As a person with a disability, I wouldn’t get far without my wheels. Over the years, I’ve had a succession of mobility scooters, each new ride upgraded for more style, power, comfort and versatility. But it was the first set that carried me to an unmatched comprehension of freedom.
My first set of wheels was a small but tough fellow. It went on planes all over the country, proving to be just as durable as the luggage tossed around by the gorillas in those old TV commercials. On one of my memorable voyages, I was in Baltimore during a Fourth of July holiday. Together, we witnessed the Independence Day fireworks over Fort McHenry as symphonic strains of “The Star-Spangled Banner” played in the background. Sitting on my trusty rolling steed, I was filled with patriotic zeal.
The next day Amtrak transported us to Washington, where my distinguished little motorized pal gained us access to a private tour of the Capitol. On the floor of the empty Senate, I lost all sense of decorum and threw my wheels into full throttle across the room, running one outstretched hand along the rows of desks as I flew. With the Americans With Disabilities Act poised to become law a few weeks later, my stunt in that hallowed hall felt like a free-at-last victory lap.
This whirlwind visit to historic sites in the nation’s capital ended at the Vietnam Memorial. There, the purr of my motor was the only sound except for whispered sorrows among the passing mourners. Touching the wall of names was both acceptable and encouraged. No top speed this time. I slowed to a funeral procession crawl, reaching out to feel the letters of the silent roll call etched in stone.
After boarding Amtrak at twilight, I glanced down at my wheels, the brakes unapplied in the Senate chamber earlier now restrained in their safety lock on the train.
Then I had an epiphany.
Growing up with a father who was a World War II combat veteran, I didn’t have to be told that freedom of any kind always comes with a price, paid for with responsibility. But rolling along that wall full of names from my generation had been a humbling reminder that restraint was part of the deal.
The AARP Bulletin’s What I Really Know column comes from our readers. Each month we solicit personal essays on a selected topic and post some of our favorites in print and online.Claudia J. Spence is a reader from Houston.