Bully Pulpit: My Favorite Things

Tim GilmerRaindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles with warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things

Julie Andrews will always be remembered for singing “My Favorite Things” in The Sound of Music, but I like John Coltrane’s soprano sax jazz classic of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s beloved song. Coltrane not only “covered it,” he adapted it, re-interpreted it, imbued it with richly diverse colors and unexpected rhythmic twists. He reinvented it. He did with a soprano sax and a song what many of us have managed to do with our changed bodies and our lives.

One of my favorite activities has always been swimming, but since becoming paralyzed, floating in a cocoon of pure relaxation is even better. Lying on my back with my arms stretched over my head and letting the water support my body stretches my spine in an almost orgasmic way. Gravity disappears, my breathing slows, and my purpose is to be still, nothing more. Under the right conditions, a swimming pool can become a meditation chamber.

Then there’s a different kind of pool. During my 16-week rehabilitation so many years ago, I learned I could adapt my pool shooting technique. Sighting in on the cue ball and my target from table level, circling the table nimbly and quickly on wheels, using the rails for propulsion and checking all the angles, I improved on my “able-bodied” game of eight ball. Put that on the list of my favorite things.

And driving. Just driving has become one of my most enjoyable activities. My wife and I like to engage in “free driving” — going wherever the road leads us, usually somewhere on a country road, but not always. The name of the game is to wind up in a location that is entirely new, a game of discovery. Once there, the trick is to appreciate it for whatever it is. It could be an overlook, a small valley, a unique neighborhood, a sunny glade, a mossy forest.

Tractor driving is vastly different from free driving — no departing from the task at hand. In the midst of mind-numbing vibration and driving boring straight lines, I discovered that singing the blues, no, shouting the blues, was the perfect thing to do while plowing the back 40. It’s amazing how uninhibited you can be shouting at the top of your lungs, making up mindless lyrics while the diesel engine drowns out the sour notes.

Now, as I approach 70, it is the small things that make me happy, moments that are less about myself and more about others: watching my near-naked grandsons play in a sprinkler, shaking up a grapefruit and tequila cocktail for my wife, learning about other wheelers embarking on their own challenging journeys.

But what all of these things have in common is that decades ago, lying in a Stryker frame contemplating an uncertain future, I could not have imagined being able to do any of them.

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