In the early morning hours of October 9, 1996, I awoke to find myself already screaming for help. Lying flat on my back, I was staring straight up into the air. Adjacent to me was the south-facing wall of the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity, my college residence at the University of Washington. Beneath me was a cold concrete walkway, which lead to the front door. There was no one around. And I was very confused. "Why am I outside?" I wondered. "And why can't I move?" I had no idea my body was broken.
Soon one of the widows on the second floor opened and the head of a friend emerged. First hearing, and now seeing me make a ton of commotion, he came downstairs to help. As he stood above me near the entrance of our fraternity, I asked him to pick me up and carry me inside. He complied.
The next place I found myself was laying on the living room couch.
A few hours later, the house was bustling with people heading off to class. I remained motionless on the couch. I remember someone trying to wake me. They grabbed my foot. I gave no response. Then the scarier question was asked, "Can you feel this?" "Feel what?" I incoherently mumbled.
It was then that the pieces of my story began to take shape. What at first may have seemed like something humorous out of a National Lampoon movie, it was unfortunately proving to be otherwise. The college freshman that was found in the front yard and then sleeping the day away on a couch in the common area was not what it originally seemed.
"Call 911," said a voice from the group.
My next memory is of me being transferred from the couch onto a backboard and then lifted into an ambulance. As the doors of the rig were about to close, I remember a friend putting a Saint Christopher medal around my neck.
Next stop, Harborview.
Harborview is the only designated Level I trauma center in Washington State. It serves as the regional trauma center for Alaska, Idaho and Montana. It is a fantastic hospital and nationally ranked for its rehabilitation. But the flip side to that coin is if you are going there, especially by ambulance, you unfortunately have a life-threatening problem.
I remember waking up again, this time to the sound of an electric motor and feeling pressure on the side of my head. I was in a brightly lit and sterile room surrounded by people in medical gowns. Still in a state of confusion, I asked, "Where am I?" A voice from one of the members replied, "You are in the Harborview emergency room." Contemplating this news and confident I was only in a bad dream, I replied with a follow up question. "What is that sound?" I asked. Answer, "We are drilling into your skull. We need to add a weight to your head and put you in traction because your neck is compressed." Letting the odd response sink in, I finally asked one more. "Why am I here?" Then came the answer, and the words ring just as clear now as they did the day I first heard them, "You broke your neck and your back and damaged your spinal cord. You are paralyzed."
And in those words, my heart broke in two.
Upon that hospital table, I learned that I fell from a three-story window in the middle of the night. The injury caused immediate and permanent paralysis in all four limbs of my body. In other words, I lost the ability to walk and lost the ability to move my fingers.
To say the moment that I finally understood my condition devastated me is an understatement. My world, frankly speaking, imploded. All the activities that I knew and loved seemed stripped away, becoming self-torture to think about. My life of light was slipping into darkness.
At that point, I had only been in college for two weeks and living in the fraternity for nearly three. I was still in the transition period between graduating-high-school-and-
Instead of attending the college classes that I had just signed up for, with the friends that I had just met, and living in the fraternity I had just joined, I spent the next five months in a hospital trying to piece my life back together both physically and mentally. It was grueling. It was slow. It was emotional. It was challenging to say the least. And all the while, it was one leap of faith after another to not only make it through each day, but to hope that I could find success in life after I was discharged from rehab.
I am reminded of author Patrick Overton's words on faith:
When you walk to the edge of all the light you have and take that first step into the darkness of the unknown, you must believe that one of two things will happen. One, there will be something solid for you to stand upon. Or two, you will be taught how to fly.
Faith is all about believing. You do not necessarily know how what you hope for will happen but you know in your heart it will. In the words of Martin Luther King, "Faith is taking the first step even though you do not see the whole staircase." And in the words of author Philip Yancey, "I have learned that faith means trusting in advance what will only make sense in reverse."
There is no way I could have reached where I am today without faith. Rehab, college, finding a job, buying a home, starting a shoe company...these all took trust and believing in confidence that things would work out.
In the words of Saint Augustine, "Faith is to see what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe."
Faith is seeing light with your heart when all your eyes see is darkness. Like WiFi, faith is invisible but it has the power to connect you to what you need.
We need to have faith in our lives. We need our faith to be bigger than our fears. We need to believe. And we need great fortitude to keep moving forward.
How do we move forward? Well, as author Margaret Shepherd comically puts it, "Sometimes your only transportation is a leap of faith."