As I grow older, all the numbers in my life grow larger — age, weight, waistline, mistakes made, dollars spent, stories written, letters received. Everything goes up except my IQ. With all the numbers that weigh me down, there is one that will always remain my favorite — number of Bully Pulpits I have written. It is one of my favorite things to do. I’ve lost count, but I know I have written more than 200.
My first BP, which ran in the December 2000 issue, was an attempt to tell you, the faithful readers of NM, that I was just like many of you, someone who had been dealing with paralysis since the age of 20 (I was 55 then), someone whose life had been interrupted violently by an accident that seemed to come out of the blue. I wanted you to know where I grew up, something about my childhood, and I hoped that you would not be disappointed that my words would now fill the space that Barry Corbet’s words had filled for the previous nine years.
Barry was beloved by so many readers — many who came to NM in its infancy — and rightly so, while I was not well-known at all. At that time, I had only written three or four stories for the magazine. Even though I was relatively new to the culture of NM, I was not new to disability and had many years of teaching writing and freelancing behind me, so I felt I could handle the job. Now here is the surprising part. I know now, after more than 17 years as editor of NM, that the job has handled me.
It has challenged me, supported me, molded me, made me grow, given me a passion for advocacy and fulfilled me. I realized this most recently when I cut back on work hours due to medical problems, and I began to miss the daily contact with my NM colleagues, readers and the ongoing issues that we all face. Lying in a hospital bed, the issues do not disappear, but they tend to become secondary to more basic concerns, like survival.
But that is what we all face every day of our lives — how to go on, struggling to maintain control when the challenges continue to mount. Despite the difficulties, and sometimes because of them, I have found these past 17 years that four things tend to make life worthwhile and enjoyable — close relationships, being part of a larger community, fighting the good fight and keeping a sense of humor.
And one more very important thing: being able to imagine a future. It’s hard to envision what comes after retirement. Rest and travel, like money, only go so far. Many people who leave behind the work they love begin to feel a palpable void.
If this sounds like a farewell, it isn’t. Not quite yet. I have one more BP to write for our June issue, and then comes retirement. In the meantime, I’ll be hard at work imagining a future that — God willing — flows naturally from the past.