John Callahan's life is the kind that makes
people hard-bitten. His mother abandoned him. He was adopted by an
Oregonian couple who thought they were infertile, but subsequently
had several children of their own. Callahan felt like an outsider in
his own family, so he developed a wicked sense of humor as his
Another defense he developed was wiping out his
bitter feelings with alcohol. One night (July 22, 1972) shortly
after his twenty-first birthday, after drinking an inordinate amount
of beer, he handed the keys to his Volkswagen Bug to a drinking
buddy. They went speeding out onto a freeway south of L.A.
The next thing Callahan knew, his VW was wrapped
around a billboard, collapsed by a ninety-mile- an-hour impact. The
crash severed his spine. He could scarcely use his hands. The
drinking buddy got out okay an was never heard from again.
Months and years of alcoholism and self-pity went
by. One night he spent a solid hour trying to open a bottle with his
teeth. It slipped out of his grip, then rolled across the floor, out
of reach. He stared at it awhile. Then he started yelling at it.
Then he stared cursing God for the crippled state of his body. He
yelled until he was exhausted, then he burst into tears and cried
for an hour.
Finally, an eerie but comforting sensation came
over him, as if a hand were soothing him. When his attendant got
back, Callahan said, "Hey, Alex, something really profound
happened to me here, I don't think I'm gonna drink anymore."
Callahan's humor has a savage quality. It offend
some people, but lots of others -- especially among the 43 million
Americans who are classified as handicapped -- find that something
liberating happens when you laugh about your adversities. One of his
extended pieces is even called The Lighter Side of Being
Paralyzed for Life. He'd rather turn painful situations into
jokes than be indulged by a pitying, patronizing attitude.
Pat Riley, NBA Coach
from his book
The Winner Within pages 266-268