These framed photos easily go unnoticed in our home. Surrounded by far louder pieces of artwork, they live on this narrow corner wall, tucked behind an oversized chair that has come to belong, exclusively, to Quill. That little guy is Ri (OMG!), and those little skis represent his first and perhaps greatest love. He swears to me that he is two years old in these pictures (my god he was a big boy) and already he had it figured out. Life plan = skier. Not a police officer, not a firefighter. A skier. Ri tells me “I wanted to be an Olympic skier, or (he pauses to reevaluate his words), really, I just wanted to BE someone in the ski industry. Pause again. He then says- How lucky am I that that came true?”
Ri’s mother, Maria, is the storyteller of the family. She artfully weaves together the most vibrant tales of Ri’s childhood. Sometimes, when she is decluttering (a frequent pastime of hers :), she delights me with a new little Ri guy photo or memento, accompanied by a memory that she wants to let me in on. I hang to each word as every photo breathes enough life into the past for me to pause and wonder- wait a minute- was I there? Is this my memory or have I just heard this one before? I swear to you that sometimes I feel my presence there in that past. Rumi put words to these feelings of mine when he said- Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere. They’re in each other all along. I know this to be so.
Maria’s tales of the past have a cohesive storyline that I think, can emerge only after we have revisited our memories many times over many years. She recounts, with motherly pride, the innate, unwavering determination of her eldest lion cub. Her reverence for Ri is ever present, and it seems that in a way, it was his powerful will, his sage clarity that birthed Maria’s motherly confidence. Our children must teach us so much, and it is clear that from a very young age, Ri made his path known. I suppose Maria saw it as her job to foster that. As the story goes, Riley’s path was far bigger than the state of Vermont (I am quoting a very matter of fact Maria there) and so the Poor’s packed up house and home and moved a young Ri from the snowy rolling hills of Whitingham, Vermont to the tallest peaks of Colorado. Crested Butte was where Ri’s dreams became reality.
All of that is super fascinating to me, for many reasons, one being that Ri and I have never really been skiing together. Or, maybe we have. I am deciding as I write.
On that topic, a couple months back, Ri decided that he wanted to go downhill skiing through an adaptive program at Mt. Bachelor. Very cool. We set up a weekend trip to Bend, and though I was totally stoke, I remained cautiously flexible as our plans tend to change with the wind.
Alas, as the weekend trip approached the weather forecast called for warm rain- yuck. In short, we bailed. Instead, we had this wonderful weekend at home building roll under raised garden beds with Ri’s dad and getting our garden spring ready. My point- it really was neither here nor there.
The new roll under garden beds!!
And all of that brings me to a few things that I think about quite a lot these days. There are gifts that emerge from even the darkest moments of trauma. I do not know, had Ri never had his SCI, that Maria would so willingly allow me to be a part of her past, of their past. I do not know if she would have the same beautiful hindsight.
I do not know if Ri and I would bond so deeply through the slow savoring of the present, a reverence for the past, and a celebration of small triumphs. Through our relationship, I have learned to go easier on myself, to be moderate, and to free myself from a pattern we can all be guilty of- placing unfair and unnecessary expectations on ourselves and (even worse) those that we love. I forget all of this regularly (arg patterns are hard to break!) but my home life with Ri grounds me back into those values.
I want to wrap this post up with a story that illustrates all of these thoughts I am trying to express.
A few weeks back, Ri and I drove up to Mt. Hood so I could cross country ski around Trillium lake. After a lovely drive up the mountain, we turned into the unremarkable parking lot by the trailhead. Ri and Quill planned to stay in the van, so I got my boys all cozied up and took off on my adventure. Just as the snowflakes began to kiss my cheeks and the world fell silent, my mind perked up and became unnecessarily busy. It started with a tinge of guilt for leaving my guys back in that ugly parking lot. I could have at least has the foresight to drop them at the nice, warm, ski lodge up the road. Or better yet, why couldn’t they just be here by my side, I wondered? Quite quickly, some enticing plans began to develop…
It seemed to me that there was no reason couldn’t rig up some system to get Ri and Quill out here on this trail next time around. How hard could it be? I have seen those social media videos that all of you have seen with these paralyzed people pushing themselves to the limits, doing all kinds of adventurous stuff. Why not us?
And for a moment there, traveling down that wormhole, I almost missed the entire point. First of all, I had driven all this way to find some peace and quiet- so my brain had no place chattering on about these things. Secondly, Ri has expressed previously that he has no interest in these types of things- he is interested in being extremely kind to his body and doing things that make him feel cold or physically uncomfortable sucks the joy from his spirit. It seems that my self imposed guilt had taken me down a path that made no sense. Funny how we do that sometimes.
After a couple hours and a few wrong turns (it is a loop trail, people, so you figure that one out) I got back to the van. I open the door and there is Ri, snuggled up with a book, Quillie, snacks, and a blanket. Ri smiles this big, genuine smile and says to me (he always asks it the same way) “How was it? Did you have fun?” He was so happy. Just then I remembered what he told me the last time I left him in the van at the mountain- he loves it because it reminds him of his days as a filmmaker. That, apparently, was a lot of what filming skiers was about- hunkering down inside, watching the snow fall, and just kind of waiting for the weather to pass by so the filming could begin.
So, I am going to go out on a limb here and make the claim that Riley and I have indeed been skiing together. We ski together through stories of the past and we ski together in the here and now. I fill Ri in on every detail of my cross country adventures, and he tells me about the cute stuff Quill did while I was away and how much snow accumulated while I was gone. Sometimes I call or text him halfway through my journey, sometimes I take little videos so he can laugh at how truly minuscule the “massive” hill I went down was. I love this man. I love this life.
I know that there is a misconception out there. Some people think that having a physical disability (or being in a relationship with someone with a physical disability for that matter) means you will miss out on so much in life.
I believe that mentality runs the risk of missing out on the moments we actually have to live in this life. To be present, to deeply love, to observe this world with a slowness and a softness- this is the life that I have always wanted. I am so grateful to have found my way here.
Thank you all so much for reading my stories. I welcome all comments, questions, and opportunities to connect!