“The bumps are tickling my tummy!” Ryan yelled as we jetted down the runway. Years of working and saving up had finally paid off. “It’s party time!” Ryan shouted. Everyone on the plane was in agreement – it was party time! Ryan and I were off to Disney World.
Those who don’t know Ryan are missing out. Ryan is a 29 year old man whose passion for life is second only to his passion for having a good time. He is a young man who people look up to, who does not allow others to determine his ability. This became even more evident on our trip to the most magical place on Earth.
In this field, we are constantly reminded that we need to empower others. I forgot what this looked like until Ryan and I were at the Philadelphia International Airport. Although Ryan was in full party mode, I witnessed a look of defeat on his face when he was told to sit in a wheelchair, as him walking through the airport was a liability (for the airport). Those who know Ryan know he was stuck in a wheelchair up until the age of 20. He set a goal of walking across the stage on his high school graduation day to receive his diploma and he achieved this goal. This made him determined to never limit himself to a wheelchair again. Yet, there he was.
However, he didn’t let that one small hiccup slow him down. Once we were at the gate and the wheelchair was gone, Ryan and I were back to full celebration mode as he chatted with every person he could find. The flight, the drive, the hotel, and a short sleep were taken care of and we found ourselves waking up the morning of the big day. Time for Disney!
Ryan was determined to see it all, and he certainly did! We went to Magic Kingdom the first day and he refused to stop. He did not let the distance between attractions slow him down and before we knew it lunch time had come. Around noon, I asked Ryan, “are you ready for lunch?” “Nope, not yet!” Ryan responded. Alright then, let’s keep going! At 1:00 it was the same answer, then 2:00, then 3:00 and he still didn’t want to stop. After all, according to Ryan, “we have to watch the parade!” Finally, 4:30 rolled around and I had to put my foot down. “Ryan, I’m stopping and I am eating.” Ryan said “me too, Jake. I am starving!” I then asked him why he didn’t want to eat before. His response was “still too much to do!” Ryan was overwhelmed and he loved it. I loved it. I had the absolute pleasure of seeing someone’s dream come true and not only did I get to watch him live it, I was absorbed in the enchantment of it.
I was unable to take in the gravity of the moment until it was the end of the night and we waited for the fireworks. Ryan explained to me that he had never seen a fireworks show and asked if it would be neat. Never seeing one at Disney before, all I could say was, “Yeah, I think it will be a pretty good show.” I did not realize how unprepared I was for the moment.
Ryan, never one to miss a conversation with anyone around his age (especially ladies!), began to steal the show. A group of people gathered around where we were standing to get ready for the fireworks. Ryan began to chat with all those near him and everyone fell in love with his enthusiasm, openness, and smile. Everyone wanted pictures with him and they wanted to know more about him.
Just then, the lights went down and it was time for the fireworks. Ryan was excited and he expressed it. As the show began, he let out a yell and it changed the perspective from which I was watching the show. I was no longer seeing fireworks like I had seen them before; I was seeing them, and this whole trip, through Ryan’s eyes. He made the sacrifice of working and saving, dreaming and doing. He did it! I stood there watching him and as the tears flowed down my face, I realized how lucky I am to know Ryan. He doesn’t just take in the big things, he takes in everything. As I stood there watching him, I realized the moment didn’t just take me in, it had also taken in the people around us he had befriended moments before.
They were finding themselves emotional over the pure joy one person was experiencing. As I wiped tears from my eyes, I noticed others doing the same and pointing to Ryan – not because he was different, but because he was there and experiencing the moment with them.
Although the trip did not stop there, it did become a life changing moment for the two of us (especially me). We went to Hollywood Studios on the second day and Ryan was able to meet some of his favorite characters like Woody, Buzz Lightyear, The Incredibles, and the famous mouse duo. Ryan thanked me at the end of the trip for going with him and the only thing I could process was how indebted I was to him. He helped me see that nothing should stop us from reaching for our dreams and working hard to make them happen. Ryan is one of the most interesting, kind, and grateful people I have ever met. Anyone who has interacted with him truly knows what kind of people Excentia gets the pleasure of supporting. Being out of direct care for a few years made me realize that without daily interactions with the people we support, we truly cannot know what is needed in their lives. Thanks to Ryan, I have remembered.