No, This is Not the End

"Gratitude," by Peter Gearhart, via under Creative Commons 2.0 license
"Gratitude," by Peter Gearhart, via under Creative Commons 2.0 license

“No, this is not the end

Nor is it the beginning of the end.

But it is perhaps the end of the beginning”

Winston Churchill 1943

That was the inscription on my high school yearbook in 1964, several months after the assassination of JFK. And I wondered if that was the “end of the beginning” for me. I certainly thought so at the time. But in hindsight it was not.

So what was the end of the beginning for me? Was it when I was sexually abused by my 7th grade teacher? Maybe it was when I got married, had children and bought a house. Then again perhaps it was when I started my first job as a psychologist.

No, it was Dec. 20, 1979 when one life ended and another began. That was when I took my last steps as I said goodbye to my wife and daughters and walked from the house to my car. A house that I would never see the inside of again. Two hours later I was a quadriplegic.

 Every year people ask what these anniversaries are like for me. Every year they are different. Some years are painful and some years are joyous and some years the anniversary just happens without a whole lot of emotion attached.

Not so this year. This year I feel tenderhearted love and gratitude. And I also feel very sad this year . Shortly after my accident, someone from my treatment team told me that the life expectancy of a quadriplegic back then was about 14 years. I don’t know whether that was statistically accurate, but I do know that the life expectancy is a hell of a lot shorter than 43 years!

Of course my life is sometimes difficult. And some days extremely difficult. And those days seem to be increasing in number, but that’s the case for all of us as we age. Nevertheless despite the difficulties, I am so very grateful to be alive, to watch the seasons change, to have the ability to care for others and to have the great good fortune that others care for me,. I have a life filled with love which has contributed to my longevity, gratitude and humility.

When my grandson Sam was born my greatest wish was that I would live at least until he was 5 years old. Both of my grandfathers died when I was 4 years old and I don’t remember them. I wanted him to remember me. That’s why he and I would wander around his neighborhood looking for elephant poop. We never found any which means we never found any elephants. At least for another 10 years when I had a great good fortune to be able to travel with my family to South Africa where we really did see elephant poop and elephants. Now Sam is about to graduate college. To be honest, I have no words to describe how that makes me feel but every time I try, I cry.

And that sadness I referred to? It is pretty palpable today. I am starting to forget what it felt like to walk or dance. I can’t remember what it felt like to hold a baseball bat in my hands. That all feels like it was a dream. Mostly I’m sad because I love life so much.

I often quote the following Sufi saying: “when the heart weeps for what it’s lost, the soul rejoices for what it’s found.” And this has been the case for me for the last 43 years. I wept over the loss of my body and the loss of my life as I knew it. And then I discovered a new life, rich and textured. So now I weep that my days get more difficult. And I have faith that my soul will be open to new discoveries. I just hope the discoveries are more than hemorrhoids or prostate problems!

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