Thanksgiving column from the Key West Citizen

January 13, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

I've had a few people ask that i post this column I wrote for the Key West Citizen. It's a public 'thank you' for everyone that has helped me as I recover from my scooter accident on November 15, 2011.

 

 

About a really long year ago, I woke up at the Ryder Trauma Center in Miami after a pretty bad scooter versus minivan experience. After cautiously lifting the blood-stained hospital blanket, suffice it to say, I was quite thankful to see my leg attached.

The adult-sized erector set running the length of my mangled leg left a lot to be desired, but I knew I had dodged a bullet, even though that meant flying, however ungracefully, over some careless tourist’s windshield.

After being swept off the street by angels in a van with sirens and lights, I remained conscious throughout the morphine-infused chopper ride to the big city, wondering how in the world I’d make it to the

quinceanera of my friend’s daughter in Havana in a few months. That was the first of many things that didn’t happen. Such is life.

Ten surgeries, and more pain than I’d ever known later, I’m still well aware of how lucky I was that night.

"My" corner at Simonton and Southard boasts a hugely-trunked tree, a large metal utility box and a concrete light post, none of which interfered with my textbook, Flying Wallendas butt-plant landing that night. Had my melon smacked into any of those obstructions, it’s up in the air, so to speak, whether or not I’d be here today. And though I get sick of hearing myself say so, things really could have been worse.

After a couple wildly uncomfortable weeks of being examined, evaluated, lifted, radiated, shuffled, rolled, wrapped, rewrapped, gassed, intubated, pricked, poked, prodded, sliced and sewn, and with memories of a, let’s say, ‘less than optimal’ Thanksgiving meal not fading quickly enough, I fired up my laptop on Nov. 30 and tuned into the Smokin’ Tuna’s Web cam.

My friends (who must remain nameless throughout due to the unavoidable risk of omitting someone) had organized a gargantuan benefit. The entire spectrum of this fantastic island gathered in support and the feeling of warmth and belonging was absolutely overwhelming. Musicians, artists, fellow shooters and businesses from around town graciously donated their time, money, products, services and efforts to help me bridge what will ultimately be well over a year of lost work, and while I was obviously grateful for the funds raised, the fact that so many people were involved was equally amazing.

In the following weeks, The Schooner Wharf Bar, Conch Town and Shots and Giggles also held benefits. It was, and still is, unbelievable. This island attracts a certain kind of person and we should all be thankful we’ve landed here. Unfortunately, if you’re not careful, it’s easy to listen to people moan about Key West and to allow negativity to creep in. Sure, I get annoyed by parking, road construction and the other trappings involved with living on a small island, but what we have here is an amazing collage of unique and loving souls gathered on this little speck on the map. And if you’re not thankful for that, you either need to open your eyes or hit the road.

The weird part is that oftentimes, when something like this happens to someone, they say, "Damn, I didn’t realize how good I had it." That couldn’t be further from the truth for this reporter. After escaping to Key West from Ohio in 1996, I refused to give up my dream of working at the newspaper.

However, after seven months of developing tourist photos on Duval Street, which can be interesting, (think honeymoon photos pre-digital era), I had had about enough and was seriously rethinking my situation. Suddenly, there was an opening at The Citizen and I snagged it.

My Key West journey had truly begun. Over the next 15 years I would meet people of all walks of life, and best of all, I got to photograph them along with just about every other cool thing that happens around here. From there it was weddings, real estate, a couple dozen trips to Cuba, the whole nine yards. I was doing, and will eventually continue to do, what I absolutely love in a place I love, with the people I love. So no, I’ve never taken any of this for granted, and from the beginning, I’ve thanked God for this fortunate world in which I find myself.

Now, do I host pity parties for myself? But of course, and by the way, I’m a great host. However, it’s CNN moments like last Sunday when I was watching our world draw closer and closer to Dec. 21, 2012, when I saw a 10-year-old boy in Syria who had just had his leg blown off. Nothing kills a pathetic pity party like that kind of image. To see this little boy, his whole life in front him, stunted by some fanatic, is truly a reality check. You don’t have to look far to find someone in much worse shape than yourself. A psychiatrist might say this is wrong, and I might sound weak for saying so, but when thoughts of a pity party begin, it’s that kind of stuff that keeps me in check.

Despite the fact I’ll be hobbling around for the foreseeable future, I’ll be doing so surrounded by the same people that showed up last year, all over town, in an outpouring of love and support I’ll never forget. And I’ll continue to make the best images I can for this newspaper that changed my Key West life all those years ago. I’ll also continue looking up into the South Florida skies and repeating a line from one of my favorite Elton John songs, ‘Mona Lisa’s and Mad Hatters,’ which says, ‘and I thank the Lord, for the people I have found.’

More true words escape me, and a kinder, more supportive and loving community I doubt exists. I am eternally thankful for you, Key West, and I look forward to another 15 years of (figuratively) shooting all of you.

roneal@keysnews.com


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