By Dan Montgomery
Elijah Loftin is one of those creative types. His brain is bursting with ideas, and when inspiration strikes, he puts his thoughts into words. Elijah, 25, is a writer, a writer whose creative output covers a spectrum including stories of family and friendship, to a contemporary Christian song, to some pretty corny jokes.
“What’s a pirate’s favorite snack?”
“Ships Ahoy cookies.”
Elijah, who attends Lutheran Family Services’ Lynchburg Day Support program, writes everything on a computer, but in an unusual way. Because Elijah can barely move his arms or legs, or even speak clearly, he communicates by tapping his head against a pad attached to his wheelchair.
Elijah selects every letter of every word through a process of elimination. Software on Elijah’s laptop displays the alphabet with letters and punctuation marks arranged in rows. The cursor automatically shifts from row to row, and Elijah gives the pad a tap when the cursor is on the row he wants. Then the cursor moves through the letters in that row, — I, j, k, l, m, n, for example — and Elijah taps when the letter he wants is selected, adding that letter to the word he is typing. Then the process is repeated for the next letter. Fortunately, the computer has a “most-used words” function, and Elijah is often able to select a suggested word.
It’s a slow process, compared to normal speech, but that may be the wrong comparison. Compared to what he would be able to do otherwise, it’s a river of paragraphs, sentences and words, and Elijah is able to tell new friends quite a lot about himself:
“My favorite hobbies are swimming, going to church and out to eat,” he writes. “My birthday is Nov. 9.”
Besides contemporary Christian music, “my other favorite bands are Creed and Three Doors Down.”
He gets ideas for some stories from shows and movies, “but I also have imagination.”
Elijah loved school, and he learned reading and writing at pretty much the same pace as his childhood classmates, but he couldn’t fully unleash his creative side until he got a computer at age 8 or 9, says Elijah’s mother, Mary Dawn Slagle.
Now, “there are times he’s on his computer for four or five hours, writing,” Slagle says. “I keep going and checking on him.
“He’s so into it.”
All this hit a high point a couple of years ago, when Slagle heard Elijah “yelling and screaming.” She quickly realized that he was excited, not in trouble. She looked at what he’d written.
“It was a song,” Slagle said.
Elijah had spent a lot time at church music praise group rehearsals, and he’d picked up a thing or two about songwriting.
“He’d written a whole song: Verse one, with a chorus. Verse two, and a bridge.
“As I started reading it, I just burst into tears,” Slagle says. “I was amazed because I knew it was God, because not everything he’s written has been so eloquent and so perfect. And he was writing so fast… It’s like was just pouring out him.”
Elijah’s uncle, Shawn Phillips, wrote a melody and arrangement of the song, both approved by Elijah, then recorded it.
“It’s exciting,” Slagle says. “It’s a beautiful song.”
Listen to the full song here: