making plans for his burial, and to be with my parents. When things in Georgia finally cleared up where I could leave, it was too cold to return to the trail, ending my hopes of completing the entire trail in one calendar year.
I set June 2005 as my target date to return to the trail. I would wait until after the 23rd, which was my 15th wedding anniversary. Instead of celebrating our wedding anniversary, we spent the 23rd at the same funeral home we'd been at 7 months prior with my brother, only this time, it was my grandmother who'd passed away.
So, I set a new date: late August. I figured I'd let the hot weather of the summer months pass by so I could actually enjoy the hike. I had literally just finished packing the rest of my hiking gear into my car, when the phone rang with even more devastating news that my best friend in the world, Bill Lively, had tragically died while swimming in the ocean. Outside of my relationship with my wife, Bill was the closest person in my life, friends and relatives included. I took his death harder than anything I've ever experienced in my life. (We're approaching the 1st anniversary of his death, and it still stings just as bad as it did when I first learned of it.)
Immediately following Bill's burial, I turned to my wife and said "I can't take anymore... I'm going to Pennsylvania and finishing the trail. I left the graveside and drove to Pa. to finish what I'd set out to do some 17 months prior. I spent the next 2 and a half weeks finishing the remaining 300+ miles. It wasn't something that I enjoyed due to the fact that my heart was so broken, but it was something that I HAD to do. I needed some completion in my life, and finishing the trail afforded me that completion. I did become the first above-the-knee amputee to transverse all of the 2,178 miles, but at this point in my life, all of that seems so shallow.
Since then, I continue to hike, just not on so large of a scale. There are areas of the A.T. that I would love to return and hike again, because the first time trhough, I was so concentrated on the daily miles that I had to hike, I didn't have the time to actually enjoy my surroundings.
Our family has since increased by one, bringing our total to 7 children. We have 5 sons and 2 daughters. We're currently in the process of adopting a special-needs boy. He's 4 years of age, and was born with Waardenburg Syndrome. He is deaf, and suffers from a mobility impairment as well.
Many have questioned why, given the fact that we were blessed with 7 healthy children of our own, we're now choosing to adopt more, and I'll share here with you why:
Prior to my accident in 1998, I was very successful, and my wife was very successful. I had been a Paramedic for the city of Atlanta, and Leisa was a Special-Education school teacher. I never really thought about, or had compassion for, people with disabilities/handicaps. When the 1996 Olympic games were held in Atlanta, I signed up to work as much overtime as I could, and carried that over to the Paralympic games as well. I remember seeing Dana Bowman parachute into the opening ceremonies of the Paralympic games, and I thought "What an idiot! He's lost both legs, and here he is, pushing the envelope even further." That's the kind of person I was: an arrogant, self-centered butthole who thought only of myself.
When my accident happened, I rejected the fact that I was now disabled/handicapped. I regarded that as a label that I didn't want for myself.
After a period of time, I realized that I wasn't really that different from the children that my wife had taught, nor was I that different from the folks who'd participated in the Paralympic games. I still had the same hopes, dreams, and aspirations as I'd held before. Only now, I had to work a little harder to achieve them. I took a long look at who I was and the mentality that I had, and I really didn't like that person at all. I realized that I'd been a taker, not a giver. I was in it for me, myself, and I, never realizing that others had wants & needs as well. Leisa and I began talking about the possibility of adopting a special-needs child, but nothing really came out of it other than just talk.
Back on the trail, after having buried Bill, I started thinking long and hard about my life up to that point, and what I hoped to leave as a lasting legacy. Sure, I'd hiked the A.T. Big deal. Other than offer encouragement to other people, what could I contribute to the human race? Then, I started to think about suffering....
I thought that I'd suffered, but quite honestly, other than having my financial world turned upside down, I really hadn't suffered all that much. I started thinking about what it meant to really suffer.
We learned about Jeff, the boy we're adopting. When I got to thinking about disabled kids and suffering, it really amazed me at the vast number of adoptable children out there who are 'undesirable' just because they don't have 10 fingers, 10 toes, aren't able to hear you say "I love you" or couldn't reciprocate the love held for them.
They were plucked from the only home they knew, removed from the only safety and security known to them, and placed in various foster homes for whatever reason. I've since learned that, -SOME of the children-even if their home life was a bad one, that they still found safety and security in their surroundings. Some were removed from the home for neglect, abuse, or parents relinquished their parental rights because they were simply unable to cope, deal with, or emotionally handle a disabled child. The latter category is where Jeff falls.
So, here's little Jeff, removed from his home through absolutely no fault of his own. The only safety and security he's ever known is gone. He's bounced from one foster home to another and really has no security in knowing where he'll be next week. Couple that with the fact that he can't hear or walk, and I believe that is a very true form of suffering. (Granted, he isn't in agonizing physical pain, he still suffers emotionally.)
When I started to think about suffering from that point of view, it really made me feel pathetic to even think that I'd even remotely suffered. Oh, my lifestyle was drastically altered, my little world that I'd created was different, but I really hadn't suffered at all. I still had my family, and that was what mattered most.
When I look back over the past 8 years and 3 months, I'm amazed at how much I've changed from a mental standpoint. If someone were to approach me right now with an offer to have my leg back along with my old life, I'd have to decline that offer. While true that I did lose a lot, what I've gained is worth so much more.
Thank you for allowing me to share...