In the summer of 2016, I went backpacking through Europe with some friends. I’m usually in a wheelchair, but I swapped that out for a backpack and these friends carried me around for three weeks. We explored cities and countrysides, hiked ancient islands and walked along timeless riverbanks. It was a world I would have otherwise never known, if it weren’t for the amazing men who went with me; a band of brothers with lightning in their blood and thunder in their bones.
We spent months preparing for the journey, perfecting the backpack and training for teamwork, hiking, and carrying. By the time we landed in Paris, mid-June of 2016, we were ready to take on the world. We got there just in time for Summer Solstice, and oh my we danced! We ate, we walked, we hopped trains and metros on whims, and we took in the view from the steps of Sacre Coeur.
And we went to Samois-sur-Siene.
It was Thursday of that first week when we left Paris and headed downriver to the hometown of Django Reinhardt, a legendary guitarist and great inspiration to me. Samois-sur-Siene hosted an annual festival in his memory, and we found ourselves in the midst of a gypsy camp with a hundred musicians, playing Django’s music. This was Heaven to me, or as close as I’d get in this lifetime. I realized, then, a sort of frustration within myself that slowly turned over into sadness. All I wanted to do here was wander around by myself, take in the scene and let my soul rest in it. But again, I had no wheelchair to do this, and my wheelchair wouldn’t handle this place well anyway. Mud, steps, rocks, gravel, crowds, more steps.
Turns out, I had traded one freedom for another. In my chair, I have control. I decide every move I make, I come and go as I please, though limited by terrain. In this backpack and with these friends, I can go anywhere, though not on my own. One freedom is not better than the other, they’re just different. Both come with pros and cons.
And this what I had to wrestle through and learn for myself — that life is full of such compromises. I wanted to explore lands otherwise inaccessible to me, so I had to get over myself and accept the changes required to make that a reality. I wasn’t going to be in control, per se, and it was probably going to be uncomfortable in some ways. And someone else would have to carry me, which meant it wasn’t just my adventure, but an equally shared experience between myself and my carrier. I had to consider their needs and desires over my own, and trust they were doing likewise for me, so that we both were covered in the end.
One of the guys on the trip, Ben, was my roommate back home. We’re around each other so much, it feels more natural than others. So, he came alongside me at Samois-sur-Siene, took me onto his back, and we wandered around by ourselves, taking in the scene and letting our souls rest in it. Because when you have people who love you, you don’t need to be in control.
Find out more about this extraordinary group of friends via WeCarryKevan.