Anne Thomas, left, an attorney who lives in Ft. Belvoir, Va., with her niece, Jennie Rensink of Fredericksburg, Va.
Anne Thomas was traveling through Europe as a teenager in 1976 when a car accident left her paralyzed from the chest down. She has continued to travel the world since then, and she's worked in civil rights law and conflict resolution. Looking back on her long and full life, Thomas says if she had paid more attention to her own sense of intuition, things might have turned out much differently.
"As I've gotten older, I really believe that there are signs we get in life," says Thomas. "I know that when I got in that car accident when I was 18, I had signs that I didn't know what it is and I didn't trust in it or believe in it."
Thomas was hitchhiking across Europe by herself, having just spent a month in Italy. She had a route planned out ahead of time that would take her through Southern France and into Spain. When she discussed her plans with others, the common refrain was to travel through Greece instead of going to Spain, but she had her efficient plan and was determined to stick with it.
"When I accepted a ride with some young Brits who were driving that way — when I got in their vehicle — I was uncomfortable, but didn't know why," Thomas recalls. "They were young , they were my age, they spoke English, and I had been alone and they had music... so I'm in."
After driving along with them for some ways, they stopped to let one of the other passengers out. Thomas says she felt a powerful urge to get out then and there, but she let her reason override her intuition, and remained in the warm confines of the car's backseat.
"The next thing is I awakened on the side of the road, and there had been a car accident, only I had no idea because I was asleep when it happened," says Thomas. "I went to stretch and there was this huge pain. I was in shock."
That accident changed her life forever. Thomas still finds herself wondering how her life would have turned out differently if she had heeded that inner voice and gone to Greece. Even so, her experiences have taught her some other lessons that have driven her since that moment.
"Back in the '70s, one of my doctors told me that if I loved my family, I should check myself into a nursing home, because I would be nothing but a burden to them for the rest of my life," says Thomas.
Needless to say, that doctor's advice gave her tremendous anger, and that anger brought with it vitality. Thomas was determined to prove that doctor wrong — that the only limits that really restrict a person are the ones that she imposes on herself. As she continued to travel the world, she didn't know how she would navigate Rwanda or Madagascar in a wheelchair, but she had the drive and the knowledge that she could figure it out as she goes.
"I don't create more limits on myself than absolutely exist," says Thomas. "I look back and often think 'How did I do that? I don't even know.' I just try not to think about that and find out what I want to do and move forward to do it."
Anne Thomas will be performing this weekend at the Speakeasy D.C. Story Showdown.
This interview was recorded in Arlington, Va. at StoryCorps, a national nonprofit whose mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share and preserve the stories of our lives. StoryCorps just wrapped up a four-week visit to the D.C. region, recording the stories of dozens of people at their mobile booth stationed in Arlington, Va. To find out more information, visit StoryCorps.org.