By Mark E. Smith
When Mary and I talked in the Biltmore hotel’s bar in Los Angeles three years ago, there was an unusual familiarity. We both have always been around wheelchairs — and the close-knit community that innovated them since the 1970s — but somehow never knew each other, personally. We both knew of each other, and certainly knew everyone else, but oddly just never crossed each other’s path. Yet, both knowing everyone else in the bar, as well as traveling in the same circles for 30-something years, we had an instant known-you-forever connection.
However, as I’ve learned in the subsequent three years, Mary’s graciousness had nothing to do with our common experience and friends. Rather, the instant comfort and connection I found with icon, Mary Wilson Boegel, one of the original Quadra wheelchair crew members, was simply who she is — open, embracing, encouraging, love-filled — regardless of who you are. I’ve since seen her light up every room we’ve entered when we’ve been on the road at various expos and events. And, whenever anyone needs anything, Mary and her husband, Bruce, are always there to help. She even is so gracious toward my daughter, always acknowledging her accomplishments via Facebook. There’s just something about Mary, a true soul mother to many.
And, so it was no surprise to me that on the recent 40th anniversary of the injury that caused her spinal cord injury, she shared with us who know, adore, and love her one of the most amazing pieces of writing I’ve seen on the subject, a piece that doesn’t just address her disability experience, but so beautifully captures many of our experiences who’ve used wheelchairs for decades now. And, the lesson that she ultimately shares is… well… breathtaking.
It’s with great privilege that I share with you this amazing piece of writing by such an amazing woman, where may you be blessed by having a bit of Mary’s spirit in you.
There’s Something About 40
By Mary Wilson Boegel
Today is the 40th anniversary of the day I broke my back and began living with a spinal cord injury. I have certainly acknowledged this day in my heart each year, but there’s something about 40 that steps up one’s self-awareness – reflection, which then turns to gratitude. And, of course, love… the greatest gift of all.
So much has happened in these 40 years. Huge challenges, which continue to help me nurture strength, creativity, perseverance, compassion, vulnerability, humility and, then, solutions wrapped in gratitude. And, all the amazing people I am blessed to know and have in my life… love is the best anyone can hope for… giving and receiving… I am truly blessed.
In the spirit of “you’ve come a long way, baby,” here’re just a few:
The doctors gave me a lifespan of 15 years maximum in 1973. There was no ADA. Nobody wanted to hire me. Nobody wanted to rent me an apartment because they were afraid it would offend the other tenants. Nobody wanted their kids to hang out with me, God forbid, date me. Many would cross the street when they saw me coming, so they wouldn’t get too close to me. Many store clerks would not speak to me, but rather address a companion I was with. No curb cuts, so I pushed in the street or found a driveway if lucky. Limited restaurant and “social activity” access… sat in the slanted aisle of the movie theater if fortunate enough to go (cite the little things we take for granted). No public restroom access or water fountains or payphones (yes, kids, before cell phones!). No ramps, no easy-swing doors, no public access in general. Most private homes had stairs to just get to the front door. And flying… hahaha… Crawling 101 was the rule unless someone was willing to carry you – that is, assuming the airline let you fly to begin with. Discrimination was alive and unwell. Myths and misconceptions running rampant. Cripple was a common reference. And no lightweight – never mind, ultralight – wheelchairs.
But, love made it all ok. Starting with the love of life, waking up each morning and being grateful for that day. Loving (ok, sometimes fueled by anger) the challenge of trying to improve perceptions, access, mobility. Loving the opportunity to try to make a difference. And, by far, most importantly, loving and being loved by the incredible people in my life. Breaking my back was a slap upside the head to be a better, caring, loving person, and apparently its true: when you put something out to the universe, the universe in turn brings it back to you. I am surrounded by so much love… my dear husband, family and friends… your love! So grateful am I for my wonderful life!