Fluctuat nec mergitur.
“Battered by the waves, she does not sink.”
It all began on the day that things-that-just-don’t-happen-to-Hannah… happened. One moment I am working my way through an Ultimate Frisbee drill with all the grace of a giraffe on roller skates, and the next moment my hands are clutched around my knee with the words “NO WAY!” rumbling through my mind. What immediately followed is kind of a blur, but I’m told one of our veterans was charged with the task of pushing my kneecap back to its rightful location. Ick. Ick, ick, and more ICK.
In no time, I was off to the hospital with my dear friend Sarah alternating between bouts of laughter and moaning. She did exactly what any good friend would – she teased me ruthlessly about the fact that I could be giving birth to twins and nobody would be able to tell the difference audibly. Between that and the hilarity of waiting an hour to use the restroom and the half-hilarious, half-atrocious feelings of incredulity that surfaced after encountering the kind of person who one must ironically name Nurse Brightside just to make light of it all. . . that visit was filled with the healing medicine of laughter.
By the time my head hit the pillow that night, it felt like the legendary 30-hour day.
My alarm rang the next morning with grating enthusiasm. It was the first day in the life of Gimpy. Or, Ihop, as my beloved American Sign Language professor calls me. I spent hours bolstering my mental defenses. I added a 0 to the lightning-fast commute time my beautiful blue bike had enabled. I packed my bag with Cliff Bars in case I got stranded along the way and failed to make time for lunch. I wore flannel and enough deodorant for an entire pack of teenage boys. I was so ready.
I was so NOT ready. Nothing could have prepared me for the frustration of spending several minutes trying to coax a sock over the five little piggies on that right foot of mine. The ache in my pride and sense of autonomy when the bus driver took one look at my mammoth, immobilizing brace and lowered the bus step for me with a tilt of the chin that said: “You poor thing.” The ache in my lungs and shoulders after only five minutes of crutching to the first of three classes told me I had just begun the impossible quest of the Gimp.
Wait, wait, wait! Bear with me. I promise the Sparkle Plenty you all know and recognize was will stroll into this story shortly. Waking up on the second day, it became clear to me as I rubbed my eyes and stretched that I had two options. I could either be a stinker about things and spend every moment dragging my feet (or foot) and moaning (apparently, I had the pregnant-with-twins moan down to a science). Or I could choose to lift my chin and proceed.
My friends made the decision for me. I have never seen such kindness as I have in these last three weeks. A homemade dinner brought to my dorm, rides through the country roads with Autumn practically gleaming at every fork in the road, care packages overflowing with love and goodies, phone calls filled with uplifting banter, an emerald pendant to carry for strength and patience, a ride to work, the prayers of many a sweet nun or friend. . . And that is just the tip of the iceberg. In simple gratitude alone, I find myself thinking that I could only thank you all for your kindness by carrying myself with grace, humor, and bravery. It is the best I can do, for both of our sakes.
I haven’t been the flawless optimist, and I will be the first to admit that. Never have I ever been good at playing what I thought was the “taking” role. Initially, every offer of a ride produced a predictable reaction in me. Every fiber of my Miss Independent body wanted to mutter a quick: “No, thanks. I’m fine.” But those words never made it past my lips. “Fine” people don’t need crutches and braces and elevators and rides. Who was I kidding?
That was the Hannah of those first few days. Begrudgingly accepting. Frustrated. Ashamed of her dependence.
But, now, I am realizing that I am one of those “fine” people. Because every one of us needs something sometimes. I may have a bit more needs now than normally. But, which one of us could go long without help? A hug to get us through the day, a ride home when our car breaks down, a smile from a stranger. Giving and taking is part of the human condition. And doesn’t “taking” have an air of giving in it? By accepting help and accepting my dependence on others as a natural part of living, I found that I gave a sense of humanity and pride to the people I allowed to give to me. People want to be kind. They want to help. That is so, so very beautiful.
Once upon a time, the knowledge that my ACL is torn and that I will have surgery over Christmas break was my worst nightmare. I used to dream of breaking my leg, and I could imagine nothing more terrible. How could I possibly cope with that sedentary, stagnant lifestyle? How could I not MOVE and work out all of my frustrations by pounding my feet on the pavement or biking like a whirling dervish? My legs, I thought, were my life.
But, if this is my worst nightmare, I am happily surprised. Maybe it just hasn’t it me yet. Or, maybe, it never will. Life just keeps moving. I worried about being stagnant, that immobility would cause me to gather dust both mentally and physically. But, the hands of the clock keep making ripples in my life – keeping things in flow as the days keep passing and I continue to uncover layers of myself that had become a second or third priority to my physical enjoyment of the world and all of its adventures. I sing (joyfully). I play the guitar (haltingly). I sketch (messily). I converse (teasingly). I write (freely). I read (eagerly). I dream (hopefully). I am so much more than a physical being.
I have found that my spirit transcends the ailments of my body. (That’s hippie-talk for: I CAN DO THIS!) So, while life is giving me every excuse to crumble, I have chosen instead to fortify my Sparkle Plenty attitude and keep moving. I am building on tomorrow with the awareness that I only have one chance to be brave today. Tomorrow, I will look back on the moments that I am currently living, and I want to be proud of myself. Maybe, I want others to be proud of me too. My “Thank You” for your kindness will be the decision to be hopeful and kind and patient with myself. To not be a stinker, in other words.
My focus is not on the surgery to come. It isn’t on the ache in my knee or those crutches by my elbow. It’s on the moment when I will run into the arms (or handlebars) of my bike at long last and we will ride merrily off into the sunset like two long-lost sweethearts. Because what kind of tomboyish fairytale doesn’t end that way? I also bring my focus to every moment in between filled with self-discovery and support. I have chosen to be okay.
So, the next time you find that life has literally kicked your legs out from under you, I hope to decide to grow from the place on the ground where you lay. Instead of fighting to stand and undoubtedly getting frustrated when your appendages fail to cooperate, take a moment to lay there. Feel the grass tickle your neck and the ground supporting your limbs and breathe. The Earth is solid beneath you, as are the friends who will help you. Cast down roots, find new aspects of yourself to bloom, and create a new foundation as you wait for your body to heal. Give by accepting, heal with patience, and be bigger than the hurdles of this world. Though you may be battered by the waves, you will not sink.