Opinion | Biff America: Sliding reality’s door
Bub rolled over in the tent, his face inches from mine, and said, “Sometimes I wake up and forget I’m paralyzed.”
I asked, “How does it feel when you remember?”
“By the time I remember I can’t walk,” he said. “I remember that it could be worse. But in the meantime, I enjoy the hell out of the possibilities.”
Bub Beal was a South Georgia redneck. He served two tours of duty in Vietnam and returned home without a scratch. He fell in love, married and was nearly killed in a logging accident. His marriage broke apart a month after his spinal cord did.
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I met Bub decades ago. I had spent much of that spring back east watching my mother die of lung cancer. At the time, my job description in both TV and radio was to “be amusing,” but I did not have it in me.
I took off a few months to volunteer for a handicap outdoor program. Bub and I were part of a group of 10; some blind, some crippled, some crazy, (crazy would be me) on a seven-day wilderness canoe trip. We would paddle from lake to lake by carrying our boats, gear and some of our passengers over land bridges (one, a half-mile long). Often, two able-bodied people would hoist a wheelchair and its occupant while, at the same time, leading a sightless camper over steep rocky portages.
Bub called the place between sleep and consciousness his (be) “tweener-times.” He claimed the beauty of “tweener-time” was that he was alert enough to desire and asleep enough to dream. He said he would try to hover on the edge of slumber as long as possible and create for himself a better life. He would go into great detail of the situation he invented. First and foremost, he was out of that wheelchair, but he also was married to a girl he met only once in Okinawa, and he was once again able to hunt.
“I swear Biff, sometimes I can hold onto my ‘tweener time’ long enough to run through the woods until my feet hurt or smell my wife’s skin. It is so real I sometimes don’t know what to believe, my dead legs, or the imaginary blisters.”
I will say while Bud was totally awake he was generally in a good mood, all things considered. I don’t know if Bub’s “tweener” obsession was psychologically healthy. I do know it seemed to give him pleasure. My guess would be it was a harmless diversion and escape. Ralph Waldo Emerson said that “reality is a sliding door.”
Many years after meeting Bub, I interviewed Christopher Reeve, the “Superman” actor who was paralyzed in an equestrian accident. He was speaking of recent advancements in spinal cord research and urging the government to provide more funding. Near the end of our visit, I asked if he believed that he would walk again. His answer was an emphatic “Yes.” Though other experts in that field were less optimistic, given his determination, I believed him.
I have no idea if Bub is still with us; of course we know that Mr. Reeve is not. I do believe that they both had more than a wheelchair in common. They were able to envision a life that most said was impossible. One relied on faith in science, the other cultivated a mental state of possibilities, and both had learned to make the best of what many would find an unendurable circumstance.
I think about those two guys when I find myself complaining about little stuff which makes my (in comparison) near perfect existence slightly less so.
A quick glimpse at the rest of the world displays how good most of us have the it. Now granted there are some with chemical or clinical conditions who are faultlessly cursed, by negativity and/or depression. But for the rest of us, we are forced to ignore what is good to focus on our picayune complaints to muster up enough ammunition to bitch.
30 YEARS LATER — Ellie, my mate, rolled over in bed, her face inches from mine, gave me a little shake and said, “God, it’s cold. I can barely stick my head out of the covers. Did you set the thermostat at 50 again? Get out of bed, turn up the heat and make coffee. I told Steve and Laura we would meet them at the trail head a 7:30.” I tried a little of Bub’s “tweener-time” and imagined I was still sleeping. It didn’t work. But I’m not complaining.
Jeffrey Bergeron’s column “Biff America” publishes Mondays in the Summit Daily News. Bergeron has worked in TV and radio for more than 30 years, and his column can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He is the author of “Mind, Body, Soul.” Bergeron arrived in Breckenridge when there was plenty of parking and no stop lights. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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