Two years. In many ways, it feels like yesterday. In others ways, my body recognizes how far it has come and what it has been through. It’s fair to say that brain surgery was never in my plans. I write that now with a degree of humor, as I understand more and more that life chapters are often handed to us in unexpected ways. How we respond is a deeper mystery.
Last year at this time, I reflected a great deal on the healing of my body. This year, I find myself reflecting on what I have learned (and continue to learn), as I feel gratitude for still getting to be here, even in the hard and challenging days. I can sit with the unknowns in a way I couldn’t before this unexpected road appeared. My typical response when someone asks how I am? I am so deeply grateful. Grateful in a way that makes me wonder if I understood gratitude before all of this. Grateful in a way that I can’t let go of and can’t turn my back to.
I understand the places where darkness and light meet. I understand the moments where nerves are ignited, but you trust the answers in the same breath. I understand trusting a team of strangers with my life, and the faith that connects us. I know the intensity of hours in an MRI machine and how, with anxiety swirling inside of me and the changing pulses and rhythms around me, I heard music and willed that music to shape itself around the relentless pulses surrounding me. I know how to sit still in the chaos, but to still hear the music. I can shake my fist at Chiari, and simultaneously bow to it in thanks.
Pieces of that thanks:
- As a person who has always loved time with other people, I relish being present to others in a new way. I know how important it is for us to call on one another for help. In many ways, I learned how to ask for help for the first time with my diagnosis and recovery from surgery. We are all called to show up for one another in a million different ways, and I appreciate that in a new way now. I would not be where I am without the people who have taken the time to listen to me and to help me put together the pieces of my life in a new way. I know how healing it is to be truly heard, and I know how powerful it is to simply listen to another person, without a scripted response. A friend called me last week and asked for two hours of conversation. I hear that request in a new way now, and feel honored to share that kind of time with anyone.
- Our society trains us to “see” how people are, not to take the time to actually find out beyond what appears on the service, past what we assume we know because of being able to see it in a traditional way. There is so much that we do not see that is important to know, whether for our own health, or to more fully understand someone we care for. Inevitably, this deeper seeing shows pain, but also joy. It also helps us to understand one another in a more connected way. I ask you to take the time to listen to the story of another person, to take the time to consider something from other than your own perspective, or to invite the time for a response longer than a few sentences. There is a level of connection that transforms, and it is worth your vulnerability and courage, I promise.
- I have a deeper appreciation now for the complexities of the body. We are wired neurologically in such a beautiful way, each system affecting other systems. The back of my cerebellum entering into my spinal column created a storm, specifically because of how connected individual systems are. For me, surgery helped me immeasurably, but surgery does not cure anyone with this condition. My disbelief, most days, has turned into a kind of wonder. Before surgery, I was losing some of my ability to communicate, often not steady on my feet, and complicated further by POTS, which affected my body’s ability to regulate temperature. I type this post grateful for being able to type the keys in front of me, grateful for a day spent out in the warm sun. I also walk around this world with the hope that we all realize that our bodies, no matter what condition we might or might not have, need love and tending, whether practicing presence, prayer, movement, healthy habits, forgiveness, etc. Listen to your body. Honor where it has been and what it is asking you for now. These structures that hold us up and enable us to communicate, touch, walk, are our daily reminders of the gift of life, and they have a great deal to teach us, if we pay attention.
- The impact of trauma is huge. How any of us move through it and honor it at the same time is sacred ground. I am still working on this myself, but I know that this space is important to acknowledge in ourselves and in others. People need support and acknowledgement, no matter what the trauma is tied to. Personally, I think voice has to be tied to this journey – not just to acknowledge trauma, but to listen to the stories attached to the trauma, hopefully leading to an eventual resurrection that we create or that we are shown.
Miraculously, I am doing well. I’d say my biggest surprise continues to be heightened senses, which I have been told is very normal. My biggest lesson to date is honoring my boundaries. That includes knowing when my body needs rest, and knowing when I have simply done enough. This has been, in many ways, the hardest lesson for my personality. Prior to surgery, I was the person who would press on, sometimes neglecting sleep or pushing through stress for an often unattainable goal. I took pride in that part of me. Now I see the beauty in the balance, I see the important of nurturing myself in the same way I have always hoped people would nurture themselves. Though I falter a lot, still wanting to do all of the things, I am more in tune with a body, a Spirit, that I know calls for rest and reflection.
I am returning to the ways I feel I am called in this world – in some old ways and in some new ways – wanting to support small circles of women in conversation (especially around unexpected life journeys, stories, faith); drawn to helping children learn mindfulness and respect; and a return to making music, especially in the circles of folk and world music; writing; as well as, as always, teaching in some form. I’m trusting all of these threads, as I walk forward in my life.
Mostly, I am aware of how life holds challenges and celebrations. I am grateful for every day that I get to show up in the world broken and beautiful, and I’m trusting people around me to see the broken and the beautiful in me and in themselves.