Throughout my life, I’ve had phases of playing with and contemplating the unseen forces of this world – God, if you will. Or hell, call it Life, Great Mystery, the Universe, Spirit, the Divine, Consciousness, the Higher Self, or – as my siblings and I, with our warped senses of humor, call it: Dog. (This stems from the age-old joke about the agnostic dyslexic insomniac who stays up all night wondering if there’s a dog. Buh-dum-bum.)
I’ve wrestled with the question of fate vs. freewill since my 20s and now, in my 50s, I’m still attempting to understand their interplay. But I keep seeking answers. Intermittently.
I’m currently in another phase of diving deeply into the Unknown as I write this, regularly listening to various podcasts and online talks on the subject of consciousness, intention, dharma, and the role we, as individuals, can play in co-creating – or at least influencing – our reality. This latest spiritual exploration was likely triggered by the need to rebuild my life around my mobility challenges and restrictions.
Clearly, my corporate days are long gone. A high-pressure office environment filled with type-As and long hours would put me in a wheelchair in no time, if not flat out kill me. And my days of traveling extensively to give back-to-back speeches as an advocate are gone as well. Travel is now maybe a twice a year thing until further notice because it’s just too damn hard on my body at this stage in my (fingers crossed) recovery.
One of the author/lecturers whose work I’ve been listening to lately suggests that during your meditation practice each morning, you ask Higher Intelligence (as he likes to call it, whatever “it” is) for a sign that both “surprises and delights” you. You can ask for the sign in whatever area of your life needs clarity: your health, finances, career – whatever!
So this morning, I asked Higher Intelligence/God/Dog to show me a sign today regarding a book manuscript I’ve been working on, the subject matter of which is similar to this blog: joint replacements, mobility challenges, and all of the ancillary themes that come into play when you’re dealing with this sort of medical adventure. My writing had stalled over the past month, which led me to second guessing whether or not this project would even have an audience. So I put my request for a sign out to the Great Whatever and left for my walk with the dog.
Typically, I drive the three minutes to the trail RuPaul and I like to walk along, where he is then free to run off-leash and splash in the pond at the beginning of the two-mile loop. But this morning my husband had the car, so RuPaul and I walked a mile along surface streets before we arrived at the trailhead. It was only 8 a.m., but the temperatures here in Boulder have been wickedly hot this week.
Ru and I began our slow trek around the loop, passing a man who appeared to be 5 – 10 years my senior and was hobbling along with two hiking poles. Seeing him made me remember how much I had relied on hiking poles as I was both losing my mobility years ago and regaining it after my first three joint replacements. It made me grateful that I no longer needed to use poles, so long as the trail I was on was relatively flat (which this one is). I said hello to the man before passing him and continuing on my way.
About a third of a mile into the two-mile loop, I felt faint, my legs quaking a bit and my head feeling dizzy. Remarkably (because I’m usually a stubborn old mule when it comes to overriding the signals my body sends me), I did the smart thing and turned around, walking Ru back to the pond area where I sat on a bench in the shade to rest and he went in the water to cool off.
Minutes later, the older gentleman with the hiking poles joined me. He, too, had had to turn back on this particularly hot morning. He asked if he could share the bench to rest, and his dog, Lily, a young and vivacious white lab, joined RuPaul in the water.
The man wore a UCLA cap, so I asked if he’d gone to school there, as UCLA is my grad school alma mater. Yes, he had. I asked what program. Med school.
A conversation ensued, during which he mentioned his joint replacements. I mentioned mine. We laughed when we discovered we each had four new joints. Unlike me, however, he needed three revision surgeries on one of his hip replacements because it had gotten infected. Clearly, it still bothered him quite a bit.
He was curious about my ankle replacement, so not only did I find myself pulling off a sock for this stranger so he could admire my scar, but also whipping out my iPhone to show him the photos I’d had a surgical nurse take for me in the operating room while the front of my foot and ankle area was splayed open with retractors. Gory, to say the least. Fascinating…but gory.
At some point the man said to me, “You know, you ought to write a book. You seem to have a great attitude about your joint replacements and you obviously know a lot about the recovery process.”
“Interesting that you should say that,” I replied, “because I actually have a manuscript underway.”
“Really? That’s terrific. But I want to tell you something: make sure it’s mostly stories rather than some scientific or technical book. The personal stories are what people like me need.”
Funny, but that was actually one of the questions I’d been wrestling with as my writing momentum subsided the past few weeks. Did anyone really want to read stories about another person’s experiences with joint replacements? Or did they just want the tips and tricks for surviving the process that I had been listing at the conclusion of each chapter? Here, it seemed, was my answer. From a doc, no less!
“Let me ask you something,” he said, his tone a bit conspiratorial. “You ever feel suicidal during this whole process?”
“Suicidal? Not quite. But wishing I were dead? Absolutely,” I said. “But it never got so bad that I was actually plotting how I might check out.” He shook his head in understanding, seemingly vindicated.
“At times,” I continued, “my sense of despair was overwhelming, despite having a great husband and a kid I adore. Usually it happened when I was overcome with physical pain and a sense of hopelessness. Throw in a bunch of meds that mess with your brain chemistry and, yeah, I definitely felt like death wouldn’t be such a bad thing at times.”
“Totally get it,” he said, seemingly gratified that I, too, had inhabited the same dark place he was still grappling with. “I mentioned that I was feeling a bit suicidal to my sisters a while back,” he added. “They couldn’t handle it. They sort of freaked out. In a weird way, it’s nice to hear that someone else who’s been through as many joint replacements as I have also dealt with hopelessness and depression.” (I made a mental note to include a chapter about despair in my book manuscript.)
The air temperatures were rising, so we both made a move to leave. He asked for my email address in case he had other questions or needed the ear of someone who understood what he was going through. I gladly gave it to him, and I suspect I’ll run into him on the trail again as well. We said our farewells and parted ways, RuPaul trailing behind me, Lily following him with her tennis ball in her mouth. Despite the sweltering heat during my walk home, I was buoyed by the simple, yet meaningful, human interaction I’d just shared with a stranger who’s on a similar path to mine.
And that’s when it hit me: he was my sign!
I had never before taken the time to sit on that bench by the pond, preferring instead to keep moving along the trail lest my new ankle stiffen up or my other ankle that’s awaiting replacement lock up. But this morning I did just that: sat on the bench by the pond for the first time and relaxed.
I hadn’t mentioned my manuscript to him. He simply kept asking questions about my health circumstances and I kept answering them. He hadn’t come across as pandering or making idle conversation; he seemed genuinely interested in my perspective. He also struck me as a fellow mobility warrior in need of a bit of encouragement – precisely the type of person for whom I intended my manuscript.
During our conversation, he had admitted that he was a bit despondent over all of his health challenges, but he was eager to have a shift in perspective. I remember all too well that same feeling, the desperation of wanting – no, needing – to find others who’d walked the road of multiple joint replacements before me, if for no other reason than to gain a bit of hope.
Sometimes, simply meeting someone who truly understands what you’re going through because they’ve been there themselves can make all the difference in giving life – and your recovery process – your best effort for one more day, one more physical therapy session, one more walk with the dog.
One day at a time.
That’s all any of us can do.