We all have challenges. We all have dreams. Not everyone’s struggles and everyone’s wishes are the same. But we all have them – those things that we aspire to, want, hope for, and then those bumps in the road – and sometimes roadblocks, those things that dare us to overcome them, those things that can sometimes just beat us down.
Ironically, most people are afraid to talk about either. And I don’t mean their hardship with raising a teenager or their dream of owning a house someday. I mean their real challenges and their real dreams. The stuff we think about, often deep down inside, but don’t ever verbalize.
My challenge is my wheelchair. My disability. I started using a wheelchair at the age of seven due to a genetic skeletal disorder, and have since spent over 25 years learning how to cope with it – and accept it.
My dream is to see the world. Every part of the world, from the Amazon to the Great Wall to the penguins on the South Pole.
When I was in the third grade, I came home after studying geography and told my mom that someday I wanted to visit all 50 states. She nodded her head and said, “You should really do that.” Her father was a hobo when he was in his twenties, spending months at a time exploring everything between California and New York. I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and my curiosity to see the world was no surprise to my mother.
Ten years later, I was proud to say I had accomplished my dream of seeing all 50 states. As the years passed I began traveling internationally several times a year and was constantly being told that my stories and my experiences were just fascinating. There is an assumption that traveling is very difficult for me due to my wheelchair. And at times it is, but after those moments pass, and I take a look at the destination I’m in, I realize that I am one of the luckiest people on this planet.
I think of the rest of the world and the people in it. There are so many things in this world that I would change. So many things that are frustrating. But the ironic part of it all is that everywhere I go, and everywhere that I’ve been, it seems we all have a common mission. We all want to have freedom to pursue our dreams, have good relationships, live a meaningful life, and improve life for the next generation. There are people fighting for this all over the world. And there are emotions in every person I’ve met. There’s frustration in understanding each other. There can be a huge frustration with language barriers, and there’s a frustration with not being able to express ourselves clearly. How can our world be completely peaceful if we can’t even explain our intentions or our points of view to the person sitting on the train next to us, going to the same place? I’ve learned that an amazing amount can be communicated with hand signals and smiles. But is this really enough? I want to hear people’s stories, something that will be impossible with the majority of people in the world.
The world has become full of invisible borders, lines drawn in an imaginary space dictating who can visit where and who is privileged to live certain lifestyles. I’m fortunate to travel with a US passport, something I’ve taken for granted far too many times. And if my ancestors hadn’t made the tough journey to a land unknown a few hundred years ago, my story likely would be completely different. Traveling through the many countries I’ve visited, seeing people that are just like me that could have been my family, I’ve come to realize that I simply got lucky. I was born between two lines that have given me more than the person serving me coffee in Romania will ever have. It doesn’t seem right to me. We should all be given the opportunities to visit other parts of the world and live the lifestyle we chooses. I can’t change that, but I can certainly make sure I use the unfair advantages I’ve been given and live them to the fullest. We all should be doing that – we are very lucky.