After a traumatic accident, followed by a decade of illness, I began to give up on the good. My twenties were mostly spent suffering and struggling to stay alive, struggling to want to stay alive. I watched as peers headed to and from fraternity parties and endless nights out. I saw a life after college filled with sports leagues, dinner clubs, football games, tail gating, summer evenings at baseball games or playing softball. I watched as well and able bodied people woke up early, dashed to a job, returned home only to run or put on different clothes for an evening out. I watched all of this and wished so desperately to belong. I wanted to feel free, to feel as if I was choosing everything I did every single day. I wanted to feel the goodness life has to offer. However, my body was in charge, and its illness and needs ruled my life. I escaped its prison time and time again, only to be forced back into the solitary confinement of illness. The more I tried to be normal, the more my body fought against it. I saw many good things happening to so many good people, marriages, babies, exotic and interesting vacations, and countless adventures. I longed to attend music festivals, once again camp and sleep under the stars, hike over muddy and rocky terrain, and canoe and swim in a lake. I wanted to put on three inch heels and dance the night away in a hot and sticky night club. The twenties seemed like a time of freedom and fun, filled with countless adventures and milestones. My twenties were not filled with these things. I, instead, spent countless days in the hospital, had a blood transfusion the week before I was in a wedding, tried desperately to work more than twenty hours a week, all as my body continued to fight every urge, every desire to be a normal twenty year old girl. The optimism usually associated with this free and energetic time of life was little, if not gone for me. Over time, I expected bad things to happen. My loss of optimism or the expectation anything good would happen slowly disintegrated. I figured it was just easier to expect the worst rather than deal with the disappointment. But then, I had a night alone on the floor, where I had no other choice, but to beg and expect mercy and grace and it was granted. In that moment, I chose, once again, to try, even just a little bit, to believe in the good, believe in hope. It took a long, long time to eliminate the hateful and negative noise my active and ever present thoughts generate, but slowly and steadily I started thinking positive and good thoughts. I expected things to get better, I started hoping for a future. And with this attitude change, came a life change. I found the freedom I was searching for in the acceptance and respect of and for my condition. I became my own advocate, fighting for my own good. I also surrendered to my situation. I stopped pushing against the stream and started flowing with it. I am acutely aware I missed many regular, developmental life experiences, but I am also aware I have experienced, witnessed and learned a depth of irreplaceable knowledge and lived through many life altering experiences, only coming out stronger, more hopeful, and more aware of what is truly important. Mostly, I've learned to expect the good. Sure, the bad will happen, but so will the good...and that is the important part.
Last Saturday evening, after I returned from an immensely generous and equally thoughtful early birthday cooking lesson, given to me by one of my best friends, Kelly, I received a text from Eileen asking me to read a text she was forwarding to me from her brother. Eileen's younger brother, John, is very involved in The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis.
Then, Eileen pointed out we were a block away from her brother-in-law's brownstone...the one with the twisty steps.
As we walked to get a quick bowl of delicious potato soup and a harvest salad, Eileen also made me stop and look at a restaurant we were passing. I, of course, was too busy craning my neck to see Ted Baker, Scoop, and the Waldorf Astoria, to even notice the restaurant. But, as I took a minute away from the big and gorgeous city all around me, and looked at the restaurant, I saw it was the restaurant we went to the night after Thanksgiving all those years ago.
|The name Carmine's also has great significance to my journey...sometime soon I will share.|
When we arrived, I was kindly greeted by another person with a disability. It was a young man and he was with an entire table of guys with paralysis. I'm usually the only one in the room in a chair, but tonight I was not, I kind of fit right in. The evening was filled with fantastic food, flowing drinks, and extraordinary company. Each person knew a bit about paralysis. There was little I had to explain. Sitting down to talk to me, instead of standing while my neck aches from looking up, was the norm. The awareness was astounding. We were presented with mountains of information and floods of personal stories about the groundbreaking research and discoveries The Miami Project is currently funding. I urge you to check out their website and see for yourself. To think there is a possibility of walking again is difficult and scary...I don't let myself go there much. I feel I need to be most comfortable as I am and not cling to false hope. But, for the first time, I truly felt the possibility was possible. My dreams are now different and dancing again has inched its way back into the forefront of my imagination. I still remain content and confident in my current condition, but a little hope doesn't hurt now and then. I let myself believe in the possibility again. The night continued to amaze, not only because of the progress towards full recovery, but because of the conversation, the people, and the sheer enjoyment. We only snapped two photos because we couldn't stop long enough to pose. There was far too much fun and excitement to pause. Poor Uncle John will remain a mystery, for now. After what was an already magical evening, we went out to a bar. At first, my normal anxiety about bars crept in, I even moved away to a corner thinking I just had to get out of there, but then as the loving and caring people I was with found a more than comfortable location with chairs all around, I began to forget I was in a bar. I looked across and saw Kelly and Eileen and Uncle John. And it suddenly hit me, it didn't matter where I was in life, mentally or physically, these are three of the people that were there all along in one form or another. Through all of my struggles, countless cups of tea on ninety degree days, they were there, smiling just as big and bright as they are tonight. Sure, John wasn't there for the everyday nitty gritty like the girls and Eileen, but he was there, he was there enough to notice and to plan something so thoughtful, so needed, and so good. Something good that came out of the blue, unexpectedly, as if I was on Oprah's Favorite Things, all because of him. The possibility of good in my life is forever renewed.
After we returned home, I sat alone in my room, reunited with my happy dog, and cried. I cried and thanked everyone I could think of...I sat crying on my bed saying names out loud over and over. I couldn't stop remembering all of the good and all of the acts of kindness along the way. And as I struggled for breath amongst the sobbing, I shed my fear, my trepidation, and mostly and finally my expectation of the bad. And the gratitude and jubilant, hopeful wonder, they don't come from the material side of the trip, they come from the love, from the kindness, from the thoughtfulness....from the possibility that good things really do happen. So go ahead, expect them to happen and they will. Don't let the bad moments hold you back, they are there just as much as the good, and sticking them out and waiting for the good makes it all the better. Trust me, I, too, was once a non-believer.