Ian RuderThis past Sunday, 35 of my closest friends and family got together to celebrate the 20-year anniversary of my SCI with an event my parents and I titled, “Surviving and Thriving: Celebrating 20 Years.” My folks rented a lovely venue, we planned a brunch to end all brunches, ate and drank way too much and had a phenomenal time.

Between old stories, humorous anecdotes and sincere tributes, there was plenty of fodder for reflection after the event was over, but what stuck with me the most was a comment from the nondisabled partner of one of my friends. He pulled me aside and said that the idea of celebrating surviving 20 years “seemed kind of morbid.”

I hadn’t thought of the party that way, but I could see where he was coming from.

I told him how 20 years ago to the day, two weeks after my injury, my mom was in a hospital elevator coming to see me when she heard a code called to my room. I relayed how the doctors told my parents to plan on me relying on a ventilator for the rest of my life. And how, when I finally came down from the cocktail of drugs I was on almost six weeks later, the idea of being alive in 20 years — much less having a blast with so many people I cared about — was damn near impossible to fathom.

At the time, not being able to see a lengthy future didn’t seem morbid, or fatalistic. It seemed realistic. I saw a murky fate, characterized by uncertainty and obstacles like moving home, hiring caregivers and finding meaningful work and relationships.

Now that I’m on the verge of turning 40, the future is brighter — thanks in large part to the people who attended Sunday’s party: a caregiver who helped me figure out long-distance air travel, another who showed me what I needed to do to live independently, a friend and wheelchair user willing to listen to my wheel-complaints and figure out what to do. The majority of the people in attendance were people I never would have crossed paths with had I not been injured, but just as much, they are people I cannot imagine my life without.

Not only have I figured out most of the obstacles that seemed insurmountable, the process of doing so has been rewarding and often even fun. That’s not to say things have been easy — they haven’t. Figuring out how to balance on what sometimes seems like an impossibly thin tight rope between the good and the bad is a lifelong quest. That my work with NEW MOBILITY is focused on that same quest, and helping others to hopefully navigate it better, has proved to be an unexpected blessing.

That’s why the celebration was so important to me, and why I was oblivious to any sense of attached morbidity. Good and bad, surviving these 20 years made me who I am and has opened my eyes to a future I can dream of. That to me is worth celebrating.