Of Disability & Dreams

I have done something awful to my back.

It feels familiar, like the resurrection of an injury from 20 years ago when I was a very physical gardener. I remember my huge front yard in North Carolina, and my youthful zeal to conquer it and all of the stones just under the surface of the grass. I worked hours on end, hacking at the rocky soil so I could transform the flowerless landscape into something beautiful.

Then, it happened. I knew it the instant my foot hit the spade. I did something irrevocable.

In my egotistical desire to demonstrate that I could do all of this hard labor myself, I slammed my right leg down as hard as I could onto the shovel blade, thinking of nothing but defeating a large stone lodged in the concrete-like clay earth.

My lower back tightened into the stone I was trying to best. Fire-like aches shot down my left leg. I fell down and had to drag myself to a tree to try to stand again. I ended up in physical therapy, and managed to restore myself to basic functionality, but I knew. I knew what I had done would never be fully undone.

Today as I hobble about my house and try to remember all of my old therapy exercises, I remember a woman I met the same year I hurt my back. She ran the most beautiful garden center I have ever known, and I secretly wanted her life for my own. She had acres of family property that she had transformed into ponds, herb gardens, sculpture gardens, and sheep pens. Visiting her land was a spiritual retreat for me and many others in the community, and I coveted her lifestyle. I’ll call her Linda.

One day, someone told me that Linda had been a very successful CEO-type in New York in a financial services company. It turned out her property was her father’s land. She lived with him in a large old house, just the two of them. Such a dramatic U-turn in life begged to be explained, and eventually it was.

On a typical afternoon in the city, Linda walked into a telephone booth. (Remember those?) She was on the phone when a truck speeding out of control plowed into the glass box that housed her body.

And that was all anyone could say.

I never knew how severely she was injured. I never knew how long she was in the hospital, how many surgeries she endured, or how close she came to death. What I did learn was that she could not be vanquished. She put all of her strength into her recovery, looked around and apparently said, “OK, what’s next?” She rebuilt her body and her life. She created a place of beautiful dreams from a blood-spattered nightmare.

There is so much we can never know about other people, what they want, why they are where they are, who they will become when they have to look at the death of their first dreams. It comes to us all, that realization that we have to let some things go. The question is, can we take up new dreams, and fight just as hard for them as we did for our first-borns?

I like to think the answer is yes.

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