Walking home from a rehearsal session in San Francisco at the age of 29, she was caught in the midst of a random shooting that left her paralyzed from the waist down. I ask how she dealt with the realization that she'd never walk again, and she confesses that initially she didn't, that after a year of depression and deep despair she made a serious attempt to end her own life. "But the most wonderful thing happened next," she says. "They put me in what I refer to as the Ha-Ha Hotel. For five weeks I was locked up in a 15-bed ward surrounded by people who were just really nuts! The counselors there slowly got me to realize that trying to kill myself was nuts, and eventually I saw that my job was to figure out how to live my life in a new way."
Whitfield says she came to understand that the only thing she had lost in this misfortunate event was the ability to walk, that in fact she was still possessed of her most valuable asset—her mind. "Everything important is in here," she says, pointing to her head. "The only real disability in life is losing your mind." When I ask wasn't she angry about what she had lost, she says, "I knew early on that anger would only make things harder for me." She admits to being frustrated occasionally, "like when everybody's dancing, because I love to dance. But when that happens I just remove myself so I can focus instead on what I can do."