A year ago today, a gunshot took me within 90 seconds of bleeding to death. Today, my leg is in constant pain but I am reminded of how close I was to having it removed. What have I learned? I’ve learned to be in a constant state of gratitude. To never again allow fear to be in my thinking. To live each day to its fullest. And perhaps most importantly, never to allow opportunities to slip through my fingers.
I’m going to visit the intensive care nurses today, angels really, who served me for weeks of uncertainty. I’ll say thank you again to the doctors and say hello to Father Clifford. I’m taking Stephanie to a nice dinner. I’ll hug my son Perry just that much longer after he practices riding a “two wheeler”.
Right next to my desk at home is a box of cards people sent me from all over Oregon. I’ll re-read them. Many of my close friends in politics, people on both sides of the isle whose support meant a lot, I’ll find today.
We all have much to be thankful for and you don’t need to nearly die to recognize it. We live in Oregon. We have families and friends. We have our dreams. We are doers, not talkers.
Some of the people I admire the most went through life changing events that made them better. The two best American cyclists of all time, one who was nearly killed by a gunshot accident and another who had cancer, both came back to win the Tour de France. My favorite American political leader lost his wife and his mother within 24 hours and he spent the next two years in the bad lands of South Dakota trying to put back the pieces only later to become President. And then there is Gene Covic. A man who lost both his legs when a tractor fell on him, and yet he finds time to volunteer at the hospital in Medford. He called me when there were thoughts I’d never walk again to tell me I would get out of my wheelchair. The difference in people like this and so many others? It’s how they responded.
There is a good chance I will live in constant pain, walk with a limp, and have problems related to my leg the rest of my life. I’ll confess, I get frustrated in therapy and in riding my bike, but bitterness has not entered in. I don’t have a good explanation other than this: I’ve seen a lot of bad in the world and I recognize how fortunate I am to still be alive.
I’ve learned during the last year of therapy, serving in the Senate, and keeping my family healthy, that rebuilding the momentum of my business and political pursuits has had nothing to do with me. It has everything to do with how I respond, how I take time, and how I give it away.
There are many good things coming. Like you, I have big plans, big passions, and things I will accomplish. Today though, I encourage you not to think of my story, but to take a few minutes and be grateful. Live today like today fully, like every moment counts, as if it could be your last.
State Senator Jason Atkinson