I broke four vertebrae in my back in a waverunner explosion when I was fifteen. Ever the realist, my mom rolled over from her hospital cot on day two of my (our) six-day hospital stay and said, “You have two choices. You can be a victim, or your can be a survivor. You’ve got every right to be mad that this happened to you, but you can also learn a whole lot from this experience.” At fifteen (Heck, who am I kidding? At birth) I was already a ridiculously optimistic, gregarious, confident, competitive young lady, and her epiphany didn’t take long to take effect in my soul.
I decided – on June 27, 1993- to be a survivor. To choose happy. To choose to learn. To be stronger. To rock out this new chapter.
It’s not all that hard. It’s just about a change of perspective. So, while I spent most of that summer flat on my back in my bed, I chose to focus on the fact that my amazingly trusting doctor let me go home to recover and that I had such amazing friends that brought the fun to me. And pain was horrible, but the good news was that the medicine also made me tired, and when I slept, I didn’t really feel the pain. And even though I couldn’t stand up for the whole cookie baking experience for a few years after my accident, that meant my parents had to do my dishes! The silver lining kept appearing, and after a while, I didn’t have to look for it.
Deliberate happiness. It’s not an accident. It’s a choice. And it grows on you. And with you. The silver lining takes root and grows into a fire. A fire to inspire others, to support people in hard times, to evolve, and to effect change.
So, when my husband was holding our four-minute-old infant in our OR on July 4, 2010, and the doctor said, “I think he has the facial characteristics of a child with Down syndrome,” my natural instinct was to say, “Let me see… I agree. Okay, what do we do next?” Bypassing victim status, I sailed right into the survivor mode I’d been honing since 1993 and knew I’d rock that sweet baby out of the park. What complete, indescribable joy our Jackman has brought us!
And when my husband’s doctor ordered an MRI with contrast, suspecting a mass, and delivered the news of a malignant tumor a few days later, I immediately asked for a CD of the image and started networking to find the best doc around. What pride we have in the Cleveland Clinic, our doctor, and our friends that led us there! And can you imagine how wonderful we feel every year when the doctor says he’s still cancer free?
I interact professionally with a lot of people that are facing difficult, stressful situations. Believe me – I know life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. That’s not the point.
While it feels a lot better to put on my survivor hat and to go on rainbow hunts, the worry and angst still find their way to my heart. When they come a knocking, I listen, cry, scream, walk miles and miles, and pray. And you know what? Eventually, I find that all of that hurt yields even more joy, because somehow when you know how badly something can hurt, you find a way to celebrate minor details. And I’ve found that my clients and friends that lean into the joy find it, too.
The point is to take life experiences – the happy, the challenging, the downright unfair, the motivating – to gather them all up in a huge mixing bowl (if you need to buy one, I suggest yellow), mush them together, taking the time you need to fully incorporate all of your new ingredients, and to gain your own perspective from each of them. And then, if you want extra credit, to remember that every other person out there has his or her own experiences that yield their own perspectives.
The next time life gives you a dose of Anything Can Happen, consider that survivor hat (or earphones as the case may be). It’s pretty comfortable.