Elevator: Learning a Principle of Recovery – Part 2

This is an excerpt from
Relentless Grace

Note: This is part 2 of my initial unassisted encounter with an elevator( You can read part 1 here.). It’s a great reminder that even the simplest tasks can be overwhelming in the center or the storm.

Conquest instantly reverted to defeat.

Most people don’t even notice the tiny crack between the floor and the car, but my attention now focused on that insignificant crevice that suddenly swallowed my front wheels.

The automatic doors began to close. A sensor and halted the motion. After a few seconds the mechanism made another attempt. Over and over the doors would close a bit and then part once more.

Stuck in the elevator doorway, in the bulky chair, in the hospital, in my miserable broken body. Stuck and trapped, a perfect metaphor for what remained of what was once a life.

I saw no escape from this unanticipated ambush. The doors continued to open, try to close, then stop and open again.

I honestly do not know how I finally managed to become unstuck. But eventually, somehow, I managed to free my wheels from their snare and rolled into the elevator.

Success! I’d entered the elevator completely by myself. It wasn’t smooth, it wasn’t easy, and it certainly wasn’t efficient. But I’d overcome a significant challenge without help.

I then encountered another truth that I would rediscover repeatedly over the next months. A triumph always fostered other, more difficult challenges. In a frustrating but inevitable cycle, the celebration of advance inevitably preceded the frustration of a corresponding retreat.

Eventually I learned that I usually moved a bit farther forward than back; continuous effort created slow but unmistakable progress. But it took a long time to discern this pattern of gain and loss and to accept this nearly imperceptible advancement as my new version of “normal.”

As I rolled into the elevator I faced a serious tactical dilemma. The controls were right there, behind me, over my left shoulder. I needed to turn and get beside them.

Before I could solve this newest problem the doors closed and the car began moving. Well, that wasn’t so bad. After all, I couldn’t get lost. There were just five floors plus the basement where the clinic was located. I figured I would just push to the back of the car and spin around.

I was moving on my own! Nobody lifted or pushed or helped. Until you’re unable to move yourself you cannot appreciate the sense of freedom that accompanies independent motion.

I rolled slowly to the back of the car, and the advance/retreat principle reappeared. I couldn’t turn around within the confines of the elevator! The big clunky chair was too long, and the back hit one wall while the footrests banged against the other. I was stuck. Again.

I remember just wanting to quit right there. All I’d overcome that day—long corridors, pushing buttons, picking the winning door, somehow escaping that crack. So many obstacles surmounted, and what had I accomplished? I was stuck in an elevator, facing the back wall and unable to move, dead-dog tired and discouraged. The frustration encapsulated my vision of the rest of my life. I would never be able to do anything.


Down and up, then the doors opened and someone boarded. Moved again, stopped, doors opened. People entered and departed behind me. I tried to ask for help, but the noise of machinery drowned my hoarse whisper of a voice. Life continued behind me while I remained jammed between the walls, locked rigid by the halo, staring at the blank rear wall.

I wish I could relate a courageous conclusion, a clever escape from my predicament and a triumphant return to the rehab unit as conquering champion of the elevator. I’d like to claim some sort of inspirational moment of enlightenment when I suddenly realized I could achieve anything to which I set my mind. But that’s not what happened.

Once again I failed to discover lessons embedded within this discouraging incident. I just stared at the back of the elevator, convinced I was destined for a life filled with struggle and failure. I envisioned someone discovering my body days later, riding up and down those six floors.

Finally someone entered and decided to check on me. He helped me get back to the right floor. I rolled out into the hallway and paused beside a window, watching a parking lot and the street beyond. People walked along, cars came and went as the traffic light demanded.

Didn’t they know life had ended? Didn’t they know the world was reduced to pain and frustration and loss? How could they just keep on as if nothing had happened?


I struggled back to my room that day convinced I’d never make it, angry with everyone for making me try.

I eventually conquered the elevator and other more difficult and fearsome obstacles. Thank God they didn’t just leave me alone; despite my anger and disbelief, they kept me going.

When I’m at the hospital, I often ride that same elevator. I laugh when I recall riding up and down, convinced my skeleton would be discovered after years of staring at the back of that stupid elevator.

I tell this story frequently, and I honestly think it’s pretty funny to. The account always elicits a good laugh.

Of course, I don’t include the part about the window and the cars and all of those who went on their way, oblivious to the fact that the world had ended.

That part wasn’t so funny.

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Copyright 2009 by Rich Dixon, All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.
Rich is an author and speaker. He is the author of:
Relentless Grace: God’s Invitation To Give Hope Another Chance
. Visit his web site www.relentlessgrace.com

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