LAND O’ LAKES, Fla. (WFLA) — His name is James McWhirter, but his neighbors call him extraordinary.

McWhirter has been in a wheelchair for nearly 50 years. Throughout every one of those years, he’s worked to heal both physical and emotional wounds. It has led him toward a path of appreciation and inspiration.

Some of his triumphs are not visible to the human eye but others are — like his backyard hydro-garden. He spent months building it one bucket, one PVC pipe, one seed at a time from his wheelchair in May.

“Every morning I come out here and thank Mother Earth and talk to the plants and tell them I love them,” McWhirter said with a palpable passion in his voice. “I exhaust myself. I make things.”

His backyard garden is a labor of love — love for mother nature and life itself.

“When you focus on something, the universe brings more to you. You focus on the negative and it brings more to you. It took me a lot of years to learn these things,” he said.

McWhirter lost his ability to walk at 25. He’s now in his 70s. His zest for life hasn’t been stronger.

“This was not an overnight journey,” he reminded us.

McWhirter’s journey began in 1967 when he joined the U.S. Air Force as a mechanic. He worked his way up to engineer. After several deployments, depression set in on U.S. soil. One night, it became unbearable and he decided to end it all.

“Right before I did it – spirit, something, I can’t tell you what – there was a great big ‘no,'” McWhirter recalled. “Loud and as clear as anything I’ve ever heard in my life.”

He survived his suicide attempt but was paralyzed, unable to use his legs.

“A sheet couldn’t even touch my upper body where I wasn’t paralyzed because the nerves were so damaged it felt like someone was taking a steel brush and brushing it against my chest,” he said.

McWhirter went through rehabilitation therapy for months with Vietnam War veterans injured in combat. He says they gave him the strength to push forward in life.

“I rehabbed with 85 guys. A number of the guys were quadriplegics,” McWhirter said. “I said, ‘I have nothing to feel sorry for myself about.’ Here are these guys whose lives are going to be extremely, extremely tough.”

McWhirter found joy in self-help books and since then has not stopped learning and nourishing his soul. He finds a new hobby every few months. His hydro-garden is the latest project but he’s always looking for the next one.

“I make mistakes and I love the mistakes,” he said. “I finally learned how good mistakes are because if you make a mistake it means you’re learning.”

He creates art from discarded material found in dumpsters and makes jewelry from glass and stone, whatever keeps him busy and learning. McWhirter says appreciating life is his purpose.

“I practice gratitude in everything,” said McWhirter.

His passion for creating has inspired his neighbors. Kathy Scruggs befriended him 15 years ago.

“You learn that nothing can stop you. All you have to do is put mind over matter,” said Scruggs, “‘Okay, I can’t walk but there are other things I can do,’ and that is what he does. He does it all.”

One project at a time, McWhirter thrives on being able to do it all.

“Just see what you got inside of you, use up what you have inside of you,” he told us. “It’s also a spiritual principle, use up what you got inside, nature or God will fill it.”

September is Suicide Prevention Month. If you or someone you love is struggling with mental health, there’s someone ready to listen at the National Suicide and Crisis lifeline. The number is 988.