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WINDOWS IN THE CLOUDS - A true story about overcoming spinal cord injury


windows in the clouds cover

Born in Cootamundra, growing up I expected that my future lay on the land. After becoming a paraplegic from a tree-felling accident my life changed in more ways that I could ever have imagined.

I have tried to take something so negative and turn it around.

Despite what has happened to me I am forever thankful that I survived and was given a second chance.

In Store Price: $AU29.95 
Online Price:   $AU28.95

 

AMAZON

ISBN: 978-1-921919-15-2
Format: Paperback
Number of pages: 336
Genre: Non Fiction
 

 

 

 


Author: Stephen Byrne
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: 2012
Language: English

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Dedication for Randy 

RIP April 2011 

In this life we rarely get the opportunity to meet someone who stands out from others. Sometimes when we do, we often don’t see the qualities that that person has. Randy was one of those rare people who you could not help but like and trust in an instant. He made me feel as though we had known each other for years and yet our time as friends was all too short. Randy was a man who faced adversity head on and he let nothing stop him from achieving the things he did. If I could be half the man that he was then I could not ask for more.

I will always remember the place I was when I found out that you had gone away. Fittingly I was in the Australian War Memorial in Canberra when I heard the news. I was in a place which remembers more than 100,000 men and women who have given their lives for others. Randy, I know that you gave so much of yourself, to so many and I hope and pray that you are at peace and in a better place.

 He showed great compassion, friendship, love and empathy with a wonderful sense of humour, despite the pain and suffering he was enduring. Randy, you were part of the inspiration for this book and you will and are being missed by those that were fortunate enough to know you and the world has truly lost a very unique man.

Until we meet again my friend...

 

Author Note

 

Most measurements in this are stated in imperial because aviation uses imperial measurements and the second part of the book is about travelling throughout USA which also uses imperial measurements

 

CHAPTER 1

Where Do I Begin?

 

Don’t be afraid that your life will end…

be afraid that it will never begin…

 

We are all born into this world with nothing and we all leave this world with nothing. Conversely we come into the world alone and ultimately we leave it, alone. Yeah, there maybe people standing around witnessing both events, but we are still doing it on our own. No one comes crawling into the uterus to hold our hand and show us the way out, just the same as there is no usher to show you the way out when you are really on the way out. Someone might be yanking on your head trying to get you to come out into the world but ultimately you are doing it on your own. Someone else might hold your hand when you are heading west but sooner or later they will have to let go of it and you will be on your way. It matters not how we come into this life and how we leave it…the result will be the same. It matters what we do with that all too often short space in between.

 

Around the age of three is the time that most people can begin to recall significant events in their lives. Some people can remember back even further than that. On the other hand others can’t remember back that far, but for most of us our memories reach back to around the age of three.

     

Do you ever wish that you had the courage to get out there and do the things in life that you really want to do? For whatever reason or reasons you are too afraid to follow those dreams through. I am sure that each and every one of us can relate to that. I know that I feel that way and think about the things I want to do every day, but for various reasons I often don’t do anything about it. Well… maybe that is not altogether true. I know that I have done some exciting things in life. It isn’t and hasn’t been totally boring, but I sometimes feel like life is passing me by and I need to use my time in a more constructive way. I think the older we get the more we realise that some things are just not that important.

 

I feel at times that my life is like a dog’s breakfast. It is all over the place and it won’t be all over until the last morsel has been taken away by some vulture waiting in the wings. The dog, it seems, has more control over his meal than I have over my life. While I obviously hope that I have plenty of time left, none of us know what is around the corner. That proverbial bus that people often talk about could come along at any time and run us over. On the other hand however, opportunities are being lost as I speak! The world is passing me by and I need to get going!

 

I have been saying that to myself for most of my life. I sometimes have a dream where I am running away from someone who scares the hell out of me. No matter how fast I run I don’t seem to be getting anywhere. I feel like I am stuck in mud or quicksand. Life sometimes feels like that. No matter how hard we try we don’t seem to be making any headway. It would appear on the surface that we are racing around madly going nowhere.

 

What stops us from pursuing the things in life that we really want to do? Why are many of us disillusioned and unfulfilled by the lives that we lead? There are many answers to those two questions but I would hazard a guess that what really stops most of us is fear. We all have dreams and aspirations but most of us never turn those dreams into reality. We either can’t or won’t step out of our comfort zones to truly achieve those things that are dear to our hearts. Well… why don’t we? What are we are afraid of? Who or what is stopping us? Don’t look at me for the answers! If you are still reading this you know, deep down in your heart, the answers to those questions can only be found out yourself.

 

Some people lie around dreaming of doing great things. Others get up and go and do them. I would like to think that I am one of the latter, but truth be known, I am too often one of the ones lying around. I know for myself there are some simple answers to those questions that I asked in the previous paragraph. One thing I am truly afraid of is failure and being seen as a failure. I worry about what other people might think of me and I find that is, for me, an extremely hard thing to overcome.  I am sure I am not alone with these thoughts and I guess there are a myriad of reasons why we have these thoughts but it can really paralyse our dreams and hold us back from really achieving the things in life that we want to. For me personally I have also allowed others to shape my opinions and the direction of my life. Where we come from and the places we have been in can have a huge bearing on where we are going.

 

Again I am sure I am not alone here. As Australians we are notorious for the tall poppy syndrome. We strive to get to the top of the heap but we resent anyone else who does. Instead of trying to drag achievers down, we should be aspiring to join them in the stratosphere. Whilst I am sure the view from the top is not always what we think it might be, I am sure it is better than the view of the hole I have had to dig myself out of from time to time. I have plenty of dirt on my fingernails from scraping the soil at the side of the pit and plenty of blisters on my hands from the shovel. Of course I have never really understood the term digging yourself out of a hole. I would have thought that you wouldn’t really need to do that. It really is that you have dug yourself into a hole and you need to somehow climb out of it. Whatever! The predicament is the same. Maybe sometimes I am digging myself further in? I know however, that when you reach rock bottom there is only one way to go and that is up!

 

It has taken a long time for me to shake those shackles off and start to truly believe in myself and who I am. I sometimes think I have been dealt a lousy hand but there is really nothing to stop me from trying to raise the stakes. I am at a place in my life now that I am not content to accept second best. I don’t have to accept that for myself or accept that from others. I know that I can do better. My parents were never ones to really encourage me to shine. They were too busy tied up in their own wretched lives and I can see now, that where they came from has shaped the people that they are now. The trouble is that often the cycle is never broken and the baton is passed down from one generation to the next. They never really comprehended that their actions were not only affecting them, but also those around them. Even to this day neither of them can really see the damage that was done. It has taken a long time to try and climb out of that terrible place and sometimes I feel myself slipping back into it. To all those parents out there who are hurting their kids because of their own selfishness, I have only one thing to say…stop doing it!

 

When the end finally came for my parents’ marriage they weren’t the only ones that had to deal with what had happened. Unfortunately myself and my siblings suffered greatly in the fallout. As I reflect back on my life I think of the highs and lows. The happy and the sad times. The good and the bad. For me I have seen life as striving to get to a certain place. A place where I am truly happy and content. I can tell you though, on many levels, I haven’t found that place yet.

 

Striving to get to a certain place. What the heck is that? Is it having enough money, a nice house? Maybe family and friends? I have realised that life is not meant to be a struggle but a journey where we are ultimately content and truly happy. Striving to get to some particular place can cause you to lose the real meaning of life and sometimes life can pass us by without us realising it until it is too late. I have seen that in my own life and sometimes I think that I have focused on the wrong things. Material things in particular have taken my focus away from the things that are truly important in life.

 

Life is meant to be a journey, an adventure, something to look forward to every day. The older I get the more I realise this. I for one, have been given a second chance at life and I am consciously trying now to focus on the things that are truly important like family and relationships. It is no use winding up with great wealth or a nice house if you have no one to share it with. There has to be a balance between the two and that is something that I am now striving for.

 

Goals that may have been important when I was 18 aren’t anymore. Striving for material possessions, can in many cases, end in tears and heartbreak. Most times when I read a newspaper I see a house for sale by mortgagee auction. A feeling of real sadness sometimes almost overwhelms me and I think of the family or individual who has just had their dreams shattered. Their dreams are on the rocks and everything they have worked for has evaporated virtually before their eyes. They are real people with real emotions and feelings that have been ripped apart.  The sad thing is that as a whole, society doesn’t seem to care. We are often stuck in a rut and it is very hard to get out of a rut. But we all must strive to get out of rut because when it all comes down to it, a rut is really just a grave with the ends kicked out! There will be plenty of time to rest or sleep or whatever our beliefs are when we lay down our heads for the last time. In the meantime we all have a life to live. So live it!

 

Someone can fall down, either literally or metaphorically and most people just walk on by. We say that we care but do we really? A wise person, also called Steve, by the way, once said to me that we judge others by their actions and ourselves by our best intentions. How true is that? If we are honest with ourselves there is always room for improvement. We are all born into this world as innocent and helpless babes who are vulnerable and need to be cared for and loved. We have no expectations when we are born but as we grow that all changes. The world slowly shapes us and can potentially screw us up. We need to change that and start heading in the opposite direction, breaking off the shackles and chains that bind us and hold us in places that we don’t want to be.

 

My dreams and ambitions have fallen in a heap on numerous occasions. One day everything is going the way I planned it all and then all of a sudden it can all change in a split second. Murphy’s Law comes into play and things start to unravel, but we should never let that determine the outcome of our lives. We shouldn’t settle for second best, or for that matter, second guess ourselves.

 

If we do that then we will never get anywhere. My life’s plans all came to a screaming heap the day I had my accident. Not only was I paralysed with fear but I was paralysed period. My legs stopped working that day and everything else changed with it that day. For me personally my accident is the best example of that. How amazing is that? In a split second all my dreams and aspirations evaporated. In the course of an afternoon my life as I knew it disappeared and was gone forever. Everything went pear shaped and the life that I had been living was over. My own bed of roses was gone. I have watched a TV show called Bed of Roses and the theme song says that I am lying on a bed of roses and I wake up on a bed of nails. For me, I was lying on a bed of roses and I woke up lying on a hospital bed. I would have gladly exchanged it for a bed of nails any day.

In the months leading up to my accident I truly thought that for the first time in my life I had had some direction. I had found my true purpose, or so I thought I had and all of a sudden it was gone. Vanished into thin air as though it had never been.

 

No one’s life is a complete bed of roses. The thorns come our way and pierce some of the dreams that we hold dear to ourselves, but we just have to cut the thorns away and move on to the next place. That is what life is truly all about. Being able to take it on the chin, get up, dust yourself off and move on. We have to just get up one more time than we have fallen down.

 

I drove out to work one day, a fit and healthy 23 year old. It was the proverbial my life has only just begun thing. I had everything going for me and everything to live for. A few hours later I was lying in a hospital totally devoid of anything. I was shocked out of my mind, stressed out of my head and completely unprepared for what had just happened to me. Everything had changed and I had no idea how huge those changes were going to be. I could not comprehend what had happened to me or what was going to happen to me. Life was going to be tougher now in so many ways. It would take me longer to do even the simplest of tasks and everything would be more difficult. Absolutely everything was going to be harder, like giving an elephant a pedicure with a nail file. Or maybe dragging a dead horse through molasses. Why anyone would want to drag a dead horse through molasses I don’t know, but you get my drift?

 

Of course losing your dreams doesn’t only happen to individuals. Large and small corporations lose their dreams or lose their way and go to the wall all the time. That in turn affects all the people associated with that company and the fallout can be more widespread than anticipated. The thing is though, it doesn’t matter where you go or who you meet, everyone has a story to tell. And the most amazing thing is that the best stories in the world are still waiting to be told. We just need to know where to find them. They are not in the latest gossip magazine or tomorrow’s newspaper. They are closer than you think and more readily accessible than it would appear. You don’t need to look to Hollywood or to the leaders of major corporations or the presidents and prime ministers around the world. Just take a look at your next door neighbour, the old woman down the street or the drunk laying under the tree in the local park. They all have a story to tell.

 

As the chapters unfold in this book I want to tell not one story but numerous stories. Some happy, some sad and some so incredible that they are almost impossible to believe. I hope that by telling my story and by sharing the stories of some of the incredible people I have met along the way, it will hopefully help to inspire others. I know that they have inspired me. Just because tragedy can strike anyone at anytime it doesn’t mean that life is over. It just means we have to find another way through. There is always another way. It might be a bit different or a bit strange to others, but there is always a way. This life that each and every one of us has been given is a gift. The gift of life that we have is precious and it is a privilege to live it.

 

My life is precious and so are the lives of everyone on this earth. I want to tell not one story in this book, but several stories. I want to tell you the stories of some of the people I have met along this journey that we call life. I want to share the tragedies and the triumphs, the highs and the lows. I want to show you how these people overcame and continue to overcome the adversity that they face each and every day of their lives. I want to show you how they have maintained their dignity and self respect in the face of incredible circumstances. This is my story and the story of those who have touched my life in a very special way.

 

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