As many of you know, my old van "Colossus" was recently in the shop for repairs. If this were the case in months between April and September, life would not miss a beat. I live about a two-mile "walk" from downtown, and I take my wheelchair on warm days through the park, a few neighborhoods, and along the river greenway to that epicenter of city life. But it's not warm right now; its December, and every gust of below-freezing wind declares it with a riotous howl. So, without a van, I'm pretty well stuck at home... or am I?
To simplify things for everyone, I did hang around the house more than usual for a few days. But Tuesday night came and I had a hankering for an Irish Godfather (my favorite drink), and really, it was more a longing to visit the pub with my friends. It's one of our favorite pastimes in Fort Wayne. We made the call, the plan unfolded. Leaving my wheelchair at the house, Ben and I got into Luke's car with my backpack in tow and the three of us were off. We went first to the coffee shop to work on a video project, and our friends Dave and Rach met us there. Once the video was done, we all walked the next block over to J.K. O'Donnell's Castle Bar, where the staff know us by now as friends from around town.
It was a quiet night at the pub. Boz worked behind the bar and as Ben carried me through the doors and by his post, he waved to us like nothing was out of the ordinary. We waved back. We opted to sit in the back room by the fire, so our waiter Carl followed us as we went. He's a cool guy, very laid back with kind of a James Dean vibe in his hair, though the rest of him is more pleasant to be around.
"Where you guys wanna sit?" he asked, and this was certainly the thing we wondered too.
In Europe, we'd set me (in the backpack) on benches or atop chairs placed together. I'd also sat in the pack on the floor, but we tried to avoid this option because everyone else ended up being so much higher than me and that was just awkward. My nose, at best, would poke over the table to be part of the communal experience. If we had to do this, I told the gang, it would be fine. We tried all the other ways, but for some reason, they just wouldn't work that night. After a few attempts at sitting on the bench, I resigned myself to the floor, and everyone complied. It just made the most sense.
"You guys could just do a picnic style back here," suggested Ali, a passing waitress who was just clocking out.
"Really?" asked Rach, her eyes lighting up. "Is that really okay?"
Ali and Carl looked at each other and shrugged. "Sure," they both said with a laugh.
So, they got to work. Ben and Dave set up me and my backpack on the floor while Rach, Luke, and the staff slid away tables and chairs to make space. Then they pulled up several short stools to use as our new makeshift tables and chairs. We ended up in a circle at comparable heights to one another, and Carl took our orders without batting an eye (nor did we) at the oddity of it all.
The night rolled on as our food came and went. As usual, we ordered too many fries ("chips"). Ali joined us for a bit before heading home after a double shift. Luke and I had been working on our respective Top 10 list of favorite movies, so the others made wagers and guesses. We swapped stories of the holidays and reminisced with inside jokes about the year at its end. It was, for us, just another night at the pub.
When we were done and all settled up, Ben scooped me up and carried me through again to the front doors. As we passed the bar, Boz called out a goodnight and we wished him a merry Christmas. Rach opened one door, Dave opened the next, and Luke got the car door for us. And on our drive home, as I leaned against Ben for support, I couldn't help reflecting on the evening with a contentment, like that of a promise kept.
More than the sacrifice of my friends, the love I felt that night came from the ease with which they made those sacrifices. They carried me, adjusted me, and adjusted themselves to keep us on the same level (in this case, literally). Never once did I feel exceptional because it wasn't exceptional to them. We just did what we had to in order to do what we wanted; and the world around us went along with it like it was any other night, because it kind of was. This is the life my friends and I have chosen to live out. We do so without regret or hesitation, and we do so together because we can't imagine it any other way.