Choosing Your Own Life. Lonnie Quigley-Chapman

July 01, 2016

Choosing Your Own Life

by Lonnie Quigley-Chapman


Nobody would deny they want the best for their life.  The problem is everyone has a different perception of what the “best” looks like or even feels like.  Because I have a family and need to provide for them, I will want to get up in the morning, go through the same dry routine with the usual same quick-to-make, quick-to-eat breakfast, and head off to work day after day.  This is what is best for me, not because I dislike staying home and reading a book or sitting out on the porch to enjoy the morning sun, but because I would hate to not have enough money for my family’s needs and interests.

When you’re part of a family or a community, there are times when the urgent needs of the whole outweigh the lesser needs of the one.  My kids are part of my family so I choose the family’s needs over their “needs” (translation: wants) and have them mow the yard, weekly, before they can engage in fun.  As parents, we accumulate a habit of choosing for them. 

As spouses, we make a hubby to-do list, ask in amazement “Is that what you’re going to wear to church?” and limit what the other eats when out for dinner (“Remember what the doctor said about your cholesterol!”). Over time, we inch our way toward controlling the other.  We like to nurture this part of our nature. 

As neighbors, we comment, “I see you didn’t mow over the weekend; you must have been out of town.”  It’s our way of telling them: Your yard is unsightly.

As direct staff and care-takers, we prefer control.  It keeps the groups we oversee moving along smoothly, eliminates behaviors (or so we believe), and keeps us content and at ease because things go our way.  Friction is gone, conflict is gone, we are flowing with the current, and life is a breeze.  For us. But for others?  Oh, that’s right.  Others.  Forgot about them.  I guess they have choices, too.  Maybe they should have some say in this community we call life.

In 2014, freestyle motocross rider, Bruce Cook was attempting the world’s first double front flip during a Nitro Circus show when, after incorrectly landing his bike and crashing, became paralyzed from the waist down.  Bruce, upon leaving the arena on a stretcher, thought about getting back on a bike even at that moment.  A short nine months later he was riding again, but this time with a modified bike that allows him to strap himself to the seat of the bike, so that if something goes wrong, he cannot push himself away from the bike.  One month after that, he was attempting the sport’s first paraplegic back flip. Bruce’s father, knowing his dreams, assisted him in getting back to riding on his motorcycle.  It was either that or watch his son sit in a corner to deal with depression.  It would seem natural to eliminate any risk to keep one’s son safe, wouldn’t it?

The story of Bruce Cook should challenge us to think about the dreams and aspirations of those we care for.  It would be easier to alleviate the potential risks and hazards those dreams hold for people rather than experience the anxiety and weight of letting people run with them.  His story tells us that people have the right to make choices for their lives, even if we deem it is not the best or safest for them.  Most of the clientele we serve have less risky dreams.  They don’t want to attempt a double front flip; they just want to go to the Grand Canyon or to the Mall of America, live in their own apartment, get married, or want a caffeinated drink.  The question to ask is: when do we allow them to make a dream come true?  How can we help them achieve it?

I know a family whose son has a Dr’s order to reduce high fat and cholesterol foods, the one type of food their son loves.  While the group home is required to follow the order, the family isn’t.  There isn’t much else their son enjoys in his life.  Their philosophy is to make sure their son has a quality of life (quality as defined by their son, not by them), not a quantity of life.  Happy years, not long unhappy ones.

Enabling our clients to have the right to choose one’s life is like giving the gift of life to them.  Finding a balance as they live as sons, daughters, spouses, neighbors in a community can be tough but it is well worth the effort.  After all, how many of you by a show of hands want to be told when to shower, what you can drink, who you can marry, where you should work, what you can eat?  Interesting…not one of you raised your hand.