I lost my innocence the day I realized life changes in an instant. At first, I felt a deep sense of sadness. I felt entirely too young to face such a truth. I felt dreams, and hopes, and wishes weren't possible because they could be taken so fast and without mercy. But, after time went on and after I fully accepted the idea, I discovered this knowledge is actually quite a gift and it certainly doesn't destroy dreams or hope, it only makes them grow stronger.
Gratitude. Joy. Love. Forgiveness. I wasn't quite sure where to find these things before my accident. I searched everywhere and everything. I tried new personalities, new outfits, new locations, new jobs, and while I found them for a bit, they always seemed fleeting and ready to escape. The day I learned I was paralyzed I assumed this feeling of joy was lost forever. I struggled to grasp a small piece of it, but quickly felt it slide between my fingers and fall to the floor. As my illness progressively grew and took over my body, gratitude was a rarity and hidden in the depths of my pain. I couldn't even begin to imagine what life would feel like with this thing called love, dictating moments and circulating through my body once again. Forgiveness wasn't something I practiced because too much anger and resentment prevailed.
The loss of basic function is fierce. I learned and lived the true definitions of isolation, burden, and cruelty. A life sentence seemed quickly thrust upon me. Over time, independence won in certain areas only to be taken away, yet again. And all while my body ebbed and flowed, the one thing that remained constant and never changed was my spirit. It took massive hits, the flame would almost go out, but it never fully extinguished. On some of my darkest days, I almost let go many times, but in the end, after a good cry, after an emergency call to a friend, or after a yelling session into the air, at whom I really don't know, I always ended up holding tightly to any chance at life. And that little bit that was left was forced to exercise. It soon acquired practices of gratitude, moments of joy and love, and I demanded it find forgiveness.
Gratitude. Joy. Love. Forgiveness. These are my mantras, the tour guides of my thoughts. Because I know everything can and will change at any second, I fervently practice these principles. Gratitude is powerful. I challenge myself to catch it when it is hardest to find and to notice it when it is easy to see. When something with my body happens that is so overwhelming and so demeaning to deal with, I think, at least this is better than the last time this happened or at least I am at home and not at a football game. When my dog barks incessantly or tears up paper and scatters it all over the living room, I think, at least she is here to bark and tear up paper. And during moments of extreme illness and while I continue to heal, I think, at least I am better than I was yesterday. And before I fall asleep each night, I think of at least five things I am grateful for that day. Sometimes it's an effort to come up with them and sometimes I can't stop thinking of new and different additions to my list. And when gratitude permeates my life, joy is never far behind. Joy creeps through doorways and opens windows and flies in like giant gusts of wind. And when I finally pause long enough to notice and feel these gusts I learn to love and forgive myself. I drink in the love for my body, no matter how broken, and I forgive myself for not accepting it. I acknowledge its fragility and forgive my carelessness. I love its uniqueness and ability to mold itself and learn new methods and forgive my determination not to give into this ability to change. And the most wonderful part about extending these moments of grace to myself, is I finally have something to give others. I need to feel gratitude to extend it to others. I need to be joy to be joyful for others. I need to love myself in order to have any love to give. And I must forgive myself, in order to offer forgiveness.
This past week I learned my chronic bone infection no longer exists. It just left my body. My doctors ran many tests and discussed the results several times and several different ways and the infection is just gone. And this week, this wonderful news found itself juxtaposed with a week filled with paralysis troubles. I battled my independence in a lot of areas. My body was just out of whack, as it is so many days. Only now, instead of loathing my condition, I know, as fact, everything changes in an instant. I know the good comes with the bad and moments pass. I know on Monday I might combat the loss of basic human functions, but I also know on Friday I may experience the greatest of human emotions.
I ended the week at the park with Ashlea and her kids. We played waitress with her daughter and ordered chocolate milkshakes and hot dogs delivered to us in the form of sticks and grass. We watched her toddler son slide down the twisty, tube slide head first and jump right back up and do it again. We laughed hysterically when her daughter tried to make a wish on a dandelion and when its feathery petals refused to blow off its stubborn stem, she just ripped the top of it off and said, "There, now that wish will come true." We ventured back to the place I call home, the place eight years, almost to the day, Ashlea helped me move into as I grasped to any shred of life I had left. She and her then boyfriend, now husband, carried box after box and every piece of furniture. And later that evening, after all of the other help left, we gathered in my living room, surrounded by boxes, eating cheeseburgers from the bar down the street and played Super Mario Brothers on my very old, and vintage Nintendo I've had since I was twelve. And this past Friday, we gathered around my kitchen table, ate our grown up lunch of healthy avocado, cucumber, and tomato salad, and watched while their children, the children that didn't exist all those years ago, played in the same living room and ate peanut butter sandwiches.
Gratitude, joy, love, and forgiveness. It takes all of these things to awaken to the blessing of a moment like this. And the fight to stay alive and the work it takes to have every moment and everyday is more than worth it when I have a week like this week....even with the bad stuff smashed in between. It all can change in an instant and I am no longer afraid to allow it to change, because I never know what is right around the corner. Sure, the initial alteration might sting a bit or quite a lot, but as time goes on and wounds heal, life just seems to get richer, lovelier, and so full of joy. I am ever so thankful to know this truth. And when I am frustrated because a wish just won't come true, well, I'll rip the head off of that dandelion and make it come true.