Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Life Lessons

When I was in school some of my lessons seemed impossible to understand. Like this: 

At first glance what to do eluded me. OK, what to do eluded me at my 439th glance, too. The more I evaluated the problem the less sense it made. What is this? What does it mean? How do I make this work? What am I supposed to do now? 

As challenging as some lessons were, school taught me to think logically. I learned math in a systematic progression from arithmetic to algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus. In elementary school I learned how to construct a simple sentence: subject verb. Then I learned about adjectives, prepositions, and subordinate clauses. I performed Twinkle Twinkle on my cello long before performing the Haydn C Major Cello Concerto. School taught me to expect order and sequence and flow — simple → challenging → difficult. Life lessons have taught me meaningless and flow sequence is order how.

Life lessons have taught me this instead:

No matter how hard I try I can’t understand this. Serious illness makes less sense than calculus. At least there is a teacher explaining everything in math class. During the past 15 years I have lived with incurable neuromuscular disease, cancer, and diabetes. A hat trick of diseases I never imagined having. I never imagined using a wheelchair, surgery, chemotherapy, or giving myself shots. I never imagined learning how to live with pain and fear. 

Each diagnosis exploded a Pandora’s Box full of questions. What is this? What does it mean? How do I make this work? What am I supposed to do now? The last question worried me the most. My survival depended on knowing what to do next, but I didn’t know what to do. What I knew would fill a sheet of notebook paper. What I needed to know would fill libraries. 

I have heard it said that life gives us questions first and answers second. But, sometimes there are no answers. We only find gateways to new and more profound questions. How am I supposed to do this? How does a human being transform from able bodied to disabled? What is the process of letting go of the use of your own body? Can this be done with grace and dignity? Is it possible to find humor and laugh? Against my will life tossed me up a creek without a paddle. Is it possible to thrive anyway? And if it is possible, how would I go about doing that? 

Finding answers to these questions, discovering how to thrive in permanent chaos, and then sharing my discoveries, has become my life’s work. Because it turns out it is possible to thrive. It is possible to have humor and grace, dignity and strength. Even when chemo makes eyebrows fall out. Or when the insulin needle hits a nerve and stings. It is possible to meet enemies in battle, even when winning is not an option. I know it is. I’ve done it for 15 years. I am living proof a peaceful life is possible, even when a pain free life is not. 

I’m writing this blog to share both my joyful discoveries and lessons learned the hard way. Perhaps by reading how I find peace you will discover new ways to rise after life knocks you down.

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I am not a doctor. I do not have a medical degree. Nothing on this site qualifies as medical advice. These are lessons I'm learning at the University of Catastrophe. What I find to be correct answers in my classes may not be the right answers for you.

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