April 1. A memorable date in this household for a different reason.
On the 1st April 2005, I fell from a tree, dropping six meters and landing on a garage roof. I suffered one injury: a displaced a single vertebra in my spine, all but severing my spinal cord in the process.
Ten years on, much has changed. My paralysis has not changed at all in the intervening years, but my life continued, and while my spinal cord injury will always be one of the most significant events in that life, it did not mark the end. Every day I face the consequences of my injury; the constant pain, the complications of bladder infections, the difficulties in accessing the beach or the mountains, the inability to lift my children onto my shoulders, the list is long.
So how to mark the anniversary? This is a quandary that all of us who have experienced a profound injury have to deal with. It's hardly a time for celebration, for while I have heard a number of people describe their injury as one of the best things that ever happened to them (usually because of what they have achieved since), this has always struck me as a strange statement. Do they really have such a low opinion of their 'pre-injured' selves? That without a life-threatening injury and the prospect of life with a permanent disability, they would have amounted to nothing?
What I have learned is that I am capable of adjusting and adapting, and that some things that I used to consider important are not. I have also learned much about the challenges and obstacles that many people deal with on a daily basis, many of which come in the form of negative social attitudes or a mere lack of consideration.
I have also learned that my sense of self has not changed. And with this, my expectations have also remained. These expectations also form the basis of my every encounter with the social and built environments.
If your shop/cafe/toilet block is not accessible to me, why not? I hope you have a good excuse, because I have a forensic approach to what constitutes a 'reasonable effort' when it comes to universal access.
If you wish to talk over me, make assumptions about me or treat me as if my life is a matter of public record, be prepared to cop a mouthfull. It will happen. Trust me.
(This last one puts me on somewhat dicey ground, having written an 'unflinching' account of my experiences. The word was selected by my publisher, btw.)
I now have two children. My oldest is soon to be ten, so both my children have only known me with a spinal cord injury. They have taught me much.
Partly, this has come through my need to explain to them, which requires me to crystalise my thoughts on what I can and can't do, what we should be able to share, and on the role of a father.
They have also taught me through their ability to accept and move on. They know that I am different to other fathers, but their expectations generally gauge perfectly what I can and can't do. Hide and seek? Sure. Pillow fights? You betcha. Kicking a football? Less so.
And through all of this, I have my beloved wife Penny. Her resilience, sense of humour, patience, positivity and loving support have shaped the last ten years in more ways than I can begin to describe.
So, how mark this anniversary? We decided to go for a bike ride.
Kangaroo Valley provided the scenery, my hand-cycle provided me with the transport (albeit bloody hard work. It's not the most ergonomic rig, to say the least), and we went on a leisurely 10k ride through beautiful scenery.
Penny then rode back to the car, sparing me the larger hills, and I lay on my back in the grass, staring up at the clouds and the trees and reflecting on the similarities and the differences between today and when I stared up at the clouds and trees after falling from one of them.
In the last ten years, much has changed. Not least the place I currently call home. In the move to Australia, I drew much of my confidence about such a big change from our ability to adapt to the profound changes we faced when I fell out of that tree.
It also taught me that things can come at you from out of the blue; profound, life-changing things; things that you couldn't begin to imagine how you would cope. But we do. Most of us do. And in so doing, we learn the things that really matter.