John Wayne & the Catwalk

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I am one of those people that believes everything happens for a reason.

Sometimes, that reason is our own stupidity.

Other times, there’s a greater purpose at work.

It didn’t dawn on me, until this past week, that the pain in my legs and lower back might actually be serving a purpose. It might be here to teach me something. After all, many of the items that I listed in my Book of Hopes & Dreams for 2017 focused on becoming stronger; what better way to learn what strength is than to be temporarily without it?

One of the blessings—yes, I know, I just called this a blessing—of being in physical pain, is that I have been forced to take smaller steps. For those of you that know me outside of this blog, I usually keep a brisk pace. I tend to dart from Point A to Point B, without pausing to smell the proverbial roses. Now…with my back and legs in spasm…not so much. My steps are short, slow, and on bad days, there’s a bit of a limp.

This change in my stride has tried my patience. It’s tried my self-compassion. But it’s also opened my eyes to a world that I wasn’t seeing clearly.

As I mentioned in a previous post, my significant other and I were recently in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. We spent the morning celebrating my youngest godchild’s second birthday and then decided to while away the hours before our dinner reservations by exploring the city’s Old Port.

I had some difficulty appreciating my shorter step at the time (there was a cold, Canadian wind blowing), but later that evening I began to wonder, would I have seen as much as I did had I been able to walk at my normal pace?

Would I have noticed the photographer, in hat and gloves, trying to snap the perfect picture of one of the city’s many historic buildings?

Would I have noticed the suede mittens, embroidered with a bright, floral pattern, that another pedestrian was wearing?

Would we have made two pit stops—one at a café for some warm, caffeinated beverages and the other at an English-style pub for some glorious poutine—had I been able to walk for miles instead of just yards?

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Perhaps this post is nothing more than me, just trying to find the silver lining in a difficult situation (I’m really, really trying to be more positive, guys!). Perhaps, if I had been able to keep my usual pace, I would have seen all of these minute details and had these experiences anyways. But, I sincerely doubt it.

Had my legs been able to carry me further, we probably wouldn’t have lingered on the steps of Notre Dame, basking in the glow of winter decorations, for as long as we did.

We probably wouldn’t have stopped at a nearby souvenir shop for warmth.

We probably wouldn’t have paused on the sidewalk, admiring the horse and carriage plodding down the city’s cobblestone streets.

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Am I struggling with my current situation? Hell yeah. But, at the end of the day, I have this collection of small images—minute details—to process. They’ll probably find homes in blogposts and short stories. They’ll inevitably enrich my life in ways that I can’t predict. It’s already happening. It’s already changing me, prompting me to feel gratitude amidst the physical discomfort, forcing me to remember the words of the physical therapist that, after ICU in 2010, taught me how to walk again:

“Wide steps, Laura, like John Wayne. I’ll teach you how to do the catwalk later.”

So, for now, I will patiently be taking small, wide steps. I will saunter like John Wayne through this, observing the world around me and recording all of those minute, magnificent details that I would otherwise be oblivious to. And I will, eventually, get back to the catwalk—and when I do—I will be better, stronger, for having gone through this.

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Prescription for Gratitude

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A sleepy hush seemed to fall over the apartment as I sat down to write this post. The tea in my cup was warm, soothing. Both of my fur babies were curled up together on the end of the couch. Another weekend had come to a close and although I was tired, although I was still in a tremendous amount of pain, I couldn’t help but feel grateful.

Grateful for a weekend spent celebrating birthdays with loved ones.

Grateful for the sights and sounds of beautiful Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Grateful that I have this life at all.

This kind of gratitude—in the face of physical pain—is not something that comes easily to me. I struggle with it, every hour of every day, but it’s something that I feel compelled to write about. To share. To maybe shore up my resolve in the pursuit of it.

I couldn’t tell you when or why I first made the decision to actively cultivate gratitude. Its roots have been forgotten, as lost as that first gratitude journal, but the practice itself has survived. Every night before I turn out the bedside lamp, I write down three things that I am grateful for. The things I list could be the names of family members or friends. Other days, I might record happy events that occurred during the day. Some days, I write down what I eat because, some days, that’s all I can find to be grateful for.

The magic of a gratitude journal is not what you write down, but that you write something down at all. Sometimes it’s the really, really minute things that soften your heart and help you realize just how fortunate you are.

With this in mind—and the fact that constant physical pain is accompanied by the temptation to be a Negative Nelly—I decided to turn my mind even more toward gratitude. Keeping a gratitude journal at night has, on many occasions, shifted my perspective.

So what would happen, I wondered, if I started my day by listing three things that I’m grateful for?

Or, if I paused in the middle of the day to recall three additional blessings, would that have an effect on me?

And, if I faithfully turned to my gratitude journal each night to record three more things, would I finally be able to both see and believe that my blessings outweigh the pain in my back and my legs?

The experiment is young still, Dear Readers, but I am finding that that this self-prescribed regimen of gratitude three times a day has given me something to smile about. It’s something I look forward to. And, it reminds me, that even amid physical discomfort, there is always something to be grateful for.

Repeat After Me: Joy, Peace, Love, Hope

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It’s Sunday evening and the hours are slowly slipping away. The apartment is quiet, calm, and Wallace the Wonderful is sleeping on the far end of the couch. It should be the perfect time to write, but my eyes keep wandering from my laptop’s screen to our miniature Christmas tree. There’s something mesmerizing about the way the lights weave through the branches, illuminating the treasured ornaments hanging there. From where I am sitting, I can see the angel that my grandmother made for me the Christmas of 1994. Darth Vader is on her left, wielding a red light saber. A glass snowflake—a light directly behind it—glows emerald.

This isn’t the first time that I’ve found myself studying our tree, retelling myself the stories behind each ornament. I am amused—and a little proud—that our 2-foot tree, high on a shelf, is so beautiful, so plump with love. Tonight, though, my tree-gazing is a little different. Tonight, I am searching for the words joy, peace, love and hope among our little tree’s boughs.

The search began, in earnest, this past Friday night. I was driving home, enjoying the outdoor Christmas lights along my route, and thinking about the scene that I had just left. I had gone to the VFW to watch my brother and his bandmates perform. Although I was busy snapping pictures of their band, Midnight Moonshine, I wasn’t so oblivious to my surroundings that I didn’t notice an elderly gentleman dancing.

“He’s 92,” an informant told me, “and he does this every week. He will dance here and then when this VFW closes, he’ll dance at the next one.”

Looking at the gentleman in question, there could be no mistaking what the smile on his face meant. He glowed with joy—joy for life, joy for dancing, joy for the present moment.

It seemed like a fitting emotion to have this time of year and it was this thought—that joy somehow “fit” this season—that I began to wonder about other words that might “fit”. My commute home, in fact, became a hunt for them.

While driving by a house with blue icicle lights, the word “peace” came to mind. I thought about how, earlier in the week, Wallace the Wonderful and I had fallen asleep on the couch listening to acoustic carols as the star atop our Christmas tree slowly and serenely shifted colors.

I thought of the word “love” while at an intersection, less than a block away from home, waiting for the light to turn green. Love surprises me on random mornings with a smile and a home-made breakfast fit for royalty. It is a word that I feel in my mother’s embrace and hear in my father’s jokes. Love tastes like hot cocoa, a spoonful of fluff melting atop the liquid and infusing the entire cup with its sweetness.

And, as I finally stepped into the light and warmth of our apartment, I felt the word “hope”. It was residing in the Christmas card on the table—our first card as a couple—and it greeted me with exuberant wishes for a happy and healthy season and year ahead.

Joy. Peace. Love. Hope.

We see these words so frequently this time of year—on accent pillows and wrapping paper, wall art and billboards—that they lose all meaning. The words become part of the backdrop, unobserved and unfelt, until a 92 year-old veteran, tearing up the dance floor, reminds you to start looking for them again.