choices, Don Koen, Handicapped, Handicapped Fishing, Inspiring Stories, Island Traveler Weekly Image of Life Inspiration, Overcoming Life's Obstacles, positive attitude, When the World Outside my window goes insane
When I was young, the clock radio nudged me from slumber each morning. A Memphis, Tennessee station usually played the top 20 countdown, which trumped my other choice of a raucous alarm to start each day. I will never forget once when the radio clicked into the wake-up mode, but instead of music, I was blasted with a loud greeting from the DJ, “GET OUT OF THAT BED! Think of how many people would like to get out of bed and can’t!”
Poof! That worked for me, and I have carried that nugget of advice with me and kept it close to my heart. Whenever I ponder snoozing for half an hour more, I remember that moment and am suddenly prepped to embrace my day.
Other eventful moments have influenced my attitudes about life; long ago during a busy day with endless phone calls, I asked my father if he’d like for me to snip the phone line. He replied, ”Imagine how empty your life would be if no one called or came by.” Whenever my life seems too crowded, I try to respect that advice and remember to be grateful for the many people who love and support me.
My nephew, Don Koen, made an equally-sobering remark once, when he asked, “Aunt Lisa, who taught you how to be so positive?”
I was visiting Don in his home in Little Rock, Arkansas as we waited on a kettle of soup to warm. I shrugged and replied, “No one. It’s not a choice. I wake up happy almost every day of my life.”
Very slowly he shook his head,“I disagree with you. We make choices every day of our life.”
I looked at my handsome nephew as he stirred the stew from the vantage point of his wheel chair. A moment of clarity washed through me, and I replied, “You are right. Look at you. You were not expecting me to have lunch with you, and you picked me up, drove me to your house, and look – your kitchen is spotless! You could have said, ‘Oh, poor me, excuse the mess. No one has been here to help wash the dishes all week.’”
The day that Don broke his back is forever branded in my memory. The year had been horrid, first his wife miscarried twins, then an ice storm swept through the Deep South and left a swath of hurricane-like damage. Don’s father had a scare with chest pains and spent the weekend in the hospital. A dear friend of mine died in a boating accident. My father died suddenly. About a month later my son was attacked by a dog while running cross country. I remember saying to my neighbor when we returned from the doctor, “I don’t think I can handle much more.” I was numb; emotionally depleted from so much sadness, so much stress piled into a six-month period.
My oldest sister called that Sunday morning in August 1994 with the news of Don’s freak accident. A runaway boat trailer from hell had knocked Don to the ground in the pre-dawn hours and pulled him backwards. Don recently recalled that moment, “When the trailer jumped the curb, I was tossed into the air and landed on the fender and ground.” Don’s back had literally snapped. The early-morning newspaper delivery man called for help, and Don was airlifted to the nearby hospital. With superwoman-like strength, I hurled off all of the old emotional baggage and focused on my nephew as we hurriedly packed and dashed to Little Rock.
Almost twenty years later, I still marvel. From the flames and ashes, Don rode that phoenix and soared into a life of proactive rehabilitation. One miracle son (Trey) and one divorce later, with determination he carved a positive life for himself.
Juggling from wheelchair to driving a vehicle, he gets in and out faster than I can! He fishes on weekends – or kayaks or rides his four-wheeler! He flies from one side of the USA to the other with his work. The word handicapped is not in his vocabulary, and he inspires anyone with his bright spirits, humble nature and amazing wisdom.
An amazing woman came into his life and quickly captured our hearts. Dana was surely sent by the angels, and we cherish her amazing spirit. Karen, Don and Dana visited me in Costa Rica, where Don and Dana chose to spend their honeymoon! While tarpon fishing, zip lining, volcano treks and beach adventures, Don (and Dana) captured everyone’s respect.
Dana won my heart many times, though she really claimed it on her first fishing trip at Rio Colorado Lodge. After a morning of jumping tarpon had exhausted all of us, she asked as we sat around after lunch, “Why aren’t we fishing?” We exchanged amused glances, jumped into action and returned for an afternoon session of boating tarpon!
Don continues to inspire me every day of my life. No matter what disappointments and challenges affect me – a muddy trek in the pouring rain in the night with no flashlight… Tests for Multiple Sclerosis/ Brain tumor/Aneurysm… Having a tumor removed from my neck… Losing my vision for 24 hours (aspartame warning to everyone!)… Allergic reaction to a scorpion sting… Weary of walking the five kilometers to town… Replacing termite-damaged panels on the house or stringing a barbed-wire fence or pulling a boat through a low-tide muck… Whenever I feel overwhelmed, all I have to do is think of Don, and my problems vaporize! I remind myself that I could be facing those challenges through the vantage point of a wheelchair. I think of him, of his smile and the way he embraces life, and suddenly I am inspired! I choose to squeeze the marrow from each day because I can, and any thing less negates his example.
I instantly embrace those challenges and send up a quiet, “Thanks,” for my life. I also remember to tell my dear nephew that he inspires me every day of my life.
And yes, I still remember to “Get out of that bed” the moment I awaken, in honor of my hero.
Thank you, Island Traveler, for giving me the perfect opportunity to share Don’s story with the world. For more stories of inspiration, visit This Man’s Journey.
Yes, my dear nephew, as Kathy Mattea’s song points out, “When the storms of life just won’t let up, you’re like a change of weather. When dust settles on my dreams, you wash them clean.”
You’re here to remind me- and countless others – that a few good things remain.
I love you,
(Thanks Don, Dana and Karen for contributing the great photos on short notice!)