For those of you who don’t know Taylor’s story, I suggest you get caught up by reading about my first time visiting Taylor. It starts at the beginning of his journey and will get you caught up.
I had last visited Taylor, Danielle and Juli out in Washington DC in the middle of August, 2012. As we were packing up, Juli was chatting Riley and my ears off, as per usual. Her joyful chatter often hints at her wishes as a mother; whether it be what things she hopes for her son in the future or what changes to make to the website, there’s often a little “Easter egg” of requests. So when she began talking about how friends back home were wishing to welcome Taylor home with a small parade, I listened. On the way home, Riley and I talked a little bit about the politics of what would happen if Taylor “snuck” into town for the first time, unannounced to the community. Taylor and Danielle were coming home for the first time August 30th to celebrate their very good friend’s wedding. I know Taylor’s wishes were to have his homecoming on the weekend of his official fundraiser to be held on October 19th, but we knew how symbolically important Taylor’s new feet touching Iowa ground for the first time would be to everyone.
When I got home, I contacted fellow “Team Taylor” member Ben Hagarty to brain storm ideas about throwing a small parade for Taylor the afternoon of the 30th. Once the idea hit Ben’s brain, there was no stopping him, even if it wasn’t what Taylor wanted. He went out and contacted everyone he could about helping him get everything together in time. His uncle, Tom Hagarty, is a very active member of Amvets, and when he pushed a couple buttons and told a couple people what was happening, northeast Iowa lit up. All the news sources pushed the event, facebook went crazy for a week, area schools announced school would be let out early for the parade, and local businesses and community members put countless hours into making sure Taylor felt the love of the Cedar Valley when he got home. Ben ran around, got awfully sun burnt, and didn’t sleep much, but I’ll tell you what, he sure did rally up the troops! Literally!
Taylor’s immediate family and a few good friends waited on the tarmac for Taylor’s private flight to arrive. The flight left about 40 minutes late, and even though schools were let out early for a heat advisory, no one would consider skipping out on the biggest welcome home party anyone has ever seen. Heat be damned, our community anxiously waited hours for their soldier to report back home. The minutes leading up to his plane landing were so exciting. We were receiving updates from the control tower saying “40 miles out, 30 miles out, 20 miles out.” We stood there, poised to run out to the plane, for what felt like hours. Once his twin prop “puddle jumper” touched down at ALO, we all cheered and headed out to greet him as the staircase lowered from the aircraft.
Taylor’s grandparents on his father’s side, Sid and Alvira Morris, walk out to the tarmac wielding baloons and a camera. This would be their first time seeing their beloved grandson in person since his accident.
Taylor’s grandfather, Sid, wraps his big, loving arms around Taylor. Of the 160,000 pictures I have taken in my professional career thus far, I don’t think there’s a single picture that captures more emotion than this. Taylor’s dad, Dan, told me later that he can count on one hand how many times he’s seen his father cry. I know it was one of the happiest moments in Sid’s life–To be blessed enough to stand face-to-face and hug his grandson again against all odds.
Taylor’s grandpa Don Krull and his wife Bonnie were equally pleased to finally see Taylor.
I think Taylor wanted to kill us when he first landed. He whispered half sarcastically, “This is my nightmare.” Taylor is too modest to ever ask for anything like this, but as you can tell by the smile in this picture, he was won over and very appreciative of everyone’s support.
I’m not very good at estimating, so I’ll safely guess somewhere between 16 people and 137 billion people showed up to smile, wave, and cheer for Taylor. I’ve never been more proud of my tight-knit community as I was when the parade route crossed the bridge coming into our quaint and beautiful historic downtown, seeing it packed full of people screaming and cheering.
Seeing Taylor walk up to his house for the first time was pretty magical. There was this sense of “everything is going to be ok” that flowed through me. To see things resume-as-was was relieving. We sat around for a couple hours laughing, joking around and hanging out like old times. Taylor didn’t need to verbally express himself–his smile said it all: it was good to be home. Taylor even cut his friend Jason’s much overgrown beard. Jason had been growing his beard since January, waiting to cut it until Taylor got home. Needless to say, it was an amusing event!
That evening us guys spent the night regaling each other with laughter filled tales of high school stupidity around a bon fire for Mike’s bachelor party. Stories about Mike, Taylor and everyone else could have kept us there all night, but we called it a night at a reasonable time. We would reconvene on Saturday for our traditional Saturday noon burrito at Pablo’s and then met up at Mike and Hanna’s wedding later that afternoon.
It was a wonderful change of pace to enjoy Mike and Hanna’s beautiful wedding from behind a drum set instead of behind a camera for the first time all summer. Although it had been years since I had played drums, I wiped the dust and rust off and three of us got together and played music during their ceremony. It was fitting to play drums in front of this group of friends again as we spent many nights back in the day at local music shows. I used to play drums in a local hardcore band known as “Safie.” For those of you into mediocre hardcore music played by high school students in 2004, I urge you to check out all of Safie’s two albums at your local burnt CD warehouse.
I go to a lot of weddings (27 this year alone) and I genuinely enjoy them all, but as far as fun weddings go, I think this one took the cake. To have all our friends in one place celebrating the love of two wonderful people was exactly what I think everyone was craving. Earlier this summer Taylor was set to be in his friend Shane Cross’ wedding. Knowing Taylor would be deployed during that time, Shane made Taylor an honorary groomsman. Even though Taylor and Danielle were at that wedding in spirit (and watched a live stream of the wedding online), I think it was comforting for everyone to see him physically attend a wedding.
^^This picture represents a lot more than the sum of its pixels to me. This picture brings me back to May 4th, 2012. The day after Taylor was injured. I met with Neal Price (the one who’s tie appears to like his shoulder more than his chest) for dinner at my favorite sit-down Mexican restaurant downtown Cedar Falls: Los Cabos. I couldn’t hold it together when I first saw Neal; I broke down and cried standing there in the lobby. Neal was very well composed and reminded me everything was going to be ok. We spent the remainder of dinner on the patio of Los Cabos doing our best to imagine what Taylor was going through at that moment. Neal helped keep me be positive, but I’ll admit, I was a mess. That night, I remember imagining very vividly what Taylor’s quality of life would look like in 6 months, a year, 5 years, etc etc. I could paint a better and better picture with each passing time frame, but there is no way I could have EVER in a million years imagined this image of Taylor standing tall, laughing and living life fully.
This is Taylor less than FOUR MONTHS after his life was impossibly saved by the marvels of modern science, incredibly brave souls, and by nothing short of a long list of miracles. Ask any professional who deals with traumatic injury and amputees, people simply don’t get to this point this quickly. Most amputees don’t stand within the first three months, nor do they even consider walking in 6 months. So to see a man dancing, gracefully, with out stutter for hours in less than four months, screams of Taylor’s great power, strength and determination. Not all credit is his own though, as he will attest he would not be moving this quickly if it wasn’t for Danielle. Taylor tearfully expressed in an emotional speech at Walter Reed while receiving a Bronze Star with Valor, the most beautifully sad words I’ve ever heard: “If I had hands, I’d take this Bronze Star and pin it on Danielle. It’s been so hard and she’s been here the whole time.”
The rest of the weekend Taylor and Danielle enjoyed time with their families and friends. Monday night was Taylor and Danielle’s last night in town before they returned to Walter Reed to continue Taylor’s rehabilitation. A few of us ate dinner downtown and then went out to the Morris house for a celebratory, low rent, redneck fireworks show.
Taylor and Danielle walking downtown Cedar Falls, which was decorated for Taylor’s homecoming. The marque at the Oster Regent Theatre says it all, “Taylor Morris, Hero, Welcome home”.
I think our fireworks were just the right amount of reckless to be nostalgic, which made for some high tension entertainment. I could tell no one wanted to call it a night, but we eventually said our goodbyes and well wishes. I thought to myself that night what things I could expect of Taylor when he comes home again in October. I quickly gave up knowing whatever futile attempt to dream up where Taylor would be in a month would be greatly overshadowed by what he’ll actually accomplish.
Going out of order, I’m going to take you back to Taylor and Danielle dancing. I think you need to see a video of this man; see his movements, see his joy, see his strength, see his love in motion.
Now grab someone you love and slow dance with them, as Danielle will tell you, you may never know when the next time you’ll be able to do so with your loved one.
Read the follow up to this story HERE.
To keep up to date with Taylor’s progress, make a donation, or buy a Taylor Morris T-Shirt; please visit www.taylormorris.org
To see more pictures from Mike and Hanna’s wedding, please visit photographer Austin Day’s album of their day.
A HUGE thank you to all the Waterloo and Cedar Falls policemen, the Black Hawk County Sheriffs Department, the Cedar Falls and Waterloo fire fighters, Amvets, Freedom Riders and all others who helped make the parade go so incredibly smoothly!!! It wouldn’t have been possible with out all your help and hard work!