Monday, October 08, 2007

Milemarker Mania


I like to travel. I’ve talked on this blog about my Wisconsin summer vacation, my Costa Rica adventure, and my Yellowstone vacation. When I was 10 years old, my family took a 2 week car trip around Lake Michigan. The vacation was a combination of driving, sightseeing, visiting cousins, swimming, biking, hiking, and just hanging out together.

On our drive, we stopped at picturesque lighthouses along both Lake Michigan and Lake Superior. As a passenger in the car, I watched lush, green forests go by my window, and for the first time, noticed milemarkers along the highways. I learned that these posts tell you how far you are along your road and, if you do the math, how much further you have to travel to get to your destination.

One often hears that life is a journey, and that the goal is not to race to the “finish line”, but rather to embrace the whole trip. Yet, when you are a child growing up with a disability, many people, particularly educators and health care providers, focus solely on your milemarkers, as though the milemarkers and the journey are one and the same. Gross motor skills, fine motor skills, speech and language abilities, cognitive skills, academic level, activities of daily living skills, social skills and on and on - it is easy to become consumed with measuring progress against these markers, and take them on as though they were life itself.

My parents carefully planned the routes we would take for our Lake Michigan adventure; we traveled through northwest Indiana and southern Michigan, spent a few days visiting Sleeping Bear Dunes and Traverse City, took a bike trip around Mackinac Island, drove along chilly Lake Superior, and then traveled home through the farmlands of Wisconsin. My parents planned the daily mileage, the finances, the fun, the food, and the sights we would see. They also left room for potential adjustments in the itinerary, and adjustments did take place when we were having a particularly fun time somewhere or when a road was closed due to construction.

The same careful planning is important for my life – defining my priorities and what will make my life full and fulfilling, and then considering how to reach these priorities. I also have to be open for the unexpected pleasures and necessary detours along the way. For example, when I started my interview project, I never expected to have so much fun blogging, to "meet" so many interesting people through the blog carnivals, to learn from the experiences of others and to feel a part of an internet community; I very much appreciate this unique side trip.

Like the time I waited in a long line for a piece of famous Mackinaw Island fudge, sometimes short term sacrifices are necessary to achieve a long term benefit. For example, I do a lot of physical therapy – not how I’d like to spend several hours a week. The reward is not the range of motion of my hips or the fact that I can get good chest and diaphragm expansion. Those are merely milemarkers. What is meaningful is being able to have fun singing, having the breath support to be able to speak understandably, and getting fewer respiratory infections. Sometimes my motivation to endure physical therapy is to avoid a major hip or back surgery, just as when a driver chooses an unpleasant bumpy backroad detour to avoid a bridge that is out.

Milemarkers just give a number, a neutral number. They don’t tell you if you are on the road to New York or the road to California and they won’t inform you to what road is best for you. So, before looking at the milemarkers, thinking carefully about where each road leads is wise. Which of the many possible roads, should one choose? Sometimes, multiple roads can be taken at the same time, while other times that is just not practical, and choices need to be made.

Milemarkers are wooden or concrete posts stuck in the ground, and they give limited, lifeless information. My trip around Lake Michigan was not merely driving from one milemarker to the next – what a drag that would have been! I would have missed so much of Lake Michigan, so many fun times with my family. Nor should life be merely a rote, absent-minded journey from one milemarker to the next, with no thought of the road, the destination, or the beauty of the present.

6 comments:

Ruth said...

"Nor should life be merely a rote, absent-minded journey from one milemarker to the next, with no thought of the road, the destination, or the beauty of the present."

David - this is a wonderful reflection on your experiences. Those memories of trips are even richer since you obviously know how to appreciate the beauty of the present - and how to give perspective to experiences in your life. Thanks for your insights.

Connie said...

Again I agree with Ruth. David, you are wise beyond your 21 years.

Anonymous said...

Connie said "wise" and that is exactly the word I had in my head when I clicked the comment button to post my own thoughts on your thoughts: "He is a wise, old soul."

What beauty you contribute. Your thoughts and presence enrich us all.

God bless. (I have missed your voice, but understand the toll life takes sometimes! Hope school is going well.)

xoxo, Lee (and Mark and the girls)

rbach said...

"Like the time I waited in a long line for a piece of famous Mackinaw Island fudge, sometimes short term sacrifices are necessary to achieve a long term benefit."

One of the many great lines in your post: really brings home one aspect of what milestones mean. Thanks for posting about your experience.

handicap van said...

Thanks for this inspiring and insightful post.

Jodi said...

Wise post and good writing.