There is a greater gift than the trust of others, and that is trust in oneself. Some might call it confidence, others name it faith, but if it makes us brave, the label doesn’t matter for it’s the thing that frees us to embrace life itself.
-Call the Midwife
I think we need an Ashlea and Sarah night.
Almost immediately, we chose a place, a day, and a time. When the chosen day finally arrived, we sent photos of clothes back and forth, decided on a maxi dress for her and black skinnies and a silk top for me. We met at my house, wrangled a fast a furious escape artist dog who decided to bolt up and down the street, and headed out the door for our Ashlea and Sarah night.
The night was just like the old days. Ashlea arrives, the picture of perfection...all tall and blonde and stunningly beautiful after three babies and wearing the cutest dress ever...greeted by Sarah, half dressed and with hair half flat ironed. Without skipping a beat, Ash enters and follows me back to my room. I straighten the other half of my hair, put on my shirt and attempt to zip my black, stiletto bootie, but give up because I can zip it on the drive downtown to eat. We do all of this while discussing five hundred very important topics, including Real Housewives, of course. After chasing and catching Belle on her adventure into the next state, we load into Ashlea’s car. Ashlea instructs me to just start pointing in directions at exactly where and when she should turn and exit the highway so we don’t have to interrupt our chatter. As we talk and I point, I throw my leg above my head to zip my bootie. She looks over and sees my foot up by my head and laughs, but only for a minute, because she’s used to legs flying above my head to secure stilettos. She and I have been through it...she knows me.
We pull up in front of a familiar red door, a gateway into Boca, a restaurant best described best by a local food critic, Donna Covrett, as a building that once housed a piece of Cincinnati fine dining history, ‘but now, somebody has spilled gorgeous all over’ it. In keeping with the jaw dropping decor, the menu, does more than impress, with it’s ‘crazy little caramelized Brussels sprouts, grilled romaine, and the Amish chicken with wild mushrooms, truffle-laced risotto, and a silky chicken jus that, bottled, could bring about world peace.’
We enter Boca, the aesthetic beauty smacks us in the face, but the true beauty, the real sparkle, arrives, not in the form of risotto or maple cheesecake, but as a friend, an old high school friend, to be exact. He rounds the corner, smiles the warmest of smiles, kisses our cheeks, and welcomes us as if we were in his living room. Our hostess seats us, in our opinion, at the prize table where the service is a symphony conducted by the most attentive and friendly waiter. Basically, Ashlea and Sarah night quickly turns into Princess night. And we are just fine with it. Tasting plate after tasting plate is plated to perfection and we snap a photo of each one to send to her husband, St. Kyle, who is home with the babies feeding, burping, and eating Pringles. We want him to know his efforts are not wasted.
The evening progresses and my friend and our waiter do not disappoint. Ashlea and I, with full bellies and even fuller hearts, are overwhelmed with kindness. We don’t want to leave. In fact, we eventually look up from our corner of heaven and notice we are the only two left in the large, swanky, usually buzzing masterpiece. We laugh, finish our cheesecake and decide to head home, full of love, full of light, and full of food. Ashlea pulls in my driveway, helps me out of the car, picks up my black leather clutch I drop in the street, finds her missing phone on the dashboard, and after much laughter pulls out of my driveway and waves goodbye. I take Belle out, on a leash, grab a water, and head to bed. And the best part is, never once, during the entire evening, did I think about illness or paralysis or unrealized dreams. I chose, unconsciously and without much effort, to live in the moment and just lean into having an Ashlea and Sarah night.
And this task might sound easy for most...let go while out with a best girlfriend at a spectacular restaurant where you are treated like Kate Hudson and Julia Roberts...but it’s not so easy for me. If I told you I remember the last time I didn’t worry or fret about every single paralyzed, illness ridden detail, I would be lying. I rarely venture out, without a suit of armour called preparedness. I anticipate the worst and prepare for it. This is just the life of a paraplegic. When taking care of half of the body, one must be prepared for things not going her way and learn to live with it.
Though, what I haven’t yet learned to live with, is the preparedness that comes with realized dreams and perfect nights out with a friend. I see a full time job as a luxury and simply can’t even imagine something as simple as one, body-drama free night. I simply assume a body-drama free night is so rare that I am not quite prepared for it when it happens...
I am not that girl who gets to dash home from work and throw on her party clothes and head out with her best friend anymore. I am not that girl who decides exactly what she will do each day and does it. My body decides and my spirit learns to compromise and obey.
However, the one issue constantly up for debate between my body and my spirit is always, always hope. My body might have me believe hope is just a whimsical antidote I tell my poor body when it hits a wall, but my spirit knows it is a way of life.
Since the moment I fell off of that horse, I expected and believed the life I wanted was just a matter of effort and perseverance. My dream life filled with family and love and dogs and friends and joy was just around the corner and I believed I just needed to keep jumping hurdles and one day the finish line would suddenly appear. But, the thing is, and not just with my life, but with all life, the hurdles are a permanent fixtures. Instead of trying to knock them over or run around then, I finally learned to just keep jumping over them, one by one. Surrendering to the impediments doesn’t make them any easier, it only makes them just a part of the race. I don’t have to speed over them or jump any higher, I just need to know they are there and while they might be obstructions to progress, I can jump them, sometimes barely grazing the top and every once in awhile, I clear the entire hurdle.
Towards the end of our night out, my friend and our waiter asked if Ashlea and I were out celebrating anything special. I almost said we were celebrating her third baby, but then she confidently turned to them and said, “yes, we are celebrating friendship.”
Friendship. This is something I haven’t celebrated in quite some time. I am used to the ebbs of the world of illness. And celebration lies in healthy blood reports or positive MRI results. But, last week, for the first time in such a long, long time, I just was Sarah out with Ashlea. Ashlea didn’t have to swiftly come to my rescue and beat the bathroom door down because some obnoxious drunk girl was telling me to hurry up and I didn’t have to go home sicker than I left. I was able to go out for a night with a friend and celebrate just being friends.
It takes quite a bit of courage to live both sides of life. I must possess the ability to live through the pain and the heartache and the everything not going exactly my way to get to the parts I always envisioned. And sometimes the parts I held in dreams so long are the scariest to actually live. There is a point when something is so good that it can be so heart wrenching all at the same time. And this is the space in which I currently reside.
I assumed I was vulnerable enough to release pain and feel joy. I have the pain part down to a science and am tough as nails when it comes to bad news, but the joy part, well, honestly, I kind of stink at joy.
I can feel open and vulnerable to untethered joy and then the joy starts to flow and I worry I will soften into its comfort and tingly feelings and then I quickly want to shut joy down. I am more vulnerable to pain than I am to joy. As hard as this is to admit, it is true.
The last few months have been a crash course in untethered joy. I received health news that rocked my world and I prepared for battle and when I arrived and took my place on the front line, I was told the war is over, my armour wasn’t needed, and I was free to be a civilian. Clearly, I don’t have the skills and severely lack the courage for such an adventure. This stage, a stage I imagined for years, seems like it should be the easiest. But, my oh my, to trust I can actually do this...well it’s takes serious work.
Last week, with Ashlea, I finally let go of a string that ties me down and went out for a night, with my friend, and celebrated friendship. That is all. We had a wonderful time. We laughed until our cheeks hurt, we closed down the restaurant, she woke up with her kids and a headache, I woke up and dashed to an early appointment with a headache. I didn’t wake up with a fever or an infection. I didn’t have a come-to-Jesus meeting with my body. I went to my appointment, worked a little bit, cleaned the house, walked the dog, and couldn’t wait for bedtime.
This night out was equally a bookend and a new, empty shelf. The bookend holds up all of the books and heavy hearted moments of suffering and depression and illness. And the new shelf is empty, waiting to be filled with new stories.
I am used to the old way, the history I so recently lived. I cling to the crutches of the past and find comfort and beauty and meaning in the fierce bravery and courageous vulnerability it takes to live with suffering. And now, I dwell in this new way, this new bit of life, where a little bit of ‘gorgeous’ seeped through the cracks and I must find the courage to admire its beauty too. And this type of courage, to see beauty, to feel joy, and not be afraid to live this joy...well it takes an unexpected and different kind of serious devotion and practice and I am willing to work on it. It's just another hurdle, but one I just might clear.
And to you, all of my sweet reader friends,
I apologize I disappeared. I owe you many more details and pieces of the puzzle. Your loving comments and emails were not unnoticed. I reached a place where I had to begin again, once again, and I stumbled quite a bit this time. I am out of practice with this blog and with joy. I simply blanked when it came time to write anything but scribbles, quotes, notes, and passages. But, just as I did when I fell, when I fought illness and fevers and bad news, I will find the light, dwell in its place, and this time, find the courage to live there.
Much love to all of you...much more very soon,