As you prepare to leave, you get ready for your flight and remember the deal of the trip. You have a one-way ticket to wherever you are trying to get to. There's no going back once you've arrived to your predetermined destination. Understanding that this is the deal and what you are signing up for, you choose to board the plane and take your first-class seat. You are comfortable and enjoy the ride, dreaming the whole way of what you're life is going to be like. You slowly doze off until you fall asleep to the drone of the engines...
You wake up hours later and realize that you have not yet arrived at your destination, and that you should have been there hours ago. Nervous, you check your ticket to make sure that you've made no mistake, and sure enough it shows that you are on the right flight. The plane begins to descend as it prepares for landing and you catch little glimpses of the earth through the cloud cover. As the plane descends, you feel anxious. What if there was a mistake? There's no going back at this point... what if you're on the wrong plane? That would be a living nightmare, to be stuck somewhere you never wanted or prepared to be. No, there couldn't possibly be a mistake, you've truly done everything to ensure your safe arrival at your desired destination.
The plane hits ground and slowly comes to a stop. It's hard to tell at the airport whether or not you're at the right place, so you get off the plane, grab your bags as quickly as possible and head outside where you're hit in the face with a blast of icy cold wind. The sky is dark and gray, and your stomach drops as you realize...
You are in the wrong place.
You feel sick and go through every possible way you could have made a mistake. There was none, you double and triple checked everything before you left and yet here you are, in a place you never intended to be. Panic sets in and you run to the nearest person to ask where you are, but you quickly realize that they don't speak your language or the language you prepared to speak. Within moments, despair begins to set in. You can't go back to what you had and you can't go to where you want to be. This is your reality now, and it's here to stay. This is your life, and it's been turned upside down in only a matter of hours.
Now what? You don't speak the language, you don't know the people, the culture is completely foreign to you and you are completely unprepared for what you are going through. Utter hopelessness sets in and you hear your own voice saying, "No, no, no. This can't be real, this just can't be happening to me." You are used to being able to solve problems and find solutions to those difficulties, but there's no way out on this one. In comparison to how you've always planned on living, this is Hell. "How could this happen to me.... how could this happen to me?"
At this point, you've got what you've got, and the only thing that remains within your power to change is you. You are faced with some questions. Is adaptation to these strenuous circumstances feasible? What can you do to change yourself in order to be more compatible with this unappealing life? Are you going to rise to the challenge, or are you going to submit to your circumstances? Can you be happy living a life that is so far from what you ever wanted? Is happiness even within your grasp anymore? How will you cope with your great loss? What will you do now?
Note: Regardless of how you choose to adjust to this tragedy or how you answer the above questions, if you open your eyes and look around you, you'll notice something important.The people in this "Land of Loss" are not native. Everyone is different. If you observe those around you, you'll see that they are also adapting. They may even seem to you as though they, much like you, have also arrived in a land they never intended to be in. They didn't land in paradise either. You have come from different places and from different lives, but you share something in common. You're all here together. Others have done what you are doing, or are currently doing it along with you, and there is strength in that.
The story ends here. How it finishes is unique to you and how you choose to live with your challenges and disappointments. I have thought about this analogy for some time now. Two parts of the story were especially important for me. One is that I can't change what has happened to me, and that the only thing within my power to change is myself. The second is that I'm surrounded by others whose lives have also progressed differently than they have planned. In other words, they didn't land in paradise either.
I made the latter realization over the last six or seven months, as I have been incredibly blessed with outreach. Outreach from people I know, and outreach from people that I've never met in my life. These people often tell me stories from their own lives and seek to show empathy and understanding. I've spoken with women who have lost their children to illness, couples who battle infertility, and individuals who struggle with mental and emotional disorders. Others speak of divorce, wayward children, or abuse within the home. The list of struggles is endless, and I've been taught important lessons by those who have confided in me. I inevitably leave feeling like I am not alone in my pain and grief.
Before my accident, even when I was going through extraordinarily difficult times, I thought that a normal life was a perfect life. I believed that the majority of people truly ended up in their planned paradise and that I was some anomaly. I thought that because some of my life dreams had been crushed, that I was one of the few unlucky ones. Then I broke my neck and received an outpouring of love and support. It was at this time and since that, through the blog letters, I have realized this very perspective-changing truth. A normal life is not a perfect life, a normal life is a hard life.
I have been astounded by the number of people around me who have been struggling without me having any idea. I believe that this is almost always the case! I believe that we often go unaware of the trials others are going through. I sometime imagine how it would be if we could easily see the worries and anxieties that those around us experience. I imagine that we would realize how similar we are, and how we much we could help each other.
Early in my recovery process, I had the decision to either keep my experiences to very close friends and family members, or to share them openly. I (obviously) decided to take the vulnerable route, and knew that I may consequently be perceived as weak, emotional, needy, or hungry for attention. I have been surprised by the positive reaction that has occurred as a consequence of my decision to be real.
When speaking of this with a dear friend, she said, "It takes a strong person to be able to share the rawness and depth of true emotion. We all feel it, but we don't often share it and by our not sharing it we create a facade of perfectionism that does't really exist and in the end hurts us." How can we receive help if we never have the courage to make our concerns and worries known to another? And it does take courage among other things, including trust. I have realized that there is always a risk in vulnerability. I can't say that I've had strictly positive experiences in opening up, but I have found that for me personally, it's nearly always been worth the risk. I have been humbled and genuinely surprised by the kind response that I receive from others, and always find that they are grateful for being a trusted source. More often than not, these trusted individuals also confide in me in return.
I just heard my own voice ask, "Why are you writing about this??". I'll answer my own question. I'm writing about this because life is hard, and for the longest time I thought that I was the only one who was living with pieces of a ruined life. I'm writing this because I realize that we are linked together not just by our humanity, but through our suffering as well, and because I see that there is great potential strength available to us if we have the courage to discard the "facade of perfectionism". I'm grateful for those who have helped me to survive my own hardships in life, and mean it when I say they have been lifesavers. I didn't land in paradise, but it seems the more I realize what is still within my power, and how many loving people are around me, just trying to get through like I am, the more my cold winds give to warmth, and the more my dark skies give to the sunshine.