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We Carry Kevan
Six Friends. Three Countries. No Wheelchair.
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- Hardcover $28.00 $35.00 CAD
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Kevan is just one of the guys. It’s impossible to know him and not become a little more excited about life. He is an inspiring man permeated by joy, unafraid of sorrow, full of vitality and life! His sense of humor is infectious and so is his story.
He grew up, he says, at “belt-buckle level” and stayed there until Kevan’s beloved posse decided to leave his wheelchair at the Atlanta airport, board a plane for France, and have his friends carry him around Europe to accomplish their dream to see the world together! Kevan’s beloved posse traveled to Paris, England, and Ireland where, in the climax of their adventure, they scale 600 feet up to the 1,400-year-old monastic fortress of Skellig Michael.
In We Carry Kevan the reader sits with Kevan, one head-level above everyone else for the first time in his life and enjoys camaraderie unlike anything most people ever experience. Along the way they encounter the curiosity and beauty of strangers, the human family disarmed by grace, and the constant love of God so rich and beautiful in the company of good friends. We Carry Kevan displays the profound power of friendship and self-sacrifice.
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POINT OF DEPARTURE
IT WAS LATE JUNE 2015, a lovely time of year in Fort Wayne, perfect for walking the streets of downtown and getting a last-minute lunch with friends. I was with a couple of young adventurers: Tyler and Drew. We’d run into each other at Fortezza (a coffee shop I call home) and decided orange chicken was in the cards. Over lunch, we shared our dreams and plans. They both had college graduation on the horizon, and the question of what would come next was foremost in each of their minds.
What’s next? It’s a contagious question, you know, and I was compelled to answer it.
For as long as I could remember, I’d wanted to visit Europe. I recall sitting at my desk in eighth grade and daydreaming about it. My people, the Chandlers, came from England less than a hundred years ago, and our Christian heritage can be traced back to a Dublin flat in the late 1800s. I grew up in the shadows of literary giants from all over the United Kingdom and other artists from the surrounding lands. So much of who I am today comes from these familial and cultural roots, and my heart has always been drawn back to them. As Tyler and Drew shared their hopes for the future, something within me wandered, as it so often has, into the Old World. The feeling welled up, and I couldn’t hold it in anymore.
“Guys,” I said, “I’m thinking of going to Europe.”
That’s how it started. That’s how the thought was finally voiced. There was now, in a sense, no turning back. Whether the dream came to fruition or not, it was no longer safely tucked away inside my imagination. The dream was out in the real world, and I was suddenly accountable to it. This was a threshold, a line drawn in the sands of life, and crossing it meant nothing would ever be the same again.
Bolstered by the encouragement of Tyler and Drew, I sent a notice of intent to three friends: Andrew Peterson, Luke Thompson, and Tom Troyer.
To each of them I wrote the following: “I’ve always wanted to go to Europe, but it seems impossible with my wheelchair. So what if I had a team to take care of me and carry me where I can’t go on my own?”
I wrote to Andrew Peterson for his blessing. He’s an accomplished songwriter and novelist. He’s traveled the world and knows well the cost (more than financially) of such an endeavor. He also knows me. And I trust him. He was the litmus test. If Andrew thought I could pull it off, if he believed in the idea, it would fly.
I also knew if we were going to do something this crazy, we needed it to be documented. We needed proof. So I contacted Luke Thompson, filmmaker extraordinaire, a man with a keen eye and a good heart. Luke and I had collaborated on smaller projects before, and an opportunity to work together again was welcome.
Then there was Tom Troyer.
After college, I was living in North Carolina and had a group of friends who were truly free. We played music together, had simple jobs, and lived fully in community. Each week, typically Monday nights, we gathered for a potluck and jam session. Everyone brought food and instruments to share, and we took turns hosting at our houses.
Not many of the houses were wheelchair accessible, but it made no difference to us. We still met at all of them. Some were accessible with ramps, but others boasted incredible flights of stairs. Not a problem. Without a second thought, my friend Hayden (a bear of a man) would scoop me up and carry me inside, leaving my wheelchair outside or in the van.
As Hayden carried me, Tom Troyer would hurry ahead to move obstructing furniture or hold open a door. I’d be set on a couch or on the floor (I preferred the floor), and from there my friends brought the evening to me. Philip Keller gathered food for me or would be the first to come and visit. Tom and Philip shared an apartment with their wives, and two other guys (Luke Carson and Jackson Holt) shared a house just down the street from them. A handful of others came from surrounding neighborhoods and the UNC Greensboro campus nearby. Folks filled their plates and then joined me on the floor, and music came together in the same space. No one thought of these evenings as exceptional. This was our community, living together and loving one another in subtle choices.
One day around that time, Tom and I were driving together to a recording session in the mountains. We had a few hours in the car, and conversation turned to the topic of crazy things we wanted to do in life. The time I had spent with Hayden, Tom, and this group of friends had awakened in me an ever-growing desire not to be limited by my wheelchair. It had been the case growing up—my parents encouraged me to do plenty of things outside of my chair—but these guys took the concept to a new level. I began to realize the possibilities. So I mentioned to Tom that I’d like to spend a day or a weekend independent of my chair.
“What would you do?” he asked.
I wasn’t sure, because I hadn’t given it more thought than that.
Fortunately, he had something in mind. “If you’re going to be out of your chair, we should do something you couldn’t do in your chair.” His idea? Go urban spelunking. It’s like cave exploration, with ropes and hooks and headlamps… the whole deal. But instead of caves, we would trek through a sewer system. I wanted to have an adventure outside of my wheelchair, and Tom wanted to explore the Greensboro underground—and what’s more, he wanted to explore it with me. So we had a plan.
Jump ahead to a cool April night in 2014. We met at Luke and Jackson’s house. Tom put a steel backpack frame on the coffee table, and I was placed in it. As I lay there on my back, with my legs hanging off the table and my arms crossed over my chest like a dead man, the wrapping commenced. We had two ENO hammocks that formed a cocoon around me, securing me to the frame. I faced backward, opposite my carrier. This process was all done with the faithful aid of Philip, along with Luke and Jackson.
Once the makeshift pack was assembled, we set off into the night. I started on Tom’s back, and we found a door to the city’s plumbing at the bottom of a short flight of stairs. Unfortunately, it was locked from the inside, so Jackson entered through a nearby manhole and navigated his way to open our door. We broke into the underbelly of Greensboro like burglars. We found ourselves in a warm room, well-lit and full of black pipes. This is kind of odd, we thought, and a little disappointing. Not exactly a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles setup. And we certainly wouldn’t find Batman, Killer Croc, or Solomon Grundy in these parts, but we decided to go farther in and farther down. As we proceeded, the pipes crossed our path more frequently and inconveniently, until there was little room left to maneuver. The pristine lighting also abandoned us, plunging my friends and me into darkness.
Tom is a tall man, almost treelike. His thick, black beard and hair, along with a set of pronounced eyebrows, are his canopy, and long limbs swing loosely at his sides like branches blowing in the wind. Fitting into smaller spaces is a challenge for him already, but add me to his back and those close quarters were suddenly even tighter.
“We’re gonna have to take you down,” Tom said to me finally.
A thick pipe hung across our path like a fallen tree. So far we’d climbed over obstacles or crawled under them, but this space was simply too narrow. The guys would have to dismount me from Tom’s back and pass me over.
“Let’s do what we need to do,” I said.
On the other side of the pipe, we came to another open room. It was a wide, circular room, and I half expected guardians to step out of the shadows, surrounding us with dark eyes and raised swords. This room was fairly bright, a kind of oasis before returning to the shadowlands beyond.
Our limber scouts, Philip and Luke, went on ahead and returned with shaking heads. Pipes wove like vines in those halls, and even they couldn’t get through, let alone a man with a burden. With this news, we returned the way we came, back topside to find other routes. This wasn’t the only sewer in town, after all.
We found another sewer with a different kind of entrance. Philip stayed close to support Tom, who still carried me, as we eased our way down the muddy bank of a freezing creek. Thin branches whisked our faces and legs as Tom’s shoes sank into clay and slid on slick leaves. A splash announced our arrival in the creek, and we stared into the gaping maw of a pitch-black sewer world.
With a deep sigh from each of us, we headed inward. The first section was submerged, except for a ledge along the side, so we carefully edged our way into the cave. Tom stepped slowly yet with confidence, and I hung on his back, suspended over the water below. My feet dangled loose like bells from the steel frame, swinging back and forth with a whimsy the rest of me didn’t share. This is adventure, I told myself… danger, discomfort, chance. It is a strange paradox to want entirely to be where you are and at the same time not want it at all. This is what adventure looks like from the inside.
Eventually the ledge connected to a tunnel and everyone dropped to all fours. I was suddenly on my back, staring up at a concrete ceiling less than an inch from my face. I cringed with the prospects of what could happen—anything from serious rug burn to an all-out broken nose. I had never broken my nose before and didn’t plan to do it that night. Jackson crawled up behind us, reaching out to keep his hand like a veil between my nose and the rock.
This tunnel led to a small opening with a manhole overhead. Three tunnels branched off from there, but we decided to linger a moment. Looking up through the manhole, we realized exactly where we were. A street we’d driven on and walked down a hundred times! The revelation brought laughter among us, which led to shouting as we called up to the street and its unsuspecting passersby.
We made our way back to the creek and set off for one more sewer. We found another creek, this one deeper and colder, and it led us into a massive sewer entrance, much bigger than the last. This tunnel was tall enough that we all stood upright, though the ceiling was still uncomfortably close. We walked together side by side with room to spare. Water rose to the shins of my friends, and the darkness of the sludge made it impossible to know what we were slogging through. Phones and flashlights illuminated our path, along with the headlamp we’d brought for the carrier. Graffiti decorated the concave walls with signatures and warnings to turn back now, which we did not heed. How could we?
The passage curved to the right, and we followed it. Our voices, even as low as we kept them, echoed like an army down the watery hall and back. We walked beneath a highway, and the rush of cars rumbled like a distant thunderstorm. Drainage ran from holes in the walls, which added to the mix a subtle sound of moving water. And of course there was laughter. It’s one of my favorite things about these guys—the joy in the journey, which they embrace… children at play with the scope and strength of men.
An hour later we sat together at Jimmy John’s (the only thing open in the middle of the night). Sandwiches and sodas marked the celebration of our success. Shoes dried under the table as we reminisced. And I don’t remember who said it, but someone mentioned spiders, and I flashed a curious look.
Philip scratched an itch and pushed up his glasses. His sharp elbows jutted out as he prepared for another bite of sandwich, “Yeah,” he said. “In that last sewer, there were big wolf spiders all over the ceiling.”
“How did I miss this?” I cried, realizing how close I’d been to them.
For a moment I was rattled by this revelation, feeling vulnerable to such creatures and what they could’ve done to my defenseless body. Suddenly I even felt those devils creeping up my spine. A shiver shook them free, though, and I felt instead a profound sense of virility. I’d walked with my friends in the spiders’ lair, and we had emerged unscathed and better men than when we had entered. We were changed by survival, shaped by the going, and the world opened up that night to ask the same thing we did: What’s next?
PHILIP’S POINT OF VIEW
In remembering our time in the tunnels under Greensboro, Kevan describes his close encounter with spiders and his fear of those creatures. My personal fear was not the spiders but what could happen to Kevan’s body.
This was long before we had our official carrying pack, and that night our pack was improvised out of things everyone had lying around. He was wrapped in a hammock, ropes, and tape and stuck to the frame of a camping backpack. It was precarious, and I hoped that his arm wouldn’t get caught and break or that anything worse would happen.
When we went through the manhole, I imagined an EMS crew having to figure out why this poor disabled guy was underground. But nothing of the sort happened, of course. What stuck with me from that night is the feeling of camaraderie that comes with doing something out of the ordinary, and I had a renewed admiration for this guy who let his body be put in a pretty ridiculous situation in order to face down a challenge.
LAYING OUT THE FLEECE
IT HAD BEEN A YEAR since we explored those sewers, and the experience resonated between Tom and me like a legend. It was an adventure we’d never forget. So now I asked him, “What if we did that again, but above ground, and in Europe… for a month?”
In all honesty, I wouldn’t undertake the trip without Tom or Luke. They were essential company, just as Andrew Peterson was essential approval.
One of my favorite Bible stories has been that of Gideon and his fleece. Gideon felt a tug to do something great, but he didn’t trust his own gut. So he set out a sheepskin one night and asked God to wet the fleece if the tugging was from him. The next day the fleece was wet on the dry ground—but Gideon wasn’t satisfied. So he laid the fleece out again and asked for the opposite, just to make sure. And the next morning the fleece was dry and the ground around it was sopping with dew. Andrew, Tom, and Luke—these men were my fleeces.
I heard back from all three immediately.
Andrew: “This is incredible.”
Luke: “Dude, yes!”
Tom: “Oh my.”
And we were off. I found two more carriers in my friends Ben Duvall and Philip Keller, and we dove into details. Philip took on the travel plans, booking flights and researching accommodations. Tom spearheaded backpack research and development (we knew we’d need to make some extensive customizations to the makeshift rig we used in the sewer). Luke handled the financial and fund-raising side of things. And Ben kept me sane.
I oversaw the process as a captain might oversee his ship. Along with the physical details, I handled our media presence—interviews, email responses, and online posts. Ben was a close friend, a brother, and he helped regularly with my personal needs as I now lived down the street from him in Indiana. He was scheduled to shower me two or three mornings each week, and we typically hung out the other days too, just for fun. Our lives had become significantly intertwined over the previous years. I trusted him, and he knew me well, so Ben could keep an eye on whether the stresses of leadership were getting to me. And if they did, he knew how to help.
When Churchill was elected prime minister (the first time), Lord Moran was hired as his personal physician. That was his official title anyway. His real job was to monitor the prime minister’s mental and emotional health during the onset of a world war. This was Ben’s job for me. He was my Moran, caring for my personal well-being as we moved further and further into the stresses of such an all-consuming project. At least there was no world war.
I remember one day during planning, I awoke to what seemed like an endless stream of emails, and my phone wouldn’t stop ringing. It seemed everyone had questions—supporters, friends, family, reporters, everyone. It was all good, encouraging even, but oh so overwhelming.
I had been downtown that morning, but I felt so bombarded that I headed home to try to escape. As I rolled along the river, I tried to slow my heart rate and take deep breaths, and I prayed aloud. “Lord, I’ve always wanted a platform and audience, and this is awesome, but it’s so much so fast and I don’t know what to do, I don’t know how to handle it well, and I need help, please.”
I pray in run-on sentences.
By the time I got home, I had a text from Ben, asking how I was doing. He was up-to-date on how crazy things were, and when it became clear that I was overwhelmed, he headed right over without another question. Ben arrived at my house that afternoon to find me pacing my bedroom, thoughts muddled and tears brimming. I’d always been an extrovert, but this was a whole new level. It was too much too suddenly, even for me. He came in and sat on my bed, fiddling with his phone while I finished writing a text to someone.
As I finished texting, so did Ben, and he looked at me with a cocked grin. Nothing about Ben Duvall is symmetrical—his feet, shoulders, eyes, nose, his grin. From head to toe, the man is thin and crooked and friendly as a ’90s comic strip. “You all right?” he asked.
I chuckled and shook my head. “It won’t stop going off,” I said, tapping the screen of my phone.
Ben nodded, then calmly took my phone and set it on my desk. “You need anything before we go?” he asked.
We ended up at JK O’Donnell’s, a pub downtown and a regular spot for us. Sometimes you need that quiet time, just you and your best friend at your favorite pub. We sat in contented silence, phoneless, sharing a plate of scotch eggs. For an hour that night, life was normal again, and we were just two dudes at a pub. It was enough to recalibrate me, to stabilize my heart, to organize my thoughts, and to help me jump back into the captain’s chair with a level head.
So yes, Ben kept me sane. But we were on our way, and it was going to be a wild ride.
BEN’S POINT OF VIEW
The more I think about the makeup of our team in the beginning, it was easy for me to think that I wasn’t really doing enough to assist in getting ready for our trip. I can remember thinking about the guys and all the work they were doing to make this trip happen, and yet here I was with not much to show for helping to get this thing off the ground.
I kept thinking about ways to chip in and had a passage of Scripture come to mind from Exodus 17 where Moses’s arms grew tired from holding them up in battle. Since he was tired but couldn’t let his arms down, Aaron and Hur came over to assist him by bringing him a stone to sit on and to hold his arms up as the battle went on.
I remember being reminded of this and realizing that this is what I was supposed to do for the team as we prepared for the trip as well as took the trip. My responsibility wasn’t necessarily a tangible one, but it was one that definitely had a tangible reward. I was to uphold and encourage my brothers as best as I knew how.
PLANS AND PREPARATIONS
OUR COURSE WAS SET: France to visit the home of Django Reinhardt; England to explore Kensington Gardens; Ireland to brave the island of Skellig Michael; and plenty of wiggle room for adventure to find us if she pleased.
As plans came together, training began. Ben was the only one who’d taken care of me extensively, so the others had some catching up to do. We had slumber parties, for lack of a better term, and spent days together to provide opportunities for them to help me. This was anything from eating to restroom needs, showers, and seat adjustments. Add to all of this the carrying. Tom and Philip carried me up and down stairs, held me in different positions, and once we had the backpack, hiked together.
Though I lived in Indiana, I found myself spending time in North Carolina, where my parents still lived, to work with Tom and Philip more closely. One night in January, for example, we stayed over at a guesthouse on the property of my parents’ church. It’s typically used for hosting missionaries, but that week it was empty. So we got together, the three of us with Luke, for a night of training. We met for dinner first with our friends, the Lees family, at a Mexican restaurant nearby.
Thomas Lees was my roommate after college and was the one who first introduced me to Skellig Michael. He had told me stories of his previous visit to the monastery island and churned in me the desire to go. So now that we were actually going, we thought it would be good to meet with him and his wife, Elizabeth, to have the picture painted afresh as part of our preparation.
Thomas has a disease similar to my own, though it only affects his hands and feet. He regaled us with his adventure, climbing on hands and wobbly knees, step-by-step, to reach the top of Skellig Michael. One false move of his unreliable limbs could have sent him over the edge of a six-hundred-foot drop, but he made it, and he saw the world from a whole new perspective. Then, after taking in every ounce of the view, he scooted himself carefully back down to the port.
As he described that world to us, I could see the island rise up in his eyes. It was an experience that changed him, and I was about to have the same adventure. A shiver of hope ran through my limbs. While I grew up in a Christian home and had a relationship with Jesus, there was something mystical about this place we were going. It was a pilgrimage in waiting, and on the horizon I could see an encounter with Jesus unlike anything I’d had before.
After tacos, we said good night to Thomas and Elizabeth and headed to the house. Under usual circumstances, I would prefer to train new caregivers with a seasoned caregiver on hand to help out—a combination of a veteran being a safety net as well as a help in explaining how things work. But Ben was nine hours away, and other potentials were unavailable. So, in keeping with the adventurous spirit of the team, we decided I would just teach Tom and Philip myself, no safety net other than Mom and Dad down the road and a hospital around the corner. We figured that on the scale of responsible moves, it was at the very least higher than landing in Paris and figuring it out on the fly.
My daily needs are one thing, and the guys had all done a bit of that. Once I’m in my wheelchair for the day, I’m fairly independent, save for restroom breaks. In such cases, I need help with disrobing, transferring from chair to toilet and back, and then re-robing. Essentially I need help with any action that requires bearing weight, and the restroom is the most intensive in that regard.
At night, when I’m out of my chair, I need a great deal more help. Getting ready for bed means using the restroom, washing up, changing into sleep attire, and getting comfortable in bed (or couch or futon, etc.). Then, throughout the night, I need to be turned from one side to the other. Sometimes this is once or twice, and other times it’s something like eight times, along with a restroom visit in the middle. It just depends on the night. And the morning will usually involve a shower, getting dressed, and brushing my teeth, none of which I can do on my own. Finally, I’m back in my chair and on the move again.
We settled into the house, moving furniture to fit our needs and figuring out where everyone would sleep.
Luke wanted to discuss the vision of our trip and his role in filming. He wanted to “launch a campaign,” as he called it, to raise money for the endeavor. After all, we were all artists, musicians, writers, and teachers in the public school system. None of us had the funds to make it happen on our own. And our desire was that this experience not be just ours, but be something we could invite others into as well.
When I was a kid, my mom would joke that one day I’d run a hotel because I love having people around. If I plan to meet a couple friends for dinner, we’ll end up with a dozen before I realize how many I’ve invited. I’m always the last to leave a party, and I lock up the church almost every Sunday. As with everything else, I wanted the world to come with me on this trip. We knew we couldn’t literally take everyone with us, but a fund-raiser would give people an opportunity to contribute, and social media would allow them to follow along.
Luke had the online stuff all figured out. But he wanted to make sure we were on the same page with filming. My response was, “It’s all yours, man.” I’d invited him into this because I liked his style and trusted him to tell our story well. As he laid out his ideas that night, sharing examples and walking through processes, my confidence in him only grew. That was the case with all the guys. I trusted them, and that trust only increased as our adventure unfolded.
- On Sale
- Apr 23, 2019
- Page Count
- 304 pages
- Worthy Books