“Freeeeeeeeeeeee-Dooooom!!!” Ok, so maybe what I am going to talk about isn’t quite as intense as Mel Gibson’s rallying cry to his brethren at the end of “Braveheart,” but it is very powerful (and I really wanted to open a post with a picture of this Scottish badass). Growing up being trapped in a wheelchair makes it really hard to get from place to place. That is why so many disabled people end up as “shut ins,” prisoners in their own homes. It is not because they don’t want to go out, they just do not have the means to do so due to the enormous price of wheelchair accessible vehicles. Fortunately, my family, with the help of some charity organizations, had the financial ability to purchase a wheelchair accessible van, which over the years has become a perfect representation of the freedom it has given me.
I am the proud owner of a 1997 green Ford Econoline E150. It has a custom dropped floor for increased head room to accommodate my wheelchair, an automatic EZ Lock wheelchair lockdown mechanism, and a Braun hydraulic lift. Most people would not look twice at my van with its dents and dings, and most people definitely wouldn’t want to claim it as their vehicle. To me though, this van is priceless. It has given me so much and taken me so many amazing places. It took me to Niagara Falls, Fenway Park, Disneyworld, and Dallas along with a myriad of other trips that I could discuss that impacted my life in so many amazing ways. Instead of telling you about some family trip to somewhere though (don’t worry I will break out the slides and projector eventually), I would like to instead tell you about the freedom that this automobile has given me.
It gave me the freedom to go to school, first at Notre Dame and then at the University of Kansas, where I learned to help others. It gave me the freedom to live on my own, by providing me the means with which I can run errands and get groceries. It gave me the freedom to have a normal social life, because it gave me a vehicle to go out with friends to a movie or go on a date. It gave me the freedom to dream big, when it took me to go on a cruise by myself or on an impulse to drive 45 minutes for Whitecastle (I have weird dreams). It gave me so many little things that are too numerous to list, and to most people would seem very trivial, but allowed me to have a normal life. Most importantly though, it gave me the freedom to choose. To choose to live a full, happy life that I am so proud of. A life filled with freedom.
I shudder to think about how different my life would have been if not for the freedom this vehicle has given me. Would I have a life at all? Probably not, and any life I did have would have had minimal quality. By giving me the means to go out in the world, my four-wheeled, Ford savior gave me the spirit and sense of autonomy to dream big and work hard to achieve those dreams. It freed my mind from my disability by giving me access to life outside of the 4 walls of my parent’s house. It gave me freedom.
Even though she is over 15 years old, has almost 200,000 miles on her, and is pretty beat up (Yes, she is female), when I look at her I appreciate her, warts and all. Even though I am in the process of trying to purchase a new van, I will always remember and love this one for everything she has given me. I love her for the places she has taken me, but most of all I love her for the freedom she represents. She has gone by many names over the years, “the big green monster,” “Bessie,” and “the Drotarcade,” but no matter what we call her, she will always be a symbol of my freedom. The next time that you effortlessly hitch a ride with a friend or just grab your keys and drive, take a moment to think about what a privilege that is. Imagine what your life would be like if you couldn’t get up and go whenever you wanted. Think about how fortunate you, and thanks to my van I, are to have this freedom. The freedom to live.