This is quick and funny story of a moment along my dark and scary path, that I paused and took a breath and realized everything might just be okay. I have so much to say about the power of gratitude in my life, but this is just a tale, just a moment, when I remembered to be grateful.
Gratitude is tricky. I think it is easy to be grateful when everything is going our way. We start feeling lucky and blessed and act as if we have finally discovered the key to life. We have so much, we start taking our blessings for granted. But, inevitably, something happens, throwing us off course and into a tailspin of worry and self pity. And whatever that thing may be, it grows and festers, chipping away at the once easily found and easily cherished moments. But, it is time like these, when it seems gratitude is a fleeting ship in the night, we find it lurking in the shadows and creeping slowly into the light. And this kind of gratitude, the kind that must be sought out, that has to be found on a dark night amongst the ruins, grasps so tightly, it is all you can see for miles and it is so worth the effort.
A few weeks ago, something happened that hasn't happened in eleven years. The gravity of what happened trickled ever so slightly until my cup of optimism was overflowing. I fear actually typing the words, as if it will some how jinx the outcome, but I am sure now, I am sure the results are around to stay. For the first time in eleven years, I am not infected with anything. I am not on any antibiotics and have good blood reports and negative wound cultures. I may have hiccups along the way, but the toughest battle is finally over, the beastly infection is gone. I am working on the long and involved tale of my infection and the surrounding tales of the massive impact it had and has on my life and will post much of it in the coming weeks. Right now, I am letting the freedom and relief sink in and enjoying life without illness. And as I said before, I may have a cold or the flu or feel overwhelmed by this situation or that, but I am here and I am well.
Over the holiday, I spent time with old friends and we reminisced about past Thanksgivings. I spent many Thanksgiving holidays with my dancing family because one of the largest competitions, the Oireachtas, is held over the holiday, beginning Friday morning and ending Sunday evening. Several years ago, during the throes of my infection, I traveled to Chicago with the Johnstons and joined their family for the actual Thanksgiving Day meal and then we all stayed and watched Kelly compete in the competition over the rest of the weekend. But Thanksgiving night was a night to remember. I took a ton of Advil before we left that morning to stave off a fever. By the time we arrived in Chicago my temperature crept back up and I had to take more Advil and rest for a minute before throwing on my sick armor, thick sweaters and bottles of Advil. We were all heading to a beautiful home for a gorgeous dinner prepared by Eileen's sister-in-law. Her family lived in a brownstone with a wrought iron gate. As we walked, bundled in hats, gloves, and scarves, from our hotel to their house, I noticed how stunning my surroundings were. I specifically remember noticing, through the frosted windows, families gathering, hugging, laughing, passing food, pouring drinks, and joyfully personifying a picturesque, movie-like image of the holiday. I couldn't help but pause and take in the magnificent architecture housing the beautiful and idyllic images through their wrought iron, well cared for, casement windows. For a few moments I forgot about my infection and illness and soaked in the beauty and imagined the football game buzzing in the background and music humming ever so faintly.
The houses were brownstones in Chicago. So they had steps. A lot of steps. And not just a plethora of steps, twisty, swirly steps. Before dinner there were many participants volunteering to carry me up the winding and steep stairs. The living and dining room were on the second floor. The evening and setting was comforting and lovely and made the stair climb very much worth the effort. Dinner was typically perfect with all of the traditional fare and traditional holiday drinking and reveling. We laughed so hard our cheeks hurt. After hours of celebration, bellies were full of turkey and kids were exhausted. We all decided to head back to our hotel. Quickly we realized many of the helper men had a few too many Manhattans to carry me back down the stairs. One of them did try, but picked me up and had to put me right back down again. To say we were all laughing hysterically would be an understatement. Thankfully, an uncle, who refrained from the Manhattans or from having too many, came to my rescue and carried me safely downstairs and outside. Eileen's family walked with us to the hotel and so did their St. Bernard, Scooby. We walked in the streets because it was past midnight at it was snowing. We didn't need as many hats and scarves and gloves...everyone seemed to be warm from the inside out. As we made our way talking entirely too loud and laughing way too much, I realized I was having a moment I watched earlier. I was with people I loved, sharing joy and laughter and love. And yes, we were in an uncommonly beautiful place, with perfectly timed snowflakes, but it wasn't about the spectacular buildings or amazing sky or even the feeling of wet snowflakes on my nose, it was about the people. The kids running ahead cackling and women walking in the back talking loudly and quieting the kids...the kind men offering and trying to help me down the stairs, but clearly unable to walk down themselves...the feeling of a filling dinner shared with familiar and close friends...it felt just right. I forgot about how the fever would spike ten minutes after we would return and I would spend the next two hours huddled in a ball, shaking, waiting for the fever reducer to begin to work so I could finally get a few hours of sleep. I forgot about all of the pain and the hurt for just a moment and was grateful. Grateful to have these few moments of peace. Grateful for the laughter, the Manhattans, the snow, and for my life, no matter how icky it was at the moment. I finally fell asleep with a smile on my face and the memory of the cold snow gently falling on my eyelashes, knowing I would be up in a few short hours wondering why I was dealing with such junk, but for a bit I was happy and that would be enough to make it through to the end. I know it's true because I did it. I made it to the end.
When I finally allowed my new, good news to sink in, I did and do think about the struggles, but I also relish in the good and the sunshine. The memories of what sustained me, not what defeated me dominate my mind.
There are so many moments, so many memories, that caused me to pause and to forget the pain for a bit. I am grateful for all of them. I have so many stories to share, past and present. So much good is happening and continues to happen and I will be stopping by a lot more. The last few weeks have been overwhelming in so many ways, but I am finally finding the ground again. I have much to share and have been writing a lot. This week I am doing something I can't wait to share. Look for pictures and stories this weekend. It is very special and very close to my heart.
And lastly, speaking of gratitude, I want to thank all of you. This little blog wasn't in the plan and just sort of happened mostly because of my friend and source of inspiration, Kelle Hampton. She brought back to life a part of me that was dead for too, too long and she brought a lot of you to me...I can't thank her enough. Your kind words and thoughtful messages have come at some of the most crucial moments. And many of you are here for many other reasons and from many other places. I thank you equally as much. It is a blessing to be a part of your lives for just a moment. I feel honored and humbled to read your words and comments. Thank you to all of you and see you soon. And remember to pause and look around...we are all living in a storybook.