Begin with the adjectives: cervical, thoracic, lumbar. Move to the nouns: the laminae, the pedicles, the transverse processes. Now go to numbers and letters: C3, C5, T8, T10, L1, L2. Stretch your arms behind you. Bend them. Press your fingers onto your vertebrae, your pillar and post, your steadfast companions, bones so durable they may survive your flesh by hundreds of years. Stand up. Walk. Kneel. Crouch. Arise. Snap your fingers. Now think hard, seriously, sincerely hard about all the torsions, leaps, lopes, locomotions and miniature movements you bet your normal, daily life upon.
I look down at my legs. What would happen to me if I could not feel them? If I could not lift this arm above my head? If I could not type these words as they formed on my tongue? If I could not lose myself in long walks, and feel the tug of the dogs on the end of the leash? What if I believed that I was alone in this condition, an isolato, stuck inside my own head, reluctant to speak to the healthy for fear that all they would hear was a howl and not the surging insights and feelings whose floodwaters had risen up to my mouth?
I know that I would be terrified, furious that this scourge had fallen upon me, despairing. I would have moments where I longed for oblivion. I thought of all these possibilities driving home from a breakfast with a young woman I taught 10 years ago. She is an athlete, a teacher, a speaker of multiple languages including Mandarin, someone who has overcome traumas and deep fears and therefore carries herself with one kind of fearlessness. She has created a website that allows individuals who have been paralyzed (and those who love them and care for them) to tell their stories, to offer their witness as to how they were injured, what they have endured and what they have done with their lives since the moment ‘it’ occurred.
On Spinalpedia I watched Nicole describe how she remains mobile and independent, and Chelsea’s eloquent description of how she learned to paint with her mouth. The Quadfather, aka Richard Gaskin, shot and paralyzed, now makes movies, writes and records music, and has started his own Foundation. Watch Doug Shippee voice these most powerful words, “For me to see with my own eyes what was possible….” Then watch in one video, and another and another human beings of every shape give voice to their stories and witness them made anew, glowing, purposeful, juiced with life down to their bones.
Brittany has created a place where the spirit can be lightened in all senses of the word – a place where burdens can be buoyed up and light can subsume darkness, and not metaphorically but concretely. They tell stories here. These are the personal testaments of men and women who have been given a venue for their voices and thus who have connected to each other. In doing so, they create hope. They banish darkness. Victims no more, they rise before us like Lazarus. Any isolated, despairing newly injured Para or Quadriplegic can click on a mouse and see visions of bodies similar to his or her own but the lives connected to those bodies have been unbroken by their traumas. Instead of a grim vision of the future, Spinalpedia displays a multiplicity of methods of renewal, and all of them are inspirational and utterly real. Brittany has opened up a sliver of the world that reminds us of the inexhaustible toughness of the human body and soul and of how personal tragedy can be converted into a resurrection. She has made something where backbone and hope, fused together, have become a version of grace.