Day 80, Grace 

 One of the petitions in the Great Litany is this; “From all oppression, conspiracy, and rebellion; from violence, battle, and murder; and from dying suddenly and unprepared, Good Lord, deliver us.” Eighty days ago this petition was played out when I was hit by a car door while cycling on the morning of June 5. I am still working on getting back to my pre-accident way of life. It has been a long road full of peaks and valleys. There are days when I feel like I’ve made huge progress then there are those days when it feels like I’ve taken a step back. Each new exercise that the physical therapists give me to do challenge my body in a different way as the muscles in my hip and thigh relearn how to function. This down time has also given me time to think, which can be dangerous especially for an introvert who tends to live an interior life. I have thought more about death and what it might mean, yet I survived this encounter. The huge emotional ride I was on in those first days after the accident have now settled into a slow, steady path moving toward healing.

 Several times I’ve been told that the reason nothing worse, like dying, happened is because God is not finished with me yet or that I still have something to accomplish. I’ve heard others tell me that my “guardian angel” was not with me on that day, or that God decided that I needed a trial, sort of like Job. Of course, that is not my theology or thought pattern. No amount of Saints medallions or a bottle filled with holy water blessed by the Blessed Virgin herself, were going to save me from this accident. It’s not so much being saved from these times of difficulties but it’s how we continue to live and love in the days after. Many give up, unwilling to do what’s necessary to heal. Still others live with the anger of the unfairness of it all, until it becomes like a piece of cold, black coal lying within the heart cutting off any light. Grace is that moment when one realizes that no matter what, love continues to work through our stubbornness. It is grace that pounds away at that lump of coal we carry until it is broken down so that the light can break through and shine on our wounded places to begin the healing.

 I have been graced in having that love and light that has helped in my own healing. The love of my wife, taking that wedding vow of “in sickness and in health” above and beyond in being my angel in this wilderness. I have been graced with doctors, physical therapists and nurses, who see, not just a broken body, but a person who at times needs that push and tough love to get through this valley. I have been graced with a community and faith that carries me through each day as I work to overcome those temptations just to give up. 

 Grace surrounds me each day, it strengthens me for the trials ahead and paves the way for my healing in both body and soul. I don’t know what the future holds, if anything I’ve learned that I can only live day to day, moment to moment, keeping open the pathways to my heart and my eyes open to those in my life. 

Dream Reflection

 Last night I had one of those vivid dreams, live and in color. It was the kind of dream that one remembers the next day and I have been thinking about it since I awoke this morning. In this particular dream my dear wife, Jane, decided that we needed to separate, which is strange considering this isn’t even been a topic for us. Now, some smart folks believe that our dreams are a way for us to work out issues in our lives, some problem or puzzle that we are trying to solve. As I reflect on this dream it’s not so much about our separating as it is more about our need to find some time to be away, together.  Since my accident, Jane has been basically on the go, between work and having to help me when at home. For those first couple of weeks I couldn’t get downstairs very well, get my own meals or even a drink. I needed her help to dress in the morning, get my breakfast and arrange to make my lunch all before she went off to work herself. Many of the chores I did before the crash, like walking our dog or taking out the trash, all fell on her shoulders. Our vacation plans were thrown out and we have spent the summer staying at home. 

 All of this has had its effect on us and this dream, I believe, is my own subconscious working out that we need to separate ourselves from our occupations and spend some quality time together, alone. One of the benefits from having to spend time in recuperation is to step back and look upon my life and my own marriage to gain some perspective. Sometimes in the midst of all the busyness and the pull of responsibilities, we tend to get a little off course. There are those who will tell me that sacrificing is part of my vocation but that doesn’t mean I am to sacrifice that which I hold dear. When all is said and done, when the dust settles and I enter those twilight years, it will be the times I have spent with Jane that will stand out and not all of the other things I have done.

Day 60

 Today is the 60th day since I had my accident. It’s hard for me to believe how far I have come from that day when I was laying on the pavement knowing that something was seriously wrong. From being scooped up into the ambulance, to being admitted to the trauma unit, having surgery, physical therapy and now trying to get back to my normal self. It has been a long journey, not one I would care to repeat but although it has been tough I have also come to learn more about myself. I am resilient, the damage to my hip was serious enough to require titanium rods to be placed into the bones so that they could heal. It wasn’t easy taking those first tentative steps, with a walker, at the hospital. I was afraid, scared that the hip would give way, thinking that I would never be able to ride my bicycle ever again. Yet, I persevered, fighting off the fear and the doubt telling myself that the road to healing was through the pain and soreness of the therapy.  Each day brought a new achievement, from the walker to crutches, learning to navigate stairs, good leg up, bad leg down became my mantra. Dealing with the embarrassment of needing someone to help me put on my right shoe then tie up the laces, once simple tasks becoming mountains to climb. Slowly, with determination and gritting my teeth through the hurt I began to regain some control over the small things. I put on my own shoe even though I couldn’t tie it yet. I began to get in and out of bed without having to assist the right leg and could accomplish the exercises I was tasked with doing.  

  Outpatient physical therapy felt daunting, here I was faced with using weight bearing machines and having someone manipulate my leg, stretching out muscles that had grown weak and were still healing from the surgery. It wasn’t until I went to my third appointment that I finally felt some relief. At that time the therapist had me use a stationary, recumbent bike. I sat down, put my feet into the pedals and began to cycle, slowly at first but soon building up some speed, nothing like I had done, but here I was, cycling. I was flooded by emotions, tears welled up in my eyes for I began to see a light, albeit a flicker of a light, at the end of this long, dark tunnel. 

 Now it is day 60, I am no longer on crutches but able to use a cane, I can even walk short and I mean really short, distances. I can fend for myself, make a sandwich, get something from the fridge, tie my own shoe. Small, incremental steps rather than great leaps. It still gets sore, I still have some pain at times and Tylenol is still part of my daily routine. Yet, each day I can feel my hip regaining its strength, each day I make some progress even if it is small. I now can drive my car, get into the office and get around better. Most of all I feel not only physically better but also emotionally and spiritually better. I have discovered a deep well of inner resourcefulness that carries me through, even during the most difficult of days.

 There is still a long road ahead before I can say I’m healed. Although I am up to doing 10-15 minutes of stationary cycling and getting around does not mean I am where I want to be. I know that when I finally get back to outdoor cycling, especially that first ride, it will be hard. Fear of another door or of just having a crash will be lurking in the dark recesses of my brain, but like that surfer who was attacked by a shark and a week later was back in the water, I know that getting over those fears is part of this healing. My deep faith and the love of my dearest wife and partner is the foundation that helps to carry me each day towards my full recovery.

  

My Stage

 One of the benefits of being laid up with a broken hip is being able to sit here and watch my little corner of this world. Each morning I see people go by, walking their dogs, cycling to Oak Grove, or waiting for the bus. There is the young boy riding his bike wearing a bright, lime-green florescent helmet, his small legs pumping fiercely as he pedals his way to school, followed closely behind by his dad on his own bike, making sure that the youngster arrives okay. A young couple walk their newborn looking like any other new parents filled with both hope and anxiety. Across the street, there is a Muslim family who when it’s time to leave the house the women are decked out in colorful garb wearing their hijab as they go to the mosque for worship. A couple of young women waiting for the bus are able to hold hands and show affection no longer feeling stigmatized or outcasts any longer. Old and young I have watched them all parade by my home, each one living their life, each one taking their place.  William Shakespeare once said; “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.” It is an often used quote but one that I sometimes find a bit disheartening. By being merely players I hear that we are all part of a larger script, already written long before our entrance. The part is set, the lines are given and all we need to do is step out onto our mark, say our lines and then exit stage right. I like to think that all the worlds more like improv comedy where we are given the scenario and then have to come up with the lines that make the most sense and most times failing miserably, but continuing anyway. We are not puppets in some gigantic Punch and Judy show, although at times it may feel like that. We are living, breathing and hopefully, thinking entities that do more than just play a role but can and do make an impact while we are here. 

 As I watch all of these people pass by I begin to wonder what their story is, what are their hopes and dreams. I also have had that rare opportunity to really reflect and consider my own hopes and dreams, not only as a priest, but also as a husband, father and grandfather, each role requiring its own unique improvisation. Life is fleeting and precious and as I discovered, it is also very fragile. Death awaits us all but that need not keep us from being fully engaged with those whom we care for and love in the here and now. Some who read this may think I’m being either a bit morbid or morose, neither is the case, it’s all grist for the mill, a potpourri of thoughts and ideas that make up the imaginative world that lies within my head and now yearns to break out. 

 I kind of think that writing is allowing these thoughts and ideas to be vomited out onto the page where it can be fully examined, not only by the writer but also the reader. It’s not perfect, just like life, but it is possibly the truest reflection of a self looking in a mirror and seeing it’s real image.