Archives For Hope

The World Is So Small

August 22, 2018 — 1 Comment

People send me messages on Facebook pretty frequently.

Usually, though, they don’t live on the street I grew-up on.

Let me explain.

The other day I received a message from Maurita. She explained how she and her husband, Kevin, just had a little boy, Colin, who was born with a different little left hand. In the days following Colin’s arrival, Kevin remembered that he had seen me speak two years ago. He works at a hospital under the same umbrella as the company I work for and I had done some events, one of which was in the city he works in. Small world, right?! So, they reached out to me for any insight I might be able to share with them. Since I knew he worked relatively close, I asked if they lived near Madison, WI, which is close to where I live. I thought maybe I could just visit them.

This is where things get fun.

“We are actually in Verona and would love to meet up!” she said.

Verona?? That’s where I live.

Not only that, she then tells me they live in the same neighborhood I grew-up in.

AND THE SAME STREET I GREW-UP ON. I tell her which house I lived in and she totally knows which one I mean.

So crazy!

We make plans for me to come over for a visit the next day.

It gets better.

The next evening I head over to their house and as I’m driving by the house I lived in all through middle and high school, I pull over right past it because I’m voice-to-texting my wife and need to concentrate. A lady pulls up beside me and I motion for her to go around. Instead, she rolls her window down and says, “I’m sorry! I thought you were someone else. Somebody is coming to pick-up my daughter. I live in this house.”

I laugh.

“That’s hilarious. Because I lived in this house for about ten years!”

Then I had to awkwardly explain that I wasn’t stalking her, but that I was going to visit with some new friends down the road. I think she believed me.

Then it was off to visit with my new friends!

Is this the cutest or what??

Colin was upset when I got there, but mom and dad knew exactly what to do. “Is it ok if we go sit on the patio? Colin loves the humidity for some reason,” Maurita told me. Sure enough, as soon as we got out there he calmed right down! So adorable.

We sat on the patio, Colin, mom and dad, and Maurita’s mom, and talked for a long time. We talked about their experience so far, situations we’ve both encountered and how to deal with them, I shared advice I’ve gleaned over the years…we literally laughed and cried together and it was fantastic.

One of the things that really got to me was when they shared their birth story with me. It was difficult. Colin’s difference didn’t show-up on their ultrasounds, so when he arrived the first thing they heard was, “What’s wrong with his hand??” I’m still stunned by that. The doctor then said, “I’m sorry,” but nothing further. The hospital took care of them, but gave them no information about why this might have happened, nor did they direct them to any resources to help them. Everything they knew and learned over the next six weeks came from the internet.

Just a reminder: It’s 2018.

It showed me that we still have a long way to go. The first response any parents should hear when their baby arrives should be POSITIVE. It lit a fire in me to go to somehow connect with hospitals to make sure this doesn’t happen again. To make sure they are trained and prepared for these circumstances and that they have answers and resources available immediately for the parents. I know a book they could give them that I think will help.

It was awesome to connect with my new friends and we had such a great time learning from each other. We’ll definitely be getting together again soon. These types of connections really are everything. If you know of other families near you who are affected by limb-differences in some way, take some time to get to know each other. Go to their house. Hangout at the park. Go to the zoo. There’s really nothing like being together and sharing stories and learning from each other.

So tiny!

And maybe, just maybe, you’ll find out you have some other crazy connection that reminds you how small the world really is.

I need you to do two things right now:

  1. Think of the names of three people in your life that have made a positive impact on you.
  2. Tell them you appreciate them and why.

Text them. Call them. Write them. Email them. Visit them in person. I don’t care how you do it, I just need you to tell them and to do your best to make sure they understand the difference they’ve made in your life.

This is weighing on me heavily today.

A co-worker sent me a lovely email about a talk I gave a few weeks ago. She was so kind and encouraging and toward the end of her note she shared that she lost her father to lung cancer a little over a year ago. “He was very humbled by all of the people in his life that reached out to extend their concern and well wishes. He got choked up (which didn’t happen often) when he would say, ‘You never know the impact that you have on people,'” she said. “I was grateful that he was able to see that, as I think many people never do. It is really touching to know what an inspiration you have been to the world and I can understand why you, too, got choked up speaking about that.”

When she said that “many people never do,” I thought of my dad. I lost my dad to suicide at the end of 2014. Today I’m struggling with it more than I do most days. Shortly before he took his life, he was celebrated by hundreds of people who came to show their appreciation at a retirement event. He worked hard for his city, making it beautiful for 30+ years. He knew everybody. He was also a baseball coach for years and impacted boys who turned into young men who then waited in line for hours to pay their respects at his wake. The line at his wake was embarrassingly long. The number of people who came was overwhelming.

He wasn’t perfect, but he made a positive impact on so many lives and I hope he understood that to some degree.

Honestly, I’m still learning how to accept compliments, too. I frequently get messages thanking me for Different Is Awesome! and my talks and school visits and the website and I promise you every one of them makes me smile. Even so, I still struggle to embrace them, which I think happens to a lot of us. We’re insecure. We’re a little embarrassed, maybe. We deflect. We even forget the good notes and instead remember any negative ones we’ve received!

So, the challenge here is two-fold. First, make sure you’re actively thanking the people in your life who are affecting you in a positive way. Often. Chances are they need to hear it more than you know. Second, let’s learn how to embrace compliments and kindness appropriately. When you help others, feel the warmth and gratitude when they thank you. Remember that you are valuable and that it’s not arrogance to think so.

It’s the truth.

Running has always been a solitary activity for me.

Provided I’m not being chased, of course.

It’s also never come very easily to me; distance running, at least. I was a sprinter in high school, but if you ever got me over 200 meters, I was toast. In fact, the summer between my 8th and 9th grade years I went to the informational meeting about running cross country and then I tried to run home to see what it was like.

It did not go well.

I did not join the cross country team.

So, when I took up running in my early thirties, it was kind of a big deal. I documented my training for my first 5k and my first 10k. Every time I went out and every time I ran a race, it was an event. Which is totally great, but the last couple of races I’ve run I’ve had one thought going through my mind:

This is all about me.

I love the sense of accomplishment. I love getting the medal at the end of the race. I love the free beer (I think this might be a Wisconsin thing). I love making the perfect playlist and getting lost in the run. And none of these are inherently bad, don’t get me wrong. But, I felt like something was missing.

The reason I’ve felt like this the last couple races is because before each of them, I ran into an amazing group of people. They’re called myTEAM TRIUMPH.

Love @myteamtriumphwi! Can’t wait to volunteer!

A video posted by Ryan Haack (@livingonehanded) on

You’ll notice that I posted this last May and I’m happy to announce that I’m going to volunteer this year! myTEAM TRIUMPH’s mission is “to enrich the health and well-being of individuals with disabilities by fostering lasting, authentic relationships through the teamwork environment of endurance athletics.” Basically what will happen is that I will be teamed-up with at least two of my good friends (Geoff and Jake) and we will be the “Angels” for our Captain as we run a 10k in beautiful downtown Madison, WI at the end of May. The Captain has a disability that prevents them from completing the race on their own, which is where we come in.

I’m really excited about this for a number of reasons, one of which is that I hope there’s some confusion about whether I’m a Captain or an Angel. “Well…uh…he’s missing part of his arm, but…he seems to be able to run fine, so…” But, jokes aside, I’m incredibly excited to run this race for someone else. And with my friends. Obviously I anticipate that it will be a life-changing experience for me personally, but the purpose of the event is to help someone else. That’s incredibly motivating to me.

And, in an effort to surprise absolutely nobody, I can confirm that I start to…um…get emotional every time I watch a video about myTEAM TRIUMPH. I was showing this one to my wife the other night and suddenly she was like, “Dude, are you crying?! Seriously, you weren’t lying!” Nope. I was not.

And this is where you come in.

The bare minimum we need to fundraise to participate is $100.

I would love to obliterate that number.

For more information and to donate, please go to My Fundraising Page!

I’ll be updating that page as we begin to train and go through the myTEAM TRIUMPH experience together.

As always, thank you all so much for your support.

You’re the best. 🙂

I went to see my counselor the other day.

I had been struggling with the fact that the one year anniversary of my dad’s death was coming up and I wanted to make sure I did everything correctly…whatever that means. Should I go to the cemetery at sunrise? Or dusk? Should we hold some sort of vigil or remembrance service? Should I cry? How much is too much? Or should I laugh and smile, remembering the good times? What should that balance look like? Should I talk about it with the kids? Should I treat it like any other day? I don’t want to ruin the day by overthinking what I’m going to do or how I’m going to feel!

This is why I went to see my counselor.

He basically reiterated what my friend Cabell told me, which was, “Just do whatever you want, even if it’s nothing.” There’s no “right way,” which is difficult for someone like me who always needs to know exactly how to do something. Like, when the LEGO blocks come out, I’m the one asking for the instruction booklet. Tell me what to do and I’ll do it.

This groundwork in place, he asked me, “As it relates to the memory of your father, what would bring you joy?” I just sat there for a bit, trying to wrap my mind around the question. “Can you give me an example?” I asked. I really did. Eventually I said that I’d like to be able to remember times we had together that made me laugh and the times my kids had with him. Then I started saying how it’s hard to divorce the fact that he was such a great dad and grandfather, “but he killed himself” and my counselor stopped me and said, “Not but, and.” I asked him to explain.

“When you say but, you essentially negate everything before it, which I know is not your intention. What you mean to say is, ‘He was a great man and he killed himself.’ Both are true and one doesn’t negate the other,” he said.

Words are incredible. Exchange three letters for three others and suddenly the whole message is different.

Knowing my love for words, he then made this suggestion: “I’d like for you to write a poem for your dad.”

And I broke.

Well, I swore and then I broke.

“Perhaps this is something you could do every year. Maybe it becomes a tradition. Or maybe not. It’s up to you,” he said.

It’s a brilliant idea. I love poetry. In fact, years ago I won a contest to study poetry with Sage Cohen and it was amazing. So, I left my counselor’s office and I began to think about what I’d write. I searched for memories I had with my dad that made me happy. I started writing them down and, well, there were many. “This is going to be a long poem,” I thought. Instead of getting overwhelmed, though, I started with just one memory. I’m sure I’ll write the other ones and maybe they’ll become a collection or something, but for now, I just want to share this one.

It Was Magic

You had me fooled for years

in that old car.

“Just snap your fingers,” you said,

then you snapped and smiled,

and on came the high beams.

You were a magician!

Snap.

On.

Snap.

Off.

You told me to try, so I did

and just like you said they would,

the high beams turned on and off

when I snapped my

little fingers.

I was a magician, too!

Not until years later did you

reveal your secret.

That button on the floor you

pressed with your foot each time

either of us snapped was what

really turned them on and off.

“But, dad,” I argued,

“They even turned on when I

snapped quietly, just to test it!”

And I know you said you

heard me even then,

but part of me

still thinks

it was

magic.

 

So, today, on the one year anniversary of your death, dad, I remember you. I remember the times in that car when you made me feel like magic was real. I remember that you loved making me smile and laugh and I know I inherited the desire to do the same for others from you. Thank you. I miss you every day and I’m continuing to learn how to live my life without you here. Sometimes I get angry and oftentimes I’m sad, but I’ll never stop loving you. Julie misses you and the kids miss their Papa terribly, but we’ll do our best to remember the things that make us smile. I know you’d want us to do that.

Love you, dad

Red Huffy and High Socks.

A year ago today I saw my dad alive for the last time.

I knew this day was coming and I’ve done my best to prepare, but I’m honestly still not sure how the day’s going to to go.

As with any loss, but especially suicide, there are things I wish I could have done differently a year ago. Like, I wish I would have visited again before he took his life a couple weeks later. Things I wish I would have noticed. Like how he chose to stay behind and make the pizzas instead of going door-to-door with the kids. But, I fully realize that wishing I could have done things differently doesn’t change how they actually went and it doesn’t help. I also know it’s natural to feel these things, though.

The truth is, everything that happened that Halloween day in 2014 was totally normal. We went over to Papa and Donna’s, the kids went door-to-door with Julie and Donna, Dad and I stayed back to make pizzas and handout candy, we took pictures and then we went home. Pretty much exactly the same as we’d done the past ten years.

Last Halloween Picture With Papa

Last Halloween Picture With Papa

For a while I was actually kind of mad about the fact that the last time my dad saw my kids, Claire was dressed like a hotdog and Sam was wearing a friggin’ green morph suit. Over time, though, I’ve come to think it’s pretty funny. That’s who they are. And I remember my dad thinking it was so funny. I also remember handing out candy while he was in the dining room and knowing the mom of the very first kid that came to the door. “You knew her??” he asked me. “Yeah, we used to work together,” I answered. “Of course you did,” he said with a chuckle.

It was a running joke with my dad and I, ever since I was little. Wherever we went, I knew somebody or they knew me. He’d give me grief about it and shake his head, but the irony is that he was the same way! My dad knew everybody and everybody knew him. So, really, it was an inherited trait. One I’m grateful for.

So, today we’re going to celebrate Halloween like we always have. The kids will dress up and we’ll go over to Donna’s and trick-or-treat in their neighborhood and eat pumpkin-shaped pizza and handout candy to other kids. It might be hard. We might cry. But we can also talk about the happy memories we have about all the Halloweens we got to spend with Papa, too.

And there will be plenty of candy, I’m sure.

We love you, dad, and we miss you so much.

And I’ll think of you smiling every time I run into somebody I know today.

Happy Halloween.

Papa and a tiny little Claire dressed like a fairy.

Papa and a tiny little Claire dressed like a fairy.

Sam and Anna with Papa and the pumpkin pizza in 2008.

Sam and Anna with Papa and the pumpkin pizza in 2008.

I love this shot, walking the neighborhood, talking with dad.

I love this shot, walking the neighborhood, talking with dad.

Sam and Papa with the pumpkin pizza in 2009.

Sam and Papa with the pumpkin pizza in 2009.

First of all, let’s just get this out of the way:

Yes, I got a tattoo on my one wrist.

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I’m not gonna lie, I was a little nervous about it. I mean, you don’t plan on things going wrong, but…what if? It crossed my mind. Thankfully my son lightened the mood before I left the house to get it by asking very innocently, “Which wrist are you gonna get it on, dad? (pause) Oh, wait…nevermind.” His sheepish grin afterward made me laugh and relax.

My friend Alex tattooed me at Steve’s here in Madison and he did an amazing job. It was my first, so it was cool to have a friend do it; someone who understood the significance of it. He told me he’d take it easy on me and for the most part the experience went off without a hitch. I determined beforehand not to look until he was finished, but a little ways in I couldn’t resist a peek. It was my only mistake. I looked over, hopeful it was nearing completion, and it…well…wasn’t.

I didn’t look again until he was finished.

My daughter asked if I cried and I told her, “Not from my eyes.” I did sweat. A lot. But I made it through without any breaks and with only two deep breaths to refocus. If you’ve never gotten a tattoo, the sensation is hard to explain. It’s painful, for sure, but there’s something that feels almost sacred when it’s happening. Well, that and like a cat clawing at a sunburn. With broken, jagged claws. It’s beautiful.

So, why did I get a tattoo and why did I get this tattoo?

This goes back a ways. There were many times in my life that I wanted something that I could have gotten and just didn’t. I always wanted some Chuck Taylors in elementary school and just never did. I wanted to get my ear pierced for a long time and never did. I’ve wanted a tattoo for a long time…so this time, I did.

And this tattoo is for me. Even though I’m sure it will connect with many, many people and it will start amazing and intense conversations, ultimately, I put it in a place on my body where I can hold it up and look at it and read it myself. For me.

In November of 2014 I lost my dad to suicide. It’s still hard to fathom. So, my tattoo incorporates two very meaningful elements for me. If you’ve not heard of Project Semicolon, the idea behind it is that a semicolon represents the opportunity the author had to end the sentence with a period, but they chose to continue on instead. The idea is that we all have that choice with the story of our lives. Will we end it or will we continue on? So, the semicolon is to honor my dad by bringing awareness to the tragedy of suicide and to encourage those also struggling. A kind of we-re-all-in-this-together thing.

The other element is the phrase “Be Not Afraid.” Not a specific Bible verse, but the concept is pervasive throughout scripture, for sure. I struggle with fear and anxiety quite a bit. I’ve gotten better than I used to be, thanks to an amazing therapist and fantastic friends, but it’s still something that gets in my way. It can be paralyzing. And I don’t like it.

So, the theory is, when I’m feeling afraid, hopeless, down…I can look at my wrist and be encouraged.

Be not afraid, Ryan. Keep going.

Here’s what’s kind of funny about this. My dad grew-up the son of a WWII hero turned small town cop. I remember him telling me in no uncertain terms that if I grew my hair out or got an earring…it would be a problem. So, I didn’t. I didn’t resent him for it or anything and we had our moments, like when I dyed my hair purple, but it was never that big of a deal. Flash forward a good number of years and I’m visiting my dad as an adult when I notice something on his shoulder. It was a big ol’ cross! “Dad, when did you get a tattoo??” I asked incredulously. “Had a dream about it,” he told me. “You had a dream about it?” I said. “Yep. Had a dream about it, so I went in and picked it out and had ’em put it on me,” he said.

And that’s really all I remember about how my dad’s tattoo came to be.

I have some more ideas for myself and I’m looking forward to having them done.

One incorporates a cross on my shoulder.

Do you have a tattoo? Or tattoos? What was your experience like? Why did you get yours and what do they mean?

Yesterday Twitter blew-up over the death of former football star Tyler Sash.

I wasn’t familiar with him, but saw that he was a Big 10 kid (Iowa), so I read more. He won a Super Bowl with the Giants his rookie year in the NFL, played a few more years and has been out of the league since then. He seemed to be friends with everyone. And nobody could believe he was dead. Then I started seeing things like, “Depression is no joke.”

And that’s when I thought to myself, “Is this what they call a trigger?”

It sounds like it might have been suicide that took Tyler, though it hasn’t yet been confirmed. If it was, though, it’s horrible.

Obviously, it made me think about my dad.

This week has been interesting for me. It’s National Suicide Prevention week. I’ve advocated in years past during this week because of my uncle’s suicide thirty years ago, but this year is different. I’m struggling to know just how to hold this all in my heart and mind this week.

On Monday, for instance, I took my son to the doctor. I was looking at him while we were checking in and was caught off-guard when I heard, “Grandpa Calvin still ok for the emergency contact?” I snapped my head toward the young man, hoping Sam wasn’t paying attention, and politely said, “Actually, if you could please remove him from the account, we’ll be ok with just me and Julie for now.” Those moments are fleeting, but nonetheless difficult to work through.

AFSP_SPW_socialgraphics_150ppi6I also saw a beautiful photo a good friend of mine post of her youngest son’s hand being held by that of her father-in-law, his grandfather. Within the heart-felt caption she quoted Proverbs saying, “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children…” and my heart sank. Was my dad not a good man? Of course he was, but in that moment, my heart was broken. My kids won’t ever hold his hand again. My brothers’ kids will never hold his hand or be held by him. I absolutely hate that. Hate it.

And here’s the thing…I was never upset with my friend for posting that. It’s beautiful! And I’m so happy for them, for real. But, it triggered something in me that I had to work through. Which is hard, but ultimately good. Thankfully I have an amazing wife who let me discuss it with her and make her late for whatever she was getting ready for.

Honestly, this post seems a little self-centered to me, but I’m still sharing it because I’m sure there are tons of people who are going to read it and be like, “Dude, this is exactly how I feel!” And we shouldn’t feel bad about it. The fact is, we lost someone to suicide and it sucks and it’s absolutely normal to struggle with how to feel.

I think it’s pretty clear that I’m all for suicide prevention. Now more than ever before. That said, this year I don’t really want to be a champion for the cause. I need to be okay with the fact that I’m still grieving.

So, if you’ve lost someone to suicide…I feel you. I’m with you. And I’m so sorry. We’ll get through this.

AFSP_SPW_socialgraphics_150ppi8If you’re thinking about suicide, please please ask for help. I know it’s hard and I know you don’t or maybe can’t think about it in the moment, but please, just tell someone. It might seem like the only way out of whatever situation you’re in. It might seem like the only way to make the pain stop. But, please hear me: IT’S NOT. It’s not the only way. You’re valuable and we need you and I’ll shout that from the rooftops until the end of time. Stay with us. We’ll help.

For everyone else, count your blessings. I’m not saying that to make you feel bad, either! Seriously, be grateful if you don’t struggle with these thoughts or haven’t been affected directly by the devastation that is suicide. Keep spreading your light and life and love to those around you.

You never know who needs it.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255

“I was waiting for YOU to ask me!” she told me.

I had just asked Lisa if anybody had invited her to prom yet. I was not the most savvy of young men at the time.

So, I officially asked her to be my date and she said yes and we had a wonderful time at prom together.

We ended-up dating for a short time after that, but like many high school romances it eventually ended and we both moved on.

We remained friends, but lost touch after high school for the most part.

Then, ten years ago to the day, I saw Lisa’s smiling face in the obituaries. I gasped audibly. Not because it was totally unexpected, but because it was still hard to believe. And it made me really sad.

Lisa had Cystic Fibrosis, although I never understood the complexities and seriousness of the disease when we were together. The disease took her at age 26, which is close to average for expected lifespan. Again, something I didn’t know when we were together.

I remember people said I was brave for being with her because of her condition. To be honest, I was mostly just ignorant. Maybe naive is a better word. I was with her because she was cute and fun and funny. We did normal stuff. We went to the movies, we hungout at each others’ houses, we went to the park. It never crossed my mind that she would die young.

I’ve never thought about it until now, but I wonder if people thought the same thing about her being with me? How sweet of her to be with that boy with one hand! As far as I remember, neither of us ever talked about our “conditions.” It would have been like having late night conversations about the color of our hair or our height. Which she would have hated because she was so short.

The facts that she had CF and I had one hand were far down the list of things we were concerned about.

And I love that.

We miss you, Lisa! We’re all grateful for the time we had with you and are thankful for the smiles and laughter you brought. Your strength and determination inspired everyone you knew.

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My wife changes the world every single day.

And she does it just by being her.

She doesn’t spend hours researching how to build a platform online or how to drive traffic to a blog. She doesn’t stand in front of crowds or record a podcast or write ebooks.

There’s nothing wrong with any of these things (Um, they’re exactly what I do) and she could do any of them (really well, might I add), but my point is that you can change the world without them.

Almost every day she’s meeting with some young woman over coffee who ends-up spilling her guts, then leaves feeling like she can conquer anything because of the love and wisdom Julie has shared. She puts in countless hours of thankless, behind-the-scenes work for our church, championing our community to anyone and everyone she meets. She’s helping to shape the lives of two little munchkins three days a week as the world’s best nanny. She’s raising our kids to be compassionate, loving young people who care about others more than themselves.

None of these activities are particularly glamorous and I know the daily grind can be frustrating. “Am I really making a difference?” we ask ourselves. I know Julie has felt that way, as I’m sure most of us have.

That’s why it’s nice to hear that you’ve actually made a difference every once in a while.

A couple months ago we volunteered at the Wisconsin State cheerleading meet. It was held at Wilmot Union High School where, over a decade ago, Julie took over as head coach for the fledgling varsity cheerleading team. Julie had never cheered for even one minute in her entire life. She was a drama geek in high school. But, they needed someone and it meant a few more dollars in her paycheck and, most importantly, an opportunity to impact a group of young people she’d otherwise never have the chance to.

The first year meant a lot of long hours basically making sure the girls stayed alive. Julie did a lot of research and relied heavily on the upperclassmen to help her out with the actual cheerleading stuff. And even though she wasn’t technically skilled on how to develop those girls as cheerleaders, she loved them with her whole heart and taught them how to be incredible young women.

Over time, Julie learned more and the team got better. Julie surrounded herself with other coaches who were able to help with the technical aspects of cheer/dance and they even placed at State before we moved away in 2004. But, through it all, Julie was always just herself, loving those girls and developing relationships. Fast forward a decade and Julie and I are standing next to Mandi, one of the coaches Julie brought on to help all those years ago. Mandi coordinated the State meet at Wilmot High School. Over 50 schools competing. I just stood there and watched them as they reminisced and then Mandi turned to Julie and said, “This is because of you, you know. Look around. This was our dream! This wouldn’t be happening…I wouldn’t be here doing this…if it weren’t for you.”

Of course I started crying. Gimme a break.

We saw former cheerleaders of Julie’s at that meet who were volunteering, some providing security, and a few of them even head coaches of their own teams now! In fact, the senior girl who helped Julie that first year is now the head coach of that team. Insane.

The point is, Julie didn’t have some master plan to change the world. The world changed because she loved people. Period.

And that’s just who she is.

Just a regular wife, mom and friend…changing the world every single day.

And I’m so proud of and in love with her.

Do you ever have that feeling, that you’d be able to change the world if only…? Do you believe you can change the world just by loving those around you? Just by being you? Are there people that have changed your life just by being them? How does that inspire you to do the same?

The WHS squad, way back in the day!

The WHS squad, way back in the day!

Julie and Mandi

Julie and Mandi

Julie and Jenni, the senior girl who helped Julie that first year and is now the varsity coach!

Julie and Jenni, the senior girl who helped Julie that first year and is now the varsity coach!

April is Limb Loss Awareness month.

The Amputee Coalition started the party and it was officially recognized by the President in 2012.

I didn’t lose a limb, though.

I also don’t use a prosthetic, so I can’t “show my mettle.”

lsp_sym-logo_171214-100141

So, since it obviously doesn’t apply to me, I’m going to get angry and cry about it.

GOTCHA! HAPPY APRIL FOOL’S DAY!

Seriously, though, it seems like every year this becomes a bit of an issue. Instead of a month to celebrate and unify, it becomes a month of defining even further our differences. I’m not down with that. Jen at Born Just Right wrote a great post about this, too, and I totally agree with one of the folks she quoted who said that despite our differences, “We all understand each other to some degree.” And that’s exactly it. Whether we’re missing fingers or toes or whole arms or legs, and whether we were born that way or lost them somehow…there are so many similarities in our experiences.

Here’s something interesting to consider: All of us who are “missing something,” are amputees by definition. Even those of us born this way. “Congenital amputation is when a person is born without a limb or limbs, or without a part of a limb or limbs.” Want to know how many years it took me to realize I’m an amputee? Over 30. I remember when I broke my short arm and the ER doctor was explaining that I needed to see the orthopedist to discuss my options and I asked, “Are they going to have to…amputate it…more?” My understanding at that time was that the only definition of amputation was that of cutting something off. The truth is, though, I’m an amputee, by definition, because I was born like this.

Now, do I ever call myself an amputee? Not really.

But I also don’t feel excluded when I see Barack Obama officially recognize Limb Loss Awareness Month just because I technically didn’t lose a limb.

And here’s why…I refuse to miss the forest for the trees.

I refuse to get lost in semantics.

Rather, I choose to engage with the heart of the matter. And that is support and encouragement and celebration.

Our community – those affected by congenital amputation, amputation, limb loss, limb difference, disability, however the heck you refer to yourself – while global and not insignificant, is too small to splinter. We need each other.

Which is why I’m going to celebrate and smile and encourage those in our community to embrace the similarities we all share. And take pride in all of the amazing and inspiring people who happen to share some physical characteristics with me that most people don’t.

Now, maybe more than ever before, our uniqueness is being noticed.

And celebrated.

And I am down with that.