Over the weekend, our team reconvened in Fort Wayne for a day in the park. Mock II of the backpack was ready for testing, so Tom, Philip, and Ben fit me into the seat and tighten the straps around me. And we weren't alone. A news reported joined us, along with his trust camera man, and our own photographer tagged along as well.
Tom took me onto his back first, with the other two on either side for spotting. We walked through my neighborhood, ducking under tree branches. My neighbor stopped to chat, not about our exploits but to ask about my neglected lawn. We all stood there, waiting for him to notice - I wasn't in my chair, I was in a backpack, etc. But nothing. Just my lawn.
From there, we went along the river and eventually reached the "Old Fort." This portion of the journey, I was carried by Philip, then Ben. By the Fort, there were festivities in swing. Hot dogs, cookies, horses, swordplay demonstrations. We watched for a while and interacted with some of the merry-makers, and again, no great astonishment at our setup.
Finally, we ended up in the park for a picnic with friends and then a brief visit to the coffee shop. We had a wonderful time hanging out with our friends, telling stories and making one another laugh. Someone made PB&J's and the reporter joined our conversations like he was just part of the posse -- because he was. What a cool guy!
After all this, we wrapped up the day with music on my front porch. The sun was setting, the air was cooling, Tom played guitar and I was on harmonica. Everyone sang, which is how it should be.
And as the week has rolled on, I've found myself reflecting on our interactions with people. Strangers and friends alike. My whole life, I have lived in such a way that people see me before they see my wheelchair. I have a personality and a mindset that demands this. But I have been nervous about the backpack. It's new to me, it's new to the world, it's new to... itself! So would I get lost in it? Would people see me or just the spectacle? It has been a relief, and even an encouragement, to see the social ease of our new endeavor. It's like I'm still in my chair, that is to say, it's still like I'm not in anything at all. It's just me. And here is a huge key to that - my friends. When I'm in my chair, my friends are key to my normality, and even more so with the backpack. After all, they actually are my "wheelchair" in the case of the latter. So, their perception and attitude toward the situation is paramount to our success.
All this to say, it's not about me and I can definitely not do it on my own. I am so grateful for these amazing men joining me on this adventure, and for the various other friends (old and brand new) who are coming alongside us for support. We can't do this without you.