Steven R. Lundin
Last Saturday was the Fourth of July. The town in which I live held a 5K run before the start of its Main Street parade, in support of cancer or something like that, and my wife and daughters left early so they could run for the cure. Standing out on our porch, I called goodbye, waved, and watched them leave, and then I turned and entered our home. As soon as I closed the French door behind me, I heard the lifeless silence that caused me to wonder what I should do with my two hours of freedom. Unfortunately, or fortunately, I felt the long gone feelings of childhood. I felt what I was: alone on a holiday.
The decision to stay home had been mine, of course, so I could blame only myself for the isolation I felt from society. I stood on our living room rug and listened and looked. There was the sound of forced air from a floor vent, the tick of the grandfather clock, and nothing else. I should have gone with them.
A framed photograph hangs in our living room of a ski trip we made to Whistler, Canada, and it was this picture that got my attention. That trip had been the last time I stood up and skied, and so I had always smiled at the memory every time I looked at the picture. Seeing it from where I stood alone on Independence Day, with my family gone, experiencing life, and making memories without me, I frowned and looked away from the favorite photo. What was I doing? Staying home alone? On Independence Day? Really?
The right thing to do in situations often comes to me as a nudge, but what I felt there in my living room was the equivalent of a two-handed shove. I rushed through my morning routine, filled a commuter cup with coffee, grabbed our digital camera, and hurried outside like a boy trying to catch up with his friends.
My car is a beast, but it does have a hitch that allows me to take my Segway with me. Even though Segways are people movers, I use mine as a standup wheelchair. It is the same as all of the other Segways – two wheels, self balancing, a deck on which to stand, and two hand holds atop a tall vertical shaft – except I placed one of those blue handi-stickers on the front of mine so I could use it wherever I needed to go, without being mistaken for someone too lazy to walk. I’ve taken it on airplanes and elevators, in hotels, stores, and restaurants, and I took it that morning on the back of my car on my rush to get downtown. The independence the Segway gives me is impossible to compare against the dependence I felt back when I used the wheelchair that sits in our barn.
My mood lightened as I neared my family. Because traffic was already blocked from the parade route, I had to park and use my Segway to reach the starting line of the 5K run. What a mass of humanity! The streets were already lined with chairs, blankets, coolers, chalk drawings, and hundreds of people sitting in their front row seats and waiting for the start of the parade. No one saw me going full speed down the side streets. As soon as I reached Main Street, I slowed down to a pace just above a walk and took in the sights. There was a platform way down the street where the runners were getting ready for the start of their run. Most were wearing white event shirts, all were standing, and the group looked like they were out exercising in the morning sun, leaning, stretching, twisting, and talking. As I Seg’d down the center-line of Main Street, staying between the rails of watchers lining both sides of the street, rolling toward what looked like animated bowling pins at the end of a lane, I heard exclamations of both wonder and fascination.
“Look at thing,” “What is it?” “That is so cool,” “I want one,” and “Hey mister, can I try it?” These calls came from both sides of the empty street. I was alone in the middle. What could I do? Stop? Introduce my Segway as a standup wheelchair? I thought I knew how the rider of the first bicycle felt when he peddled his giant front tire down some dirt road in another century. The difference for me was that I could not get off and walk. But they couldn’t know that. I just kept going and looked ahead for my fatherless family.
In the next block I heard someone complain.
“What is he? Too good to walk?”
That was not the first time I’ve heard the question. It came once when I was visiting my daughter at USC, another time at the Junior Olympics in Omaha, Nebraska, and a time I was Seg’n around the finish line of the Portland-to-Coast race to the beach in Seaside, Oregon. Each of those other times ended with the callers feeling awful after seeing the handi-sticker, the cane, and my inability to walk “like the rest of us.” I have grown indifferent to such comments. I barely hear them anymore. If those calls were the price for getting out of my house to be with my family, then I was glad to pay it. I kept going without saying a word, but I did have a grin: That’s right! I thought. I’m rolling right down Main Street.
I found them just before the start of the run. Actually, they found me. They ran over to me laughing and pointing to where I should stand to watch the race, and then they were gone. What mattered most to me was that I was there with them. Life is not something to live alone. I took a thousand pictures that day. When they go through the pictures, I know they will not see a single picture of me. So What? Fathers are never in the pictures they take. Instead, they will see what I saw that day: our family together on Independence Day. How sweet is that?