A Productive Life Despite My Handicap
MY HUSBAND, Gary, and I were raised in Iowa, U.S.A. We were very young when we got married, not yet out of our teenage years. Naturally, like most young people, we felt that we had a good life ahead of us and were rather carefree about it. One evidence of this was that we both liked to ride motorcycles.
One day, as Gary and I were riding on the same motorcycle, we hit another vehicle. The accident was a very serious one. Gary was injured but recovered fully. However, my injury was far more severe. I broke my back.
The accident left me paralyzed from just below the arms down. Now I could get around only in a wheelchair. Yes, my entire life, as well as that of my husband and my son, changed in an instant.
Even before my accident, I had great difficulty understanding questions such as: Why is there so much suffering? Why are there so many injustices in the world? I knew that religious leaders generally taught that God was in charge of this world and that what happened was according to his will. But this seemed to be saying that God is really responsible for injustice and suffering. Thus, I felt that if there was a God and all of that was true, then he would not get any of my worship. My handicap seemed only to reinforce that view.
Later, when I sent our son to a religious camp, I got to thinking even more about religious questions. And the more I thought about the meaning of life and about injustice and suffering, the more I felt that there probably was no God. So the best thing for us, it seemed, was not to have any religion at all. Thus Gary and I were practically atheists.
A Change in Thinking
After a few years, we moved to Colorado, to the mountains. When we got settled there, we discovered that our neighbor had moved in at about the same time that we did. Then I heard that she was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I felt that I could tell her a thing or two about religion, since I had spent so much time thinking, reading, and talking about the subject.
One day this neighbor came to visit me. I thought: ‘Now is the time. I’ll just give it to her on a few of her beliefs to show her how wrong she is.’ But when she came over, I found out that she was not yet one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. She was studying the Bible with them. So when I asked her a difficult question, she replied: ‘Oh, I’ve just started studying the Bible, and I don’t know the answer myself. But why don’t you come over when I have my study, and you can ask the Witnesses yourself?’
That’s just what I did. Soon I was telling Gary about the many things I was learning and how so many of my difficult questions were being answered. After a few months he began studying too.
It was thrilling for me to learn about God’s purpose to put an end to this present system of things that is so filled with wickedness and suffering and to replace it with a new system of things, including “a new earth,” as the Bible calls it. (2 Peter 3:13) I learned the Bible’s heartwarming promise: “The righteous themselves will possess the earth, and they will reside forever upon it.”—Psalm 37:29.
It was also very wonderful to me to learn this promise about the near future: “[God] will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.”—Revelation 21:4.
Soon I could readily understand what Jesus meant when he said: “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32) For the first time in my life, I was freed from being in mental bondage to unanswered questions, doubts, false ideas, and from blaming God for wickedness and suffering. And I was freed from having no real hope for the future.
Included in the promise of a righteous New Order is what the prophet Isaiah said about the handicapped: “At that time the eyes of the blind ones will be opened, and the very ears of the deaf ones will be unstopped. At that time the lame one will climb up just as a stag does, and the tongue of the speechless one will cry out in gladness.”—Isaiah 35:5, 6.
How that appeals to me! I long for the day when I can ‘climb as a stag does’!
What Could I Do?
When I went next door to attend the Bible study my neighbor was having, it was a challenge to wheel myself there. But my neighbor came to help. Also, I wanted to attend the meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses to take in more knowledge. In this I was aided greatly by others in the congregation.
At first, before Gary began to study, they came and took me in their cars. I used my arms to slide over onto the car seat, and then the driver or others put my wheelchair in the trunk of the car. When we got to the Kingdom Hall, they helped me to get back into the wheelchair.
Then we got a car that had special hand controls for driving. When Gary was working a night shift and could not go with me to the meeting, I used to get into the car and put the chair in behind me. Or my son would do it for me. In fact, he’s always been a great help with the chair, as has Gary. In this way I have been able to drive myself where I wanted to go.
As I attended meetings and learned more about our Creator and his purposes, I wanted to share those good things with others. The Witnesses regularly called on their neighbors to help them learn about the Bible, and I wanted to join in that upbuilding work. But how could I, when I was confined to a wheelchair? Well, I was determined that this was not going to stop me. Gary felt the same way I did, so we both began to participate in the ministry. He would accompany me to the homes of others, pushing me in the wheelchair.
Wanting to Do More
In 1967, Gary and I got baptized together, and the desire grew in us to become even more productive in helping others to learn what we had learned. Hundreds of thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses all over the earth engage in the full-time ministry. They make that their main occupation. I had that same desire. But with my handicap, I felt that it was not for me.
One day I was accompanied by a Witness who was in this full-time work. I said to him: “Oh, how I wish I could do this work full time just as you do!” He answered: “Then why don’t you?” I thought to myself: ‘Well, for obvious reasons!’ But he was just so positive about it!
Then, at a large assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Denver, a woman in a wheelchair gave her experience from the platform. She was able to engage in the full-time preaching work in spite of her handicap. I thought: ‘I can do it too, with God’s help!’ And I have—for the past 14 years! For the last ten years Gary has been in the full-time work with me.
What has helped me immensely is the special van that we have. It is a regular-size van, but it has special controls designed by another handicapped Witness. It includes a lift that enables me to hoist myself up into the van. Then I move myself from my wheelchair over to the driver’s seat. Of course, when I’m with others and they drive, then all I have to do is stay in the wheelchair, and I can hoist myself in and out. The hoist is something like a trapeze bar that swings out from the van. I latch my chair on to it with hooks and then press a button “up” or “down.” In this way I have been able to go out and call regularly on people at their homes, and I am usually able to conduct a number of Bible studies.
Meeting the Challenges
In Colorado, and later in Idaho where we moved to, the winters were a real challenge, with freezing cold days and weeks. Eventually we were invited to move to Alaska where we are now. Talk about cold, ice, and snow—for most of the year! Yet, all of that can be overcome.
For one thing, we put on extra clothing. Gary even bought me the traditional mukluks, which are very warm boots that are worn over wool socks. And with warm outerwear, I cope with the cold temperatures. In fact, the first month that we were in Alaska—that was December—the temperature averaged 30 degrees below zero Fahrenheit (-34° C.)! Nevertheless, we had a very productive month in the ministry.
I’m not saying that all of this is easy. On ice, especially, the traction of my wheelchair is not good. I recall when I was on an embankment talking to a person about the Bible, and my wheelchair began to slide. Down the embankment I went! I came to a sudden stop at the bottom and fell out on my hands and knees with the wheelchair coming over on top of me! But I was helped to get back up, and there was no damage. However, in Anchorage, on the city sidewalks, it is much easier than it was in the mountains of Colorado and Idaho.
Often I am asked what motivates me to continue calling on others in spite of my handicap. For one thing, all these years of effort have been very rewarding. My husband and I have met and assisted many people to know the Creator and his will.
Also, I’ve been very gratified to see the number of people who have been encouraged to do more in their own lives when they see what I have been able to do with this handicap. That, in turn, encourages me even more.
Yet, I would have to say that the main thing that keeps me going is my love for God. Anything other than that would be the wrong reason. Before I had any accurate knowledge of God, I tended to blame him for all the suffering on earth. But after learning the truth about the Creator, I wanted to praise him. And the more I have done this, and helped others to do the same, the closer I have been drawn to God. So I don’t ever want to give up my main purpose in life. It’s a real privilege. Too, when I’m busy helping others, I don’t have much time for self-pity!
Keeping the Right Attitude
I know that it is very important for me to keep the right attitude toward what I do and toward the hope for the future. As of now, I am able to continue my work of helping others from my wheelchair. But I will have to admit that my condition has deteriorated somewhat. That often happens to wheelchair victims.
Yet, if the time comes when I become more confined, I’ll still do what I can. Other Witnesses who are unable to get out at all help people by telephone or by letter writing. At times, Bible students come to their homes for study. Maybe someday I will have to do that. But as long as I am able, I’m going to talk face to face with people in their own homes. That’s what I really love.
No matter what the immediate future brings, I know that in God’s New Order I’ll be physically sound. Then I’ll be able to do much more. In fact, I’m looking forward very much to that wonderful time the Bible speaks about when it says that “there is going to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Acts 24:15) Think of all the people who will come back from the dead and have to be taught about God and his purposes! I surely want to have a share in that, with a body that is whole.
No, don’t feel sorry for me! I’ve had a very productive and enjoyable life. And I look forward to having a far more productive and enjoyable life soon when God begins the restoration of Paradise here on earth. (Luke 23:43)—As told by Harriet Beckwith.
[Blurb on page 18]
“I thought: ‘I can do it too, with God’s help!’”
[Blurb on page 19]
“When I’m busy helping others, I don’t have much time for self-pity!”
[Picture on page 17]
Harriet and her specially adapted van