I love the idea that everything happens for a reason. I’m not sure if it’s true, or if we just manage to retroactively find a reason for our alleged ‘accidents.’ Either way, I’ve found that I can use whatever happens to fuel my practice of self-awareness and growth.
But a year ago when I woke up in the hospital it sure seemed like an accident. I had been riding my bicycle home from a long day of trying to do too much, carrying a lopsided load on my back when an oblivious (and large) teenager darted out, hitting me from the side. I fell hard and lost consciousness. When I came to the pain in my chest was almost unbearable, and I could hardly breathe or move. Oddly, my first reaction was calm and rational. I didn’t waste my energy on panic or self-pity. I was simply too exhausted for my usual emotional reactions.
As I was wheeled from one tedious test to another it started to dawn on me that I could not see clearly. Panic edged into the back of my mind. The results came in: I had 12 broken ribs, a broken leg and pelvis, a broken vertebrae in my neck, and to top it all off – damage to my optical nerve. Firecrackers stabbed up my leg when the nurses would push me on to my side to change my sheets. Insidious habits of worry and fear began to creep back in with a vengeance.
But when I was able to relax and lie still – even within the pain I felt incredibly peaceful. There was nowhere I needed to go and nothing I had to do – I was simply alive and thankful. When I indulged restless or fearful thoughts the same level of pain suddenly seemed overwhelming. “This is me learning how to ACCEPT and RECEIVE,” I thought. “This is a chance to finally learn how to just BE.”
During those eight long days in the hospital I built a foundation, a core of emotional stability that had eluded me previously in life. Faith and fear were both present of course. I chose to feed the faith with my thoughts and words so that’s what grew stronger.
After being immobilized for so long the fourteen stairs to my apartment seemed like a Himalayan mountain. One slow, arduous step at a time I climbed. As word got out, friends would call me full of pity and concern. I spent a lot of time during my long convalescence reassuring the people who care for me that I am OK, that I am thankful for this ‘accident’ in a weird way. It is getting me where I need to be, preparing me for the years ahead. Learning to walk again is a powerful metaphor for a new beginning. I rooted down into humility, and gratitude.
Almost a year later, not only have I fully recovered, I feel stronger than I was before – both physically and emotionally. When I tell people about this experience, they are invariably shocked and sympathetic. But as I look back on the difficult journey I realize I would not change a thing. What seemed like a tragedy was actually an opportunity in disguise. I let go of my ideas of how things ‘should’ be. Being a person who is usually ‘in control’ and taking care of others, I learned to accept help graciously. My relationships deepened. I developed a greater compassion for those who suffer and those who live their whole lives in ‘broken’ bodies. I learned to savor the quiet moments, and to truly give thanks for each breath without pushing ahead to what comes next. If there are accidents, then I’d call that a fortunate one.
Lauren Tepper, to read more of Lauren’s writing, click here