Thursday, September 3, 2009

I Still Believe In Tomorrow

As my regular readers know, I got hurt September 3, 1971, thirty-eight years ago tonight. I talk about that night in every speech. When someone asks how long I have been disabled, I tell them it was the night my life changed forever, my first life ended and my second life began. When nurses, lab technicians, therapists and doctors' receptionists ask me, "Date of injury onset?"

I reply, "9 - 3 - 71." I know it was an instant in time that has affected many peoples' lives besides mine. If you are reading this, chances are pretty good you are one of them.

It is always a melancholy day, and today is no different. I decided to write about my feelings in hope it will be a therapeutic session to share them. Forgive me if I don't lie on the couch, because then I could not type.

Shortly after my accident, a friend gave me the poster pictured here:

Click on the image to enlarge:

That quote, "I still believe in tomorrow." became my slogan, my mantra, and one of my goals. It was part of the lyrics to a song that went, "I still believe in tomorrow, though my life means nothing today." I felt that way many days, and especially in the middle of countless nights when I couldn't sleep.

There were many of those feelings of, "Why me?" "When will I wake up from this bad dream?" "What's going to happen next?" "What did I do to deserve this?" and many more thoughts like those.
I had many, many questions, and still do. It's just today, the questions are different. I have found answers to many of my questions, and there are others that remain unanswered. I am guessing many of you can empathize with those thoughts.

One day in Sioux Falls, a doctor took my family to the waiting room and told them my life expectancy was nine years. I guess he was wrong. I believe I am still here because I'm not done yet. I believe we all have a reason for being, and I also believe we need to find that reason. Some of us do, and some do not. I feel fortunate to know I have found mine.

I have a friend whom I have known for close to thirty years and she told me once she was glad she didn't know me then because she would not have wanted to go through that time. She said it would have been too painful to witness knowing me before my accident, to adjusting to everything I had to address from seeing me with the Crutchfield thongs in my skull like in this picture, to watching me lose sixty-eight pounds, to witnessing me struggle through my rehabilitation in the months after my accident.

Some of you were at the game, some of you have only known me since I became disabled, some of you only know me from hearing me speak and/or reading this blog, and some of you have never met me.

I welcome your comments, especially if you were at the game or knew me in 1971. Please let me know your memories and thoughts. Who knows, it may end up in the book? After all, that is the purpose of this whole blog.

There, I feel better. Thanks for reading.




tom brakke said...

Yes, I knew you then, and I think that you handled your injury better than I did over the years. I wasn't there that night, of course, but in Brookings, a town that you are connected to in many ways, playing football as well. I'll never forget the mad, tearful run home the next day from downtown Luverne after I heard the news, but I don't remember anything else until I walked into your hospital room and saw you. The courage you have shown and the lives you have affected have been a constant inspiration to me. Well done.

Anonymous said...

I wasn't at the game but working at the A&W!! Couldn't believe it when I heard it. There is only one thing I can say... I love you Mike Patrick. Before & after!! See you on Turkey Day?? We are getting older aren't we!!

Paula T said...

I was at the football game that night. What I remember most is the panic and sadness that was present following your injury. I didn't know you well, but my parents were friends of your parents...and my older sister thought you were handsome! So, because of that connection, I felt the "panic and sadness" too. I had the opportunity to get to know you better after your accident...and it was obvious that you were just as handsome on the inside as you were on the outside! I love your mantra/slogan/goal..."I still believe in tomorrow". You've touched many lives with the sharing of your life experiences..and I'm sure you've helped many kids "still believe in tomorrow"! You make Worthington proud, Micheal!

Earl Hipp said...

That was one of the most inspirational things you've written in a while. I guess from the depths of human spirit comes the pearls ( I just made that up). Good for you for putting yourself out there. YOU are a source of inspiration for me... really.

Anonymous said...

I was there. Even though I was a few years older than you, I knew you through the Krek. I'll admit it, I initially thought the injury wasn't bad. Being in the stands, it was difficult to really see what the real situation was. Only later that night did I heard the extent of the injury.

I've thought about of relationship over the years. I don't think we'd have been such good friends if the injury had not occurred.

You've touched many lives Fatcat. Just yesterday my farmer buddy Mel asked about you. This happens regularly. The several times I got you to come to Kansas and Missori to give presentations have been some highlights in my life and the many people that heard you talk.

I think you and I have have touched each others lives that no one else can understand but us.

The cool think about our friendship is that we can still make each other laugh.

Looking forward to many mores years of friendship.


Rick Jauert said...

Mike: I wasn't there that night...but I remember vividly hearing about it and thinking how awful -- and how it was amazing it hadn't happened before. I think I told you -- the first time I met you was when (as Luverne's Student Council President) we presented you at a Worthington/Luverne basketball game with a $1,000 check that we had raised to help defray your medical costs. We met in the center of the gym and a bunch of Worthing students started yelling "whose the hippie?" -- my hair was long and I was wearing red, white and blue stripe bell-bottom jeans with a faux thermal underwear shirt. I was so nervous -- and you were so cool, calm and collected. You made me relax. I met you several times after that -- mostly through Brakke -- one time in the Cities when you had your van. And, YOU looked like the hippie!

I'm struck by the similarities between the seminal moments in our lives. The moments that irrevocably change our lives forever. For me, it was when my Father and Uncle (my Grandmother's only two sons -- the oldest and the youngest) drowned on a fishing trip to the Oahi Reservoir at Pierre, SD Memorial Day weekend. I was 12 years old. Like you, I remember every single detail of that day and can recount them as though it was yesterday. In fact it was 43 years ago. My life went from being an innocent kid on the cusp of being a teenager -- to a kid whose world had just dropped out from under him. I lost my childhood and I carry the scars of that day with me every single day. I'm broken in many ways. I've gone on to do great, fulfilling things -- and "I'm not done yet" either. But I think I miss my Father more today than I did growing up without him. And the ramifications never end. I took on the task of being the caregiver to my Mother and 6 siblings (even though there were 3 older than me). Doing so has plagued me throughout my life and I drowned the weight of doing so with alcohol. Finally my life crased about 10 years ago. I have put things back together and have such a rich and fulfilling life now. I believe in the difference one can make -- one must make...and it sounds like you make a huge difference in people's lives. I admire that. You probably don't even realize the magnitude of the impact you have on those who hear your story. But as I said, the ramifications of that fateful day keep reminding me of it. I lost a brother in a car accident when I was a sophomore in college, and 5 years ago, my oldest brother and the one who survived the boating accident committed suicide. I don't think he ever got over it either -- and spent most of his life with depression. He drank to excess as well and one day simply said he'd had enough. This year on the anniversary of my Dad's death was such a blue day for me. You'd think you'd get over it after 43 years -- but seminal events like that are not "gotten" over -- and you have a constant reminder. We are stronger and even better people because of what happened to both of us. But at such a huge cost. We are much more empathetic to those who hurt in life. I'm glad I know you and have reconnected with you. Please don't misinterpret this that I am equating the traumatic death of my Father on a young 12 year old -- whose life was fun and full of happiness one day and all of that came to a crashing end that fateful afternoon -- to the trauma you live with daily. I simply was reminded of the traumatic effect and life changing things that seminal experiences have on those of us unfortunate to have them. Still, I am not bitter and I have never "why me'd" is life on life's terms...but I often question why so much, and such things of such magnitude happend to some families -- and others scate through life. I also wonder how much more we can take. And yet, as I say, I am the eternal optimist; that is why I have worked in public service for 28 years. Helping others is so rewarding and it is such an elixir during those low times. Thanks for listening.

Tory said...

Because I am one of those who met you "after," this e-mail was a wake-up call of sorts for me. It's not easy to imagine the horrific events you lived through and yet, it is your history. I appreciate hearing it, even though it was hard. I have great respect for what you have gone through, and especially for the wonderful attitude you have about it all. Keep talking about purpose ... it's so important. And not everyone will find theirs ... but to let people know that if they're still here, they have a purpose.
Love to you,

Jennie said...

Oh, my dear Michael, thank you for sharing this with me. I am thinking of you today and want you to know how much you have blessed my life. I think of the connection we had at the very beginning of our relationship; how our paths have crossed over the years; I don't see you for long periods of time, but we never have to start over--we just pick up where we left off. I remember the time, I helped you in the men's bathroom at work; the during of those "hot flash" moments in the cafeteria I hung on to your chair; That's how it has always been with us--we complement each other and help each other along the way. You have been and will continue to be an inspiration in my life; I remember my daughter coming home from St. Benedict's and saying, "we had the most wonderful speaker," sharing her excitement about you; then some time later you were a guest in our home; Billy Mills & Co. helped you up the hill. Boy, we've had quite a ride. Creator, thanks for Michael! Love 'ya, friend!

Wynn Kirkeby said...

I remember the night you were injured very well because I was in the band, and during half-time Todd Lowry and I were on a flatbed truck at the time the ambulance was leaving the field. I was struggling to keep my cymbals from falling off the truck. I saw the play in which you were injured. Both Todd and I played for half-time and when we finished playing, the truck began moving toward the locker room. As I was trying to hold on to the cymbals, I saw the ambulance you were in leave the field between the gate and the hometown locker room. I remember thinking “What the hell happened?”

I'm Not Done Yet said...

"Thank you, thank you, thank you," to everyone who posted comments here. I learned a great deal and feel humbled by your positive comments. I have always said I find it amazing how an instant in time has affected so many people. Just about every day, someone else proves that statement true to me. Once again, "Thank you!"

Amie said...

Just as I thought, one awesome person that has been in the valleys and lived to show how he will walk on his peak while helping those that may be "in their valley." Just awesome!

Lois Hvistendahl said...

You were my next door neighbor and every morning I would hear you outside shooting baskets while you waited for the bus. You always woke me up with that bouncing. You don't know how many times since that accident I have wished I could hear that basketball bounce again outside my window.

I was not at the game since I was in college, but I know as neighbors my parents helped out as much as possible. All of the neighborhood was in a state of shock and none of us could believe it really happened. I remember coming over and seeing you when they brought you home for awhile. You still had a sense of humor and knowing you, you were probably teasing me about something when I was there.

You have always been an inspiration to me. I have mentioned your story to many people over the years and have suggested to schools to have you come and talk. After all these years you have never been far from my thoughts. I'm very proud of what you have accomplished, Mike.

Sandra Slone said...

"I do remember the ride home from that game, never did I see such sadness, and concern from my older brothers, and My Mom and Dad."

Steve Slone said...

"I don't recall the game but I do recall your laying on the field for what seemed an eternity. You were full of life like no one I had seen before, you were always moving. I didn't know when you had time to sleep because you were always on the go. There was not a sport you were not good at. Everyone was a friend of yours. You knew everyone."

David Palmer said...

"What I remember from the high school days, is that you seemed to get-along with just about everyone. The jocks, the geeks, farmers and of course the freaks. After the accident there wasn't a lot of information that I can recall."

Bruce Ahlberg said...

I was there playing quarterback for the Trojans. I remember seeing you lying on the ground and everyone was very careful how they handled you but none of us understood the seriousness of the injury. I remember the two halfbacks from Owatonna who were big and powerful much bigger than you and I were when we weighed 135-140 pounds compared to the running backs who were over 210 pounds. I did not play defense and to be honest I did not want to play so when I was asked to go in I said no. We were having a hard time stopping these two running backs and being the competitor that you were and are you went in to do what you could for the team. It was my first experience seeing someone with a neck injury and we all thought that you would heal and be back at least to play basketball which was your favorite sport. When the reality of the irreversible condition set in we had to accept the gravity of the injury and the death of your dream. You have pressed through many disappointments and God has given you a fifth quarter that has extended for many years. You have used a horrible accident to help others learn to deal with tragedies and make something positive happen.

Anonymous said...

I wasn't there that nite but the next monday at school it was like what? no! that doesn't happen to a "cool guy" it was like pure shock! everyone felt just terrible,sad and didn't really know what was going to happen and didn't know what to say but wait to hear some news

Anonymous said...

We who have the privilege of knowing you and of that one day, know also of many other days where you, knowingly or unknowingly, have changed our lives (in ways you can't even imagine).

This isn't about that day in 1971, but of another day, years later where you were the "major player".

It was January 1976 - your birthday I believe, or at least a get-together/party in Minneapolis at your apartment just South of the West Bank of the U off Franklin Ave.

I was there with many others when this gorgeous girl we didn't know came in. A girl you would later say many times reminded you of the singer Kim Carnes - remember? Long blonde hair, a smile to light up any room, intelligent and humorous who had a heart to match her beauty. She wasn't dating me. We weren't even attending the same college.
After that party, I didn't even see her again for another 8 months. Yet, by that chance encounter with you at your place, my life would forever be altered.

Now, 35 years later, that girl and I are still together, and will be as long as GOD grants us this blessing. I'm going to guess you know of whom I am referring. If not, one other interaction we had may make it clearer.

Turkey Day - 2004. We were together with many of our classmates in Wgtn. We had not seen each other in some 25 years. I mentioned I wanted to thank you!
I said, "...YOU were the reason I've been married for the last 25 years".
Without blinking an eye, you replied, "...and you're the reason I have not been married for the last 25 years".
I still smile at that one!

OK, what is the point? One day does matter! Your one day has grown to exponentially matter in so many countless others! You matttered then, you matter today and you will matter forever!

You continue to positively influence changes in others lives to levels most only hope for.

Though out of sight, you remain in my heart, because I am reminded of that "one day" in which you were the "major player".

Tomorrows always come from the one today!

Bless you, and with love...

George said...

I was there. Not paying attention to the game since I was preoccupied with perfoming with the band at halftime. Now, all these many years later, I can't remember if that performance even happened. All I remember now is standing at the fence in a crowd that was almost silent, waiting first for you to get up and then seeing you being taken away by ambulance. You have been a source of inspiration strength energy and love that humbles me and I am so lucky to still get to see you and discuss with you how to continue to still believe in tomorrow. It is always a good reminder when I go through a litany of frustrations in my life and all you have to do is give me the eye and a soft smile before you blast me with some humourous come back. It is difficult to measure how much your injury so many years ago affected my life, but your persistent belief in tomorrow still permeates our friendship and it inspires strength in those times when I feel discouraged.

Steve Potts said...

I was at the game that night, close enough to hear the crunch when your helmet was crushed. What I remember most, Mike, is visiting you in the hospital and then helping to carry you down the stairs in your wheelchair once you returned to WHS. Yes, in those days the high school did not have an elevator. I think your accident made us all much more aware of (a) people with disabilities (a phrase that wasn't even in use in 1971) and (b) the fragility of human life, how things can chance so quickly in a mere moment. I know you know my friends the Hilliers (Craig is motivational speaker and favorite former student) and they have spoken of your bravery and persistent sense of humor when facing life's trials. the best of luck to you, my old friend: the same wishes we had for you almost 40 years ago!!

Don Schield said...

I was there that night. I remember running around under the bleachers with friends and not really paying very much attention to the game. That is until the ambulance arrived. The crowd was silent and all focus was on the one end of the football field. I remember saying a prayer for you and I am sure everyone else there did as well. It was a quiet and sad walk home from the game that night.

Mike, you once did a very nice thing for me that you may or may not recall... and now you continue to inspire. Best wishes to you.

Dalen said...

Hey Mike. I too was there that night. Being four years younger, I was standing in the bleachers watching as much as a seventh grader can. It got very quiet. We knew it was serious because it took so long. Finding out the severity later left such an empty feeling.

You had recently given me pointers at some track invitational and I cleared a height I didn't think possible and won a blue ribbon. I wanted to give it to you and say thanks, but for whatever reason decided not to. You probably would not have even remembered who I was.

Since that time I have run into you several times and usually leave with a smile and reflection. Thanks for doing what you do. We should all be so lucky to be able to be as real and courageous as you are. Why do life-changing events have to occur before so many people can realize this? I hope to run into you soon and I'm glad your health has been getting better. You're the best!

Anonymous said...

In home room you sat directly behind me & I remember how you shared much good natured banter & laughter with buddies, fellow athletes & the high school staff. At the game, I knew something was terribly wrong when your dad ran onto the field. My most vivid memory was when the entire marching band visited you at the hospital. The staff allowed several students at a time in the room for just a few minutes. They told us to say something positive or funny. You were face down, so we scooted under the bed on our backs so you could see who was talking. I was very nervous & said that we were saving your homeroom seat. You smiled & said thanks but it might be a while. Our group's time was cut short when the staff came in to flip the bed. You made all of us laugh, including your mom, when you said this was process was extremely important & necessary to assure that you get 'well done'. And now you're inspiring others with 'not being done yet'. Outrageous blessings on you Mike!

I'm Not Done Yet said...

Wow! You all are continuing to amaze me with your comments. This chapter is definitely going to be one of the highlights of the book! Thank you to everyone for making your comments. They mean a great deal to me.

Bruce, you filled in a piece of the puzzle I didn't know about going into the game when Jeff sprained his ankle. Thank you for sharing that. We were bigger than that though, I know I weighed a hulking 155! Their fullback was 5'11" and weighed 205. I met his mother one evening in a Catholic church in Owatonna and had an incredible healing session as the church filled up for my speech. I have started a longterm relationship with her and speak with her often.

Later that fall, he was named the best fullback in the state that year and the other running back was named to the second team. The halfback was at my speech, and I called him out, we had a great conversation afterwards and we have become good friends. The more I write about them, the more I think I just added another chapter to the book. I'll see if my editor thinks it will fit in.

To the people who are listing as "Anonymous," or thinking of listing that way, please put in your first name, initials or send me an email so at least I can know who you are.

I have figured out who some of you are by the content of your comment, but others, I am not sure. Like "happily married" I know who you are. Please tell your lovely wife I said, "Hi!" I didn't know it took you eight months to ask her out! You're lucky she was still single. :-) You're one lucky man. Good for you! I'm glad I could do my part.

Once again, thanks to you who have made comments. I look forward to reading more.



Kevin Ella said...

I always called you Fuzzy because of your beard. I was at the game that night in the stands.
Yes as those big guys were overrunning us I was yelling get in there Fuzzy. When you went down I really felt bad.
Seeing your strength through it all helped me. You truly are an inspiration to all.