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Social Distancing


In our loud and hustle bustle world, many of us are uncomfortable with the prospect of quiet solitude. When I lived in North Carolina, I remember talking with our next-door neighbor who had recently moved down from New York City. He told me that he couldn’t sleep at night because it was too quiet. Have you ever taken a stroll through a crowded place just to notice what people are doing? Those who are by themselves are typically buried in their smart phones, reaching out to others through a myriad of social media apps so they won’t feel alone.


Back in the day before my accident, I was no different. While smart phones hadn’t quite yet exploded onto the scene, I nevertheless busied myself in a host of activities whenever I found myself alone while traveling on business. I was either making phone calls, or had my head buried in my laptop, working on emails, or this document, or that spreadsheet. The first thing I would do after my flight reached cruising altitude was to fire up my laptop and immerse myself in the task at hand. Even though I was within about 100 feet of perhaps 150 people, my full concentration revolved around the space within about one foot of me in any direction.


All that changed of course after my accident. I no longer lived in the hustle bustle world that is the domain of the able-bodied. For me, the speed of life had dramatically slowed. Whether I am in my wheelchair or in bed, the hubbub of activity or conversation is typically taking place elsewhere in the room. If that room includes my infant grandchildren and their voluminous toys/books, my wheelchair movement is severely restricted. In these situations, I find myself alone, even while in the proximity of others. Not that being alone is uncomfortable for me, I have found myself to be a comfortable companion over the years.


In the past week, the world as we know it has changed dramatically. We have been introduced to the concept of social distancing. Newscasters, who used to sit close together like two romantic couples, now demonstrate this concept like they had just engaged in a vehement disagreement. As of today, theaters and restaurants are seating no more than 50 people, if they are even open. Our local, state and national officials are calling for us to congregate in groups no larger than 10 people. From the posts on social media, clearly many are struggling with this notion. For we of the wheelchair crowd however, this presents a great opportunity to reconvene with the solitude of nature.


When I am outdoors, the noise of humanity is sufficiently diminished to the point where my ears can be opened to the sounds of nature. When I am on my favorite nature trail, it is easy to be still and just observe the life that unfolds before your eyes. I have seen an armadillo making slow progress through the leaves in the woods, toward an unknown destination. I have also seen colorful birds and seasonal flowers that caused me to later research what they are. When you see such natural beauty, it seems a shame not to know what you are looking at. I once watched in fascination as a very small frog stayed one leap ahead of a small snake who slithered after him. I have even become a person of interest to the nature which surrounds me. Once I came home on a rather cool day with a bee literally trapped inside the loose hood I wore for warmth. Truly, a bee in my bonnet! Another time, my wife found a spider that had taken a liking to the back of my wheelchair. Yet another time, a butterfly had landed on my hand in the park, and hitched a ride the entire length of the trail before departing for new environs.


Perhaps it will be easier for those of us in wheelchairs to adapt to the new social reality than those who normally spend their lives running from here to there, these days likely looking for toilet paper. For others of us who roll through life, perhaps it will be an opportunity to slow down, and better appreciate this crazy planet that we inhabit. Perhaps we can be an instrument of sanity in what seems like an insane world. As they said in the TV show Hill Street Blues, “Let’s be careful out there.”


Noticeably absent when we all left rehab was the instruction manual for dealing with the myriad of situations we would find ourselves in. Ask This Old Quad articles serve to fill in that vacuum, because we have all developed tricks of the trade that we believe would be valuable for others. Share your ideas and experience with us at info@unitedspinalusa.org.

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