life changers

Today is a big day for a few reasons.   It's Pi Day (3.14).   It's my father's birthday.   Happy birthday zaz!   It is also the 3-year anniversary of the day one of my best friends had a life-altering car accident.  Tony, the other dude in this picture below, has been a friend of mine since we were in kindergarten together. 

Aside from being classmates thru gradeschool, Tony and I went to the same church forever as kids and hung out throughout middle school and high school.   We played Freshman basketball together and coached a little league team that same year..... and didn't win a single game in either league.   We went to the same church camps and even went back to be counselors together after we graduated.   That same summer (2001... the year we graduated) we put together a gold medal winning Ultimate Frisbee team that competed in the Show-Me State Games.   We had been organizing a LOT of ultimate games that year with friends and really carved out a little routine that turned out to be one of the best summers I'll ever have.  College comes our way and we go separate ways geographically, but still stay in touch.  A few years pass and I am living at home again and student teaching.  We spend a lot of time together again off and on and I land a teaching job.   First-year teaching is not easy.... not even really that much fun.  It was more work than I had ever done before and I had never really had a career-type job before AND was balancing what I thought was an important relationship as well.  I had very little social life that year for lots of reasons but I certainly didn't see Tony or my Odessa friends like I wish I had.     I'll skip forward a bit here to make a long story just slightly less long. 

3 years ago, today, Tony was in a vehicle accident.  The details were/are complicated and ultimately don't matter.   The end result is what mattered/matters.  Tony broke his neck.   I didn't have a lot of medical knowledge but I knew that neck breaks aren't good.  Initially I was sure things would be fine.  I guess I still had that teenage 'it can't happen to me or my friends' mentality/denial which made me hold hope to this idea until the next day when I returned home from the conference I was attending to learn that Tony still wasn't awake or moving.  Things were bad, much worse than many people know.  I drove to the hospital every day for.... i don't really remember how long.  It felt like months.  Tony eventually woke up and we soon realized that the absolute worse possibilities would not become reality.  Tony was alive and without brain damage.   The rest of it wasn't really good news.  Tony couldn't walk and his wheelchair did basically everything for him.  The captain of our Ultimate squad and Softball team for 6 years reduced to a tough-to-recognize form of himself.   It was clearly still Tony, but it was also clear that things wouldn't ever be the same for him or anyone close to him.   Eventually Tony got feeling back in some of his legs.... we all cried.   Eventually Tony moved to a wheel chair that was powered by him.   That rocked.   Next Tony was using a walker and then a cane and could actually walk.  Crazy!   I have never seen someone work on something so hard mentally, physically, and emotionally.  For Tony it seems like life as he knew it just stopped.  Everything changed.  He, in some ways, started over again.   His good friends became evident and his family much closer.  Casual friends stayed just that or faded out of his life.  Every bit of his life and the people surrounding him were focused on getting Tony better.   It was truly amazing to see it all take place.   In the back of my mind I think we all knew that this shouldn't have to happen to anyone.... but if anyone was going to come through it, Tony would.   I haven't ever been as scared/moved/happy about the smallest things at any other point in my life.  It really put everything in to perspective.  We held a benefit for Tony during all this and I have never seen a community just come together.  We all knew things had to be done and nothing ever stood in our way.  I clearly remember 4 things from that softball benefit day. 

 

  1. Being VERY sunburned by the end of it all.
  2. Our guest of honor arriving to a standing ovation and not a dry eye in the house.
  3. A group of my student council kids driving 25 miles to come eat pancakes, donate money, and support a cause that their teacher thought was important.  They'd never met Tony.
  4. My dad walking over to me with a money count from the pancake breakfast that preceded the softball tourney and telling me, while tearing up, that there were more $100 bills than $1s in the donation basket.  I have yet to think about/talk about that without tearing up a bit.

 

If you wait long enough life usually has happy endings.   Tony is better than ever, married, living in San Diego, and preparing to become a father.  I am proud of him for taking a life-changing event and letting it only be for the best in the end.  

Cheers, Tony-bag-of-donuts..... thanks for not dying.  You said it best in your text reply to me today, "Glad I didnt die either.  That would've sucked."      Yep.... that would've sucked.