Life Lessons in Astoria, Oregon

Last week we made our way to the cozy city of Astoria in the hopes of finding complete strangers that we could tell compelling stories about. The streets were sparsely populated in the rustic city of Astoria, and the faded walls and creaky floor boards confirmed its longstanding history.

I was walking aimlessly down the streets when I bumped into Shawna, a middle aged women with a most interesting tattoo that snaked up her arm and disappeared into the sleeve of her t-shirt. I knew that a women with a tattoo like hers would have an interesting story to tell, so I mustered the courage to talk to her. Ironically, we did not talk about her tattoo, instead she shared with me a story that I feel compelled to share in the hopes that spreading her message will make a difference to someone else’s life, or her quadriplegic brother’s life.

Shawna told me about her brother Jason’s accident, he had fallen off a balcony and broken his neck leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. She admitted that Jason had struggled with substance abuse for the most part of his life, and that the night he fell off the balcony he was slightly intoxicated. I found her hopeful outlook to be both surprising and inspiring considering the accident happened only six weeks ago. She reflected on how much closer his accident had brought her whole family and how she no longer worried about the “petty things in life.” We continued our conversation on drug abuse and the stigma around it, then she told me about her own struggles with drug abuse. She assured me that she was now clean and didn’t have to depend on drugs anymore, but her journey to her current state of mind was truly inspiring.

Snippets of our conversation still echo in my mind to this day, and I suspect it is because her words rang with sincerity. When I asked her what her message would be to anyone who struggles with substance abuse she said, “You have to forgive yourself for everything you have done. You have to love yourself enough to say enough is enough, that’s where I began in my recovery, loving myself enough to know that I don’t need drugs anymore.”

Unfortunately, Jason will never walk again and struggles to talk, but there is hope for him yet. Shawna was in the process of putting up flyers with links to Jason’s Go Fund Me website to help with the medical bills his accident has racked up for their family. The link is All donations would be greatly appreciated by the Schneider family.

Shawna’s ability to turn her life around and to strive for a better life for her brother has illuminated the truth behind a quote that one of my peers Trisha Patterson shared with the group during camp. The quote is from Margaret Mead and it states, “Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”

Until next time,