AUNDECK OMNI KANING—For most of the five years since the accident that left Gabe Abotossaway paralyzed from the neck down, he has been laying in his bed—mostly just waiting to die. That’s waiting, not wanting, even though much of those years were spent in excruciating pain. But despite the normal prognosis for people with his kind of injuries, despite the statistical odds, Gabe has survived.
But it hasn’t been easy.
Many people believe that when a person is paralyzed by such an accident, unable to use their limbs, that everything is numb, a blank. Not so. There may not be any bodily control, but Gabe can assure you, there is plenty of pain.
It’s easy to succumb to depression if you are locked in a prison made up of your own body. Your life is caught in stasis, largely unchanged from day-to-day while your friends move on with their lives, go to school, start careers, and begin to raise families of their own.
But Gabe is an engaging young man and while he still wrestles with the mental challenges of his situation he has met those challenges and has his eyes focussed on the future. He does have some important help in meeting his challenges, every couple of weeks a social worker comes to visit to assist him with building the mental tools he needs to cope and he has a very supportive family.
During the annual Aundeck Omni Kaning (AOK) Traditional Powwow, Gabe was presented with an eagle feather by his community. Chief Patsy Corbiere referenced Gabe’s bravery during that presentation.
“He has a very special kind of courage,” noted Chief Corbiere. “The community wanted to present him with the eagle feather and to let him know that we are behind him and his family.”
“I wasn’t expecting it,” said Gabe of the presentation, “I actually didn’t know they were going to do that.”
This was actually the fourth eagle feather that Gabe has been gifted with since his accident and he said that he has been tremendously honoured to receive each and every one.
For those who don’t know the significance of an eagle feather, it is usually referenced as the highest honour that can be bestowed upon an individual, the symbolic embodiment of the teachings of the Seven Grandfathers and more. Those teachings are love, respect, bravery, honesty, humility, wisdom and truth. But the eagle feather also stretches from the head to the heart, a pathway along which the wisdom of those teachings travel to provide guidance and support to an individual as they make their way through life’s trials and challenges. That is why it is so often given to those who are embarking on an important undertaking, why an eagle feather is so often given to those in the community who are becoming leaders—or so the elders have told me.
The eagle feathers, therefore, do not only recognize bravery and great deeds, but act also as guides for following a good path.
Gabe has spent a fair bit of time over the past half decade playing video games, engaging his X-Box in virtual worlds and communities where his physical challenges are invisible. But after five years of basically just putting in time, Gabe is now making plans for the future.
“I am thinking about starting up a small business,” he said. “Maybe an Internet café and gift store,” his mother supplies, although the idea was one he came up with on his own.
Thanks to technology and some innovative interfaces, Gabe is able to manipulate the computer himself, so an online store will actually be well within his reach. He has some savings that he can invest in the venture and he said he is excited about exploring the possibilities.
But despite the connectivity the computer and Internet can provide, Gabe still finds himself isolated and well, frankly, lonely. It is hard, if not impossible, to imagine the impact that the isolation of quadriplegic paralysis has on a young man who was, and still is, so gregarious.
Asked if he had one message he would like to get out there, he doesn’t hesitate, not so surprising for a guy with a lot of time to think about things.
“I am still me,” he says with a steady gaze. “My mind is still here. I am still the same person, just a little different on the outside.” Gabe said he would like to get more visitors. “Just drop on by,” he says. His mother Beverly interjects “maybe call first.” Mothers, what are you going to do? She is concerned that Gabe still has some bad days. Gabe doesn’t seem to be as worried about that.
It is easy to understand why Gabe’s friends might have a hard time making that call, or knocking on the door. It wasn’t that easy for The Expositor, jaded veteran journalist and all that, to work up the courage to make the call. Questions and insecurities stand before you, self-doubt slowing your hand as it reaches for the telephone. “How do I act? What do I say? What if I say the wrong thing?” these thoughts beset us, even when the person is essentially a stranger, let alone a friend we grew up with and still care about. So putting off making the call becomes the path of least resistance and time goes on, making that chasm of the unknown even deeper and adding in a gulf of guilt for not having called sooner, or stopped by. Our lives go on and thoughts fade.
We know in our hearts that isn’t right—but summoning the courage seems to become more difficult with each passing day, and so the years grow.
Perhaps we could all use our own eagle feather, something to help us to build that pathway from our hearts to our minds that will allow us to muster the courage needed to pick up the phone and make that call.