I have known many people who have been forced to take a path less traveled through betrayal, illness, loss, or injury. When I saw their lives being derailed I felt a strong
empathetic reaction and tried to provide any support I could. However, there is no lesson better learned than the one you experience first hand. And this is where I was taught the most profound and painful lesson of my life. I was fortunate or unfortunate enough, depending on your opinion, to experience a drastic unexpected turn that shook the foundation of my life. How did I get here? I took a very mundane trip on a hotel elevator one beautiful sunny day that ended with me in a coma with a traumatic brain and spine injury and my family being told to make necessary arrangements because this may not end well for me. As you may suspect since you are reading these words, the worst did not happen, I survived. The path since that time has been both heartbreaking and heartwarming. The heartwarming moments were the friends and family that mobilized to help me and my family through my rehabilitation and recovery. The heartbreaking moments are the debilitating pain I have suffered from since the accident, the loss of pleasurable pastimes and the drastic change in my career trajectory. I owned my own company, I was a runner and ran several times a week with a group of marvelous women who had become more than running buddies they were my emotional support system. I was a lover of food, my guilty addiction was binge-watching the food network. I own a BMW motorcycle and loved to go for rides with my brother and friends. Not only did I suffer brain trauma but I also suffered spine trauma that has required two surgeries to repair the damage. I have not been able to run since the accident, I have been told by the medical experts I should not ride a motorcycle again, according to the doctors I cannot afford another head injury. I have completely lost my sense of smell which has affected the flavors I experience. So the foods and drinks I enjoyed before do not hold the same pleasure now. I sold my company, my recovery demanded my focus and required an abrupt career path change.
These adjustments due to my unexpected turn, while regrettable, are trivial when all is said and done. But the adjustment I did not anticipate is the shifting sands of my support system. Two friends that were my stalwarts through this whole event both relocated out-of-state. Their sudden absence was difficult for me and my family. That coupled with the more subtle shifting sands of friends connected to specific pastimes and activities I can no longer participate in has been disorienting and disquieting. As a result, I have come to understand the inherent voluntary nature of friendship that makes it subject to life’s whims and unexpected turns. This path was unforeseen and has required me to release expectations of myself and others, which admittedly is a work in process. I have friends who have put me up on a tenuous pedestal as an inspiration and I have friends who have chastised me for infractions of judgment. Both are uncomfortable realities of my new path. Change is generally distressing for all, those riding out the storm as well as the onlookers. My ask for you dear reader – be gentle with yourself and others embroiled in change. There are many people traveling unexpected paths and they no longer fit in the box they have been dutifully building for themselves. Therefore to view or deduce them from your own constructed framework or ethos will prove frustrating for all.
I refer to us “unexpected path pilgrims” as phoenixes. A phoenix attains new life by arising from the ashes of its forebearer. There are many of us out there, for those who love the phoenixes in your life, understand the phoenix no longer has their rigid framework, it was obliterated. There is a blessing in that glorious cacophony as well as turmoil. So relating to your phoenix with your own rigid framework will be disappointing. You can both grow from this experience and peek outside your own cage and search for connections in unlikely places not previously explored. If you are only drawn to people who see and experience the world as you do, and one of those conformists suddenly takes you out of your comfortable allegory, it’s scary. Your phoenix may no longer fit in the story you have created. I encourage you to explore a new narrative. I have always loved mosaics, the beautiful randomness of divergent colors, shapes, sizes, and flow that come together to paint a beautiful image is a wonderful example that a change in path or perspective can lead you to an unexpected and powerful result.
If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading ~ Gautama Buddha
As with many things I do in life I dive in with both feet before I fully realize the size of the wave I will create and what (or who) will get wet in the process. And all the people who have stuck with me over time have been drenched a time or two, however, those stories are for another time. So this week I learned of an unintended wave and that inspired me to write this blog. As with all things in life there are always lessons to be learned. This week I learned that someone thought one of my recent blogs where I discussed integrity was about my business partner and girlfriend Geri. It wasn’t. I was fascinated that someone reading the blog was creating this delicious story about who I was referring to, and I was intrigued about the conclusion they came to. My intent was to share a real experience that inspired me to reflect on integrity, and how much I value integrity. However, that is how my brain works, so it is wonderful to understand and remember there are millions of magnificent brains out there all working independently and on their own journey. Therefore, I thought it might provide value to those reading this blog to share my intent, it is to inspire, share compassion and spread joy. My intent with this particular blog is to share my understanding of the power of intention and how it has really changed how I am being in this world.
There are some people close to me that like to joke about my love of people and making connections by tagging me a “friend collector.” Are you going off somewhere to collect some more friends? How many friends did you collect there, etc…? I really do love being and staying connected to others. My mom and grandma were friend collectors too so I come by this honestly.
Today I had a magnificent conversation with Ron from Broken Arrow, OK. Ron’s wife was here at CTCA for a follow-up visit her cancer is in remission. He and I were sitting together in the waiting room. Ron asked me where I was from I told him I grew up in Rapid City, SD he said he and his daddy would take their self-propelled combine from their farm in Oklahoma and head north up as far as SD and harvest wheat to help pay for the combine. He said they would be on the road 8 months out of the year harvesting for others while his momma and brothers ran their farm. Ron and I had that same conversation three or four times, each starting with him asking me where I was from. When I asked him where he was living now he said he needed to take his driver’s license out to tell me. It was such a human experience to be with Ron and his beautiful spirit today. I can’t explain it but the interaction I had with Ron energized me. Maybe because it’s my dharma or my purpose. There is something so pure about sitting down with; no agenda, no wants, being authentic and relating to another person just as they are in that moment.
That’s how I feel about the time I spend with my girlfriends. I have the most amazing group of girlfriends. Some girlfriends I have known for many decades, some girlfriends I have only known for a few years, but there is not a bad one in the bunch, they are all wonderful, beautiful, blessed gifts. As I am traveling this cancer journey with my dad, I am being carried by so many people but I tell you my girlfriends are definitely pulling their weight and more. If you have ever read the poem “Footprints in the Sand” where it states there are two set of prints in the sand except during the low times in this person’s life there were only one set of prints which it turns out is when the Lord was carrying the person. Well if you looked at the footprints along my sand it would look like there had been a mosh pit there during the low times. I am being carried by many.
Girlfriends are great, they are the people who REALLY know you and, as the saying goes, like you anyway. My girlfriends help me feel a little less odd in this life and remind me I am human. You know when you have those internal conversations with yourself when your mind is running away with things and then you catch yourself and harshly judge your selfishness, bitterness, guilt, shame etc…..well when I engage in that little game inevitably I will talk to one of my girlfriends and they will brazenly say out loud that which I only dared say internally. My girlfriends are like the sunshine that encourages my tightly wound petals to loosen and bloom to a comfortable flower.
Lately I have been reflecting on how, at this point in my life, I have been receiving more than giving to my girlfriends. It’s a strange place for me I am more comfortable giving than receiving, but my wellspring is quite low these days so it is the way it shall be for now, its temporary. In the past, when I was low on reserves and needed to take more than give, I went to my mom. I am not sure why but I never questioned that or felt guilty about it, it was almost instinctual. Since my mom died it has forced me to reach out beyond my innate comfort zone, mom taught me so much in life, but this was perhaps her last glorious lesson to me. So without mom to reach out to, now I reach out to my girlfriends, and while mom can never be replaced, my world is still a warm comfortable place with these lovely surrogates.
Thank you girls for the human experience we have; living, laughing, loving. You get out of my way when I soar and thankfully get in the way when I sink!!!