Whether it be the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, carolers, hot cider, evergreens, turkeys, snow, presents or just that special smell in the air, something at Christmas forces the hearts of people all over the world to turn and reflect on what it is they are grateful for. For me it is a special Christmas in 1986.
In July of that same year, I had been in a diving accident while on vacation with my family at Lake Powell in southern Utah. After I was life-flighted to the nearest hospital in Grand Junction, Colorado, the doctors diagnosed my injury. The damage was severe and permanent. I had broken my neck and was paralyzed from the chest down. I lost complete control of my legs and partial control of my arms. I could no longer walk, stand, comb my own hair, or feed myself. I could barely breathe or speak.
I remember the first night I was in the hospital. I was scared. I had what seemed to be a thousand doctors and nurses who would come and examine me and then go into the corner and talk about it in private. They took X-rays, gave me shots, and brought me waivers to sign and explained my injury to me. All this, while I came in and out of consciousness.
A few days later, while I was getting my daily medication, I pulled my nurse aside. I told her that although I was aware that my injury required a long hospital stay, I needed to know how long, and I also needed to know when I could go home.
The nurse turned to me solemnly and said, “Well, Jason, if you work hard, maybe you’ll get to go home before Christmas.”
Christmas! I thought. You’ve got to be kidding! That’s six months from now! I can’t stay here for six months! Besides, what’s this maybe stuff? I’ve got to be home for Christmas.
It was then I decided that no matter what the cost, I would be home for Christmas. Little did I know that achieving this goal would mean hours and hours of therapy and days and days of work.
The months that followed were filled with sweat, blood, and tears. I sweat during physical therapy where I spent days trying to lift an ounce and weeks trying to sit up again. I bled when I was given a tracheotomy to help me breathe, and traction to support my neck. And I cried myself to sleep, wondering if I would live through the night. The only thing that made it all worth it was that I was working for something. I was working to go home. All I wanted was to go home, and I knew that the only way to get there was to get well.
There were many times I wanted to give up, days when I just didn’t think I could lift another weight, or even have the strength to push myself back to my room. Frustrated, I would convince myself that the task was too difficult, that I couldn’t work anymore, and that it was impossible anyway. I would think about all of the hours that I had yet to work, and how bad my body ached now. I would be discouraged that the progress seemed slow and the routine repetitious. I looked around me, and it didn’t seem that anyone else was all riled up about getting out, and so I wondered what I was all excited about. But then, I would think of home.
I would remember the smell of my mother’s kitchen, the family around the table eating treats after Dad’s family home evening lesson. I would remember my sister laughing at everything her brothers said, and family prayer around the downstairs couch.
It was then that I would pray for the strength and the power to continue to work. Heavenly Father answered my prayers and gave me the motivation to fight another day and regain the power to go home.
Finally, I was discharged. I would be home for Christmas.
In many ways, this Christmas was just like any other Christmas. My little brothers woke up at 4:30 A.M. to see if Santa had come yet. When they found that he had, they waited outside of my parents’ room anticipating the glorious time when Mom and Dad would say it was okay to open the gifts. Finally, the go-ahead was given. The boys scrambled downstairs to the tree. The boys got their action figures, my sister got clothes, and I received the stereo I had hoped for.
With the festivities over, my Dad took a moment to gather us all together. He began to talk about the importance of Christmas while we sat amidst the piles of wrapping paper and boxes. We were more concerned with the spoils of the day than what Dad was talking about, until he asked each child to take a minute to talk about the favorite gift they had received that day.
The frivolity that once filled the room was instantly replaced with a quiet somberness. As Dad went around to my brothers and sister, each of them, who had earlier been so concerned with their physical gifts, answered with the same response. They said, “Our best present is to have Jason home again.”
With tears in my eyes, I had to agree. It felt great to be home.
It was a Christmas to remember, and as I begin to reflect on what made it so special, I realize that although still very ill, I felt a kind of health that I had not felt for some time—the health that comes with a grateful heart. I was grateful to be home.
Now, as I reflect at this Christmas, and remember that special day in 1986, I cannot help but wonder if we are not much the same. Each of us has been “injured” by this natural man mortality has placed upon us. We’ve been put in a place where we must remain a while so that we might prepare ourselves to go home. We must decide that no matter what the cost, we will go home.
I hope that each of us will feel a little more homesick this Christmas. I hope that this Christmas we want to be home so much that we are willing to do whatever it takes to get there.