“I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship.” -Louisa May Alcott.
The Jersey Shore is a testament to resilience, community, and triumph. It is a place that was nearly destroyed and its residents run off after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Yettoday itstillstandsstrong and as beautiful as ever. Just as the ocean waves rushed in causing destruction, the residents have returnedand rebuilt.Within the borders of the beach you’ll find a community of close knit families, tourists, and friends. Just as the towns along the shorehave survived and are thriving, so are these relationships. Infact I enjoyed a week in Lavallette New Jersey at the shore because of one of these relationships. It is one that like the shore itself, has withstoodthe tests of time andthe battering ram of ahorrific hurricane. In this caseit was with long time and much loved friends that have been with me since beforethe massive stroke. Anything that canwithstand such an event deserves recognition. Because,stories of victory are few and far between outside of superhero movies.However, there are plenty of real life superhero stories.Theygive us hope, they give us strength, andremind usof why we keep on going. Therefore,we need to hear even morestories like these. Surrounded by the newly rebuilt homes and beautiful beach front, I observed a community that rallied together and rose up under theEast Coast sun. There was life, laughter, and plenty of love coursing through the streetsthat were once threatened with total destruction. Itreminded me that even though life mayput us throughunsuspected andseemingly insurmountable circumstances, we can still emerge on the other side of them just as strong. Indeed we can emerge even stronger than before! They refine us like the ocean waves smooth out rough rocks and bits of glass. The relationships thatsurvive the storms with us are like little protective cacoons of love. Just as we become stronger because of the storm, so do they. Whileit’s difficultto find any thankfulness for theselife storms, I am thankful for the aftermath. Thesestorms leave survivors stronger, with wisdom, and highlighting the love we sometimes forgetexists.
“Who are we but the stories we tell ourselves, about ourselves, and believe?”
― Scott Turow, Ordinary Heroes.
Stories of triumph, stories of success, and stories of dreams coming true. These are the kinds of tales that keep us alive and keep us going. For me, these stories were a life boat in the middle of a dark and stormy ocean. The stories you and I tell ourselves make a tremendous impact on how we feel and in which direction we go. The difference between a good story and a bad one canput into motion either success or failure When every avenue seemed bleak, I could always pullpositive stories from my memory library to serve as an escape. My current life circumstances(post stroke) were a sinking ship of titanic proportions. However, reaching back into my memory banks, I could pull a story from a happier time. Without these invisible books I was headed for the bottom gasping for air, another casualty of life’sbad circumstances.While these books seem imaginary, the life lines they offer are very real. These stories told me I could accomplish my dreams as I had before, that the impossible was possible(as possible is part of the word itself) and gave me a reason to get up in the morning rather then languish in bed. A good story will motivate you and give you confidence, while a bad one will take away all of your hope. Do you suppose that thelegends of our time told themselves stories of failure?I’m certain it was just the opposite! I posit they reassured themselves that their mountains could be conquered. In this way we need to do the same thing. Whatever your goal, tell yourself that you canand thenpull examples of all your past successes. The longer you ruminate on past or current(perceived or real) failures, the longer you’ll remain in unwanted circumstances. By dwelling you effectively anchor yourself in shallow waters. Therefore, use positive stories toputthe windin your sails and venture to deeper waters. It is there you’ll find more to explore and myriad possibilities. Furthermore, surround yourself with people that add to the positive stories rather than help anchor you in shallow waters.
“You must give everything to make your life as beautiful as the dreams that dance in your imagination.”
― Roman Payne.
I am not the sole creator or proprietor of my own life. For example, my Mothergave me a creativenature, my Father a strong work ethic, friends helped me learn some life lessons along the way, and my intelligence was(is) God given. Therefore, I am not merely one thing, but many pieces that create a whole. However, I am certainly responsible for which direction I head in, but I cannot take all the credit. It’s actually difficult to pick one singular direction because life offers so many. It’s as if we’re perpetually at afive way street crossing, or fork in the road. This is compounded by the fact that we have so many different parts to us. This is what happens when you exist in a worldthat contains many different outside influences. It is neither small norclosed off, but in fact it is endless! Since we are made up of so many aspects, why then,do we only live for ourselves?To be selfless over selfish is more rewarding and beneficial. It has even been shown in nature, that the most selfish creatures are less likely to survive. Apparently this didn’t cross over too much into human existence, or so it seems. However, if youpay attention it absolutely did! People and societies that exhibit high levels of selfishness, often don’t do as well, and are least liked. On alarge scaleit would make sense if the world were moregiving(and forgiving) but even more so on a personal level weneed to be more giving(and forgiving) to one another. After all, it has to start somewhere. Not to mention, each large and obvious movement(be it physical or societal) begins as a small quiet seemingly invisibleaction. A sweep of your arm is first triggered by tiny signalsin the neurons of your brain. What you eventually see and feelphysically, starts out somewhere unseen. The sameapplies to social movements, dreams, and hopes that you have for the future.Therefore, go forward with confidence and be the change that you want to see in the world andin your own life.
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”- Marcel Proust.
Memories can be a blessingor a curse to us, or sometimeseven a torment.We all have memories of better times in thepast than our currentcircumstances, thatcan serve as cruel reminders. However, what if we had no recollection of our past at all, but only awareness of the present?This would allow us to remove the usual blinders we have on and see our lives from a new perspective. Not only this, but we would experiencea new(even heightened) level of gratitude for what we do have, rather than always compare things to what we had before. Not to mention, the problem many have of constant comparison to others.This doesn’t mean we should forget our past,because we can learn so much from it and useit as a guide.For a good number of months my memories of life before the stroke would torment me.I dared not linger in bed too long and let the negative thoughts traverse my mind. Because, I could remember what it was like notto have so many doctor appointments,be free of braces,run, walk normally, drive a car,live independently, and not have any type of rehabilitation. I surmised that those who had never experienced a “normal,” lifehad it better because they had nothing in which to comparetheir current circumstances to. Therefore, they were likely experiencing more gratitude and happinessthan I was. However, as life often does, perhaps this was my lesson to learn. Regardless of my circumstance I had to learn to look for the roses among the thorns. Each negative thought needed to be taken into captivity, inspected for helpfulness, and thrown out. Because, if a thought that floats into your head isn’t helpful,it doesn’t deserve to be there. I cannot afford to entertainor accumulate these negative thoughts, and neither can you. They only serve to create sprawling toxic black trees in our brains, rather than healthy green ones. This certainly does not bring us life but only death. We need to practice mindfulness, so don’t hesitate to police your thoughts! Very often what we’re thinking will determine what we’re experiencing.
“My favorite things in life don’t cost any money. It’s really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time.” -Steve Jobs
For most of us themoments in our lives blur together like water color and form one large painting. It’s easy to forget that a lifetime is made up of a series of separate moments. It’swithin these moments that what makes life worth living can be found. It is also withinthese moments that we can forget where we are. Not recognizing this, we take a lotfor granted. One of my biggerfrustrations was the realization that like many of you, I missed my moment. Before my life was inexplicably changedI was letting everything blur together. If I had but for a moment stopped to consider my circumstances I would’ve been filled with enormous gratitude. Not unlike Scrooge on Christmas morning when He realizes He is alive and the valueof that life. It’s a wonder that more of us aren’t skipping down the street showering gifts upon everyone we come across. Because, quite simply had I realized the magnitude of blessings that I was living in, I nevercould justify being sad(or selfish)about anything. In fact quite the opposite, I’d be that annoying overlygiving and happy person all the time! How little do we know what a gift our lives are. Even now, though my circumstances are lessthan desirable I am still blessed. When in times of self pity, I often consider those less fortunate than myself. While I was in my little corner of the world being angry my left arm was paralyzed, there was a young man(I met him) wishing He had an arm to feed himself with. Because by a freak accident He hadbecome quadriplegic.Many years ago I scribbled the quote “The best thing to do with the best things in life, is to give them away,” on my bedroom wall. At the time I didn’tknow how true this was. Had I known how truly fortunate I was before the accident, I think I would’ve very well done this!After all, you can’t take all those prized possessions with you. You can always makemore money but you can’t awaysmake more time. Therefore, use your time well, and value experiences over material possessions. While I was bed ridden and trapped in ahospital, my previous life circumstances seemed like a dream. In many ways they still do. Little did I know at the time, that Iwas livinga dream!And somewhere in the world, your life is like a dream to someone else too. Maybe at one point like me(but hopefully not) it willseem like a dream even to you. All I wanted in the hospital was for my life to be the way it was. Tothinkthat I ever spent even a day of it depressedor sad was a travesty. Because, in comparison to my current positionthe girl I had been had everything and then some. She was physically able to do everything, had an incredible job, lived in an amazing place, and most importantly was independent. From where I was standing,or rather, laying She was all I wanted to be. I used to gripe about the traffic, now simply driving at all would be a hugejoy. I lived for the weekends when I wasofffrom work, now I’d happily put in extra hours. Sometimes I wished I was somewhereelse, but now I’d do nothing but take in my present surroundings. The point is, I had it all and didn’t realize it. Even now, you have it all too, even though you may notthink so. I promise you do.
― Bangambiki Habyarimana, The Great Pearl of Wisdom.
Today, a newrecord was quietly accomplishedin a corner of the globe rarely heard of. Three once unrelated strangers gathered in friendship, and oneamazingpersonal journey was thrusted ever forward to the “finish line.” While the rest of the world hummed along minding its own business, I was excitedly(and happily) checkingone more daydream off my to do list.Just like most personal goals it was of little importance to everyone else, except in this particular case Iwas accompanied by others that understoodthe importance of such a day. Many of us are skilled at rationalizing our way out of doing something. When in truth, we need to be rationalizing our way intomore things! There is no reason you cannot accomplish what you dream of. As they say, where there’s a will there is a way.By working through seemingly insurmountable circumstances with gritted teeth and a rock solid resolve, I have found that to be absolutely true. You see, what we aren’t told enough growing up is that we can do anything.Be weary of those who tell youany different. Ultimately, the people that believe in you as much as you believe in yourself, will walk right alongside you during the race.
above: My two pillars of support during the race Early on(when I was injured) there were questions of my ability to walk well again if at all, and much less trek a mile! However, with tremendous support and blessings I’ve done just that twice now. Both times were events that originally had been dreamed up in my mind.
above girl in tutu:Tropicolor, color run. the happiest 5k on the planet!
EvenifI completed each goal slowly, the point was to complete it at all and soak up the fact that dreams do(and can) come true. Especially when you put your best foot forward and your mind to it. Therefore, be careful of what you tell yourself and who you listen to. Because, whatever words are spoken get eaten up by our heart. Certainly, your heart deserves only the best things that life has to offer, so don’t let it consume words thatwill harm it!Find windto carry you where there is none, and fly high even when others want you to stay low.
“Everything hasitsbeauty, but not everyone sees it.” -Confucius.
What value does being pretty really have? Is it financially gainful?In somecases, yes. Is it morally upright?Does it validate your existence?It would appear that in many societies it does. Especially if you’re of the female persuasion. There was a time, when I felt validated only by my pretty face. Coming to the conclusion that if nothing else, at least I was pretty. However, I’d much rather have a functioning left arm thanbig pretty eyes! Another important question, “What reallymatters?” I found myself resigned to awheelchair, a cane,bulky(heavy)braces, and at one point the ugliest shoes I have ever seen in my life. Where there was oncefreedom of movement, cute littleshoes, and fashionable clothes I found myself stuck with the opposite at the time.Being in these unwanted and unfavorable circumstances made me question my self worth and evensexuality as aWoman. Ino longer felt attractive. In turn this effected how I felt and perceived the world around me. It brought with it the questionof, for many other Women who are(or have become) disabled, how do they feel? Because, until certain aspects of your “normal,”life experiencechange, there are so many nuances you don’t realize or perceive. Sure, it’s quite nice to be told how pretty you are. But really, in the big scheme of things, what does it matter? I remember one comment I receivedin particular(though funny at the time) was quite telling of ourgeneral attitude towards physical appearance. “Well, at least it didn’t mess up your face!” In regards to the stroke, although I’ll readily admit I’m thankful it didn’t. However, what if it did!?Would I find myself relegated to the forgottenintheworld’s population?What a sadtruth this is for oursociety. We place valueon things where there isn’t a whole lot and no value on things where there is much. In fact for some time I had to be stopped from giving away all mybelongings, because after what I went through, the valueof them dropped!At one point in time where I would spendfrivilously, I now carefully(and delibrately) saved. We all know beauty is only skin deep, but how often do we act on that truth? If we actually did, the cosmetics industry would plummet, bank accountbalances would rise, and eating disorders would be arcane. Therefore, take care of your physicalhealth and appreciate the body you have. Especially since it’s on loan and you can’t take it with you!
“You realize that our mistrust of the future makes it hard to give up the past.”
― Chuck Palahniuk.
We’ve got to look forward and keep moving, notdelvinginto the past.This is especially hard if youhave fears about what the future holds.As astroke survivor I found thateven my worries had worries.It wasthat much harder to think of the future not only because of fear, butalso because my heart was stuck in the past.Wemust not let our hearts be offended. Why? Because,taking offense(at someone or something) keeps us in a place of pain and inhibits our growth. If we choose to live in a place of unforgiveness we’ll becomethat much more cold,and hardened, the good things of life cannot grow or flourish inrocky soil! Therefore, we need to let go of the past and of thosethings that hold us back.For what seems like ages I’ve lived in my past. Because quite frankly, having my independence was farbetter than my current bleak reality.However, I am no longer the person that I was, in fact none of us are. To remain the same would be to stunt our growth and limit ourselves. No matter what happens toyou remember that “ You are not a victim but a victor!”In trying times it’s easy to get stuck in the former “better,” situations of our past. However,you must continueswimming forward or even in some cases treading water. Because, if you stop to consider the past too deeply, the weight of it will not only tie you up but cause you to sink. By remaining in my past I missed the good things in my present. The good news is, it’s never too late to begin moving forward. Indeed the sooner the better, and making a habit of it isn’t a bad idea either. Therefore, do not stop to consider your past for too long or too often. Far greater things lie ahead!
“I have found adventure in flying, in world travel, in business, and even close at hand… Adventure is a state of mind – and spirit.”- Jacqueline Cochran
We all want control and have visionsof what our future will hold. However, usuallywhile we’re making plans lifejust happens. In these “derailments,” we find things we didn’t know were there. Such as strength, love, purpose, dreams, and new goals. Whatever your vision is, with perseverance, hope,faithand determination that life is definitely possible! Sometimes we fly above these visions to revisit what we thought our life would be, before coming back down to earthto what our lives actually are. When we’re looking down from above timewill reveal it’s perfect timing inour life’s narrative. While some realities seem better than others, none are completely perfect. After all life really is what you make of it.We feel as if we let go of the steering wheel that we’ll crash;but sometimes the opposite is true. Oddly enough, it is when we let go that we’ll find ourselves going in exactly the right direction. While life can certainly be a cruel mistress, She also has the capacity for grace. A grace that lends itself when you feel undeserving, a grace that finds you in your most trying times, and a grace that never ceases to surprise you. In these surprises you may come to find that the fork in the road was a detour youneeded to take, before reaching the final destination. I’d like to believe that my own detour of a massive stroke not only nearly killed me, but also gave me life. Because without it, I would not have discovered my true strength, seen the beauty of true love, and even more so learned what having faith can accomplish.
Stretching out over many miles and through space and time there exists invisible threads that hold us together. What is it that keeps us close despite time and distance? There are those places in the heart reserved for a special unforgettable few. If you’re lucky those few will be many. Itnever ceases to amaze me that even if far awaysomeone can have aprofound emotional impact on us. This holds true foryou too, and forthose of you that have experienced your heart shift inside of your chest, or a tear has welled up in your eyebecause of the impactofanother person on your particular piece of the world. This bond seems to only be strengthened by theshared experience of trauma. When we go through inexorable circumstances, be it with friends or family, those invisible bonds become solidified. Because, when you come acrossthose who willingly(and happily)hold you up duringlife’s disastersyour more then happy to neverlet those storms stealthem away from your heart. In fact surviving a disaster together only brings us closer!Without the darkness and shadows that lifesometimes presents us with, we couldn’t then see the sunshine and lightin life.The shadow proves the sunshine. It is because of those dark moments that our light onesare able to shine even brighter. Within the light we’ll find those unforgettablefew. They inhabit the depths of our hearts, the caverns of our memories, and remain on the other end of our invisible thread.Aftersuffering the event of almost dying and losing it all, I have gained and found more love then I ever knew previously. Nearly all of this love came from the people on the other end of those invisible threads. They were always there it just took an act of darkness to bring themto light. A bigger tragedy than what actually happened is that I didn’t see them sooner, and so many of us don’t. Therefore, even though the threads are invisible, when you slow life down enough to consider it, they will become more clear to you. Don’t go too fast and miss them.