He’s a rather handsome young man, with blue eyes and a quick smile. Seated at his electronic keyboard Ryan Moody makes a few adjustments, then his fingers easily move into the introduction of a song. The music sounds as good as anything you hear on the radio, but it’s new. He says, “This is a song I wrote.” Then he begins to sing. Just listening, the song takes you out of yourself. The sound is rich and full, but personal as well. After a moment you can’t resist taking a hard look at Ryan. The music introduces another part of Ryan. It seems to free his spirit from the chair his body must stay in. The music reveals something about him that your eye doesn’t always see.
Born with spina bifida, or a hole in his spine, Ryan has spent nearly his entire eighteen years in a wheelchair. At first, doctors feared he might be mentally retarded, but Ryan was a pleasant, lively child who has grown into an intelligent, talented young man, a young man with some special talents for music and for people.
Once when Ryan was giving a talk at an elementary school, one student asked him how it feels to be handicapped. Ryan answered by asking, “Well, how does it feel to be human?” What Ryan couldn’t say in that particular situation was that the Church has really helped him. “I think a lot of disabled people get preoccupied thinking, ‘I can’t do this, and my life is just going to be a waste.’ Isn’t it 1 Samuel 16:7 that says the Lord looks not on the outer appearance, but on the heart? That’s rather important to me.” [1 Sam. 16:7]
Ryan started learning about music when he was two years old. His parents put a set of stereo headphones on him and, instead of pulling them off, he was fascinated. He started piano lessons at seven years old, but like most people, he didn’t like to practice. As he learned to play, he and his mother discovered his talent. “I never did like the endings of pieces of music in books. I would just start making up new endings.” Several years later they discovered that Ryan had perfect pitch. Then he started writing music and performing on a variety of keyboard instruments. He has won numerous awards for his musical talent—composing, performing, and singing. He was voted the most talented student in his ninth-grade class.
Ryan doesn’t regard his wheelchair as a hindrance but as a help. “I get around a lot quicker this way.” He commends his friends for helping him not feel any different. “My friends don’t let me think about it at all. They always forget that I’m in a wheelchair because they’ll go over a grassy area or something that is hard for me to get over, and they’ll say, ‘Come on, Ryan. Oh, we forgot about your wheelchair!’”
Just like most teenage boys, Ryan likes girls. And girls like him. His dad teases him about how much time he spends on the phone talking to young ladies, and his mother says that when he goes to stake dances, he dances every dance. He’s become quite creative at moving his wheelchair in rhythm to the music. “I’m still practicing the slow dances,” he says.
About going out with girls, Ryan says, “Sometimes it’s difficult because girls seem to like me, but dating me is different from what they are used to. They don’t want to keep away from me, but they do because they don’t always know how to behave around someone in a wheelchair. When I do go out with a girl, it’s really great because the girl just helps me get in the van I travel in and off we go.” Ryan has some advice for girls when a boy in a wheelchair asks for a date. “Ask yourself, ‘Is he a nice person?’ and then make your decision based on that. If he is a nice person and you really like him, then just forget about everything else.”
Music has helped Ryan reach out to others and set a good example. He teaches keyboard and composition classes in a special summer school program. One friend was very discouraged and turned to Ryan for advice. He told her to go home and tune the radio to a classical music station instead of the usual hard rock she listened to. “She followed my advice,” Ryan said. “The next day she thanked me and said she didn’t feel one bit discouraged.”
As Ryan was participating in a school quartet, he found that the song selected for the group to sing had lyrics he objected to. Ryan talked to the teacher about changing the words, but the teacher became angry. Ryan was hurt by the teacher’s reaction. After school, the teacher asked to speak to him and apologized for getting upset. “She said that what I had done took courage,” said Ryan. “She said she admired me for standing up for what I believed in and that she was willing to resolve the problem because she really wanted me in the quartet.”
Ryan Moody is a priest in the Tigard Oregon Second Ward. He serves as first assistant in his priests quorum and as a home teacher. He enjoys helping the bishop with the less-active members of the priests quorum and plays the organ for church. The bishop says, “Ryan seems to know how to unite the different groups in our ward.”
Last year, Ryan received his patriarchal blessing, which promised him in part that he would be able to influence the lives of youth wherever they may be and convince them of the blessings the Lord has in store for them and the opportunities that are theirs. Ryan’s greatest wish is to serve a mission, although his physical condition will not allow it. “I can’t believe that others with the opportunity to serve a mission will not go,” said Ryan. “It’s the thing I would like to do more than anything.”