And still we stand

Posted by Dr. Dan Gottlieb in Life After Paralysis on June 03, 2019 # Health

The wind was blowing 25 mph with gusts much higher

I sit in the garage in my motorized wheelchair so that my fragile body is protected from the cold winds. I take a deep inhalation and feel that powerful fresh air fill my hungry lungs. I'm cold, but I sit there anyway, awestruck by what I am seeing in front of me.

The slender trees that appear so vulnerable, bent deeply in the wind gusts as though yielding to the wind's power. And when the wind dies down, they stand again. Despite the adversity they have endured, they stand.

The larger more powerful ones stand beautifully, almost defiantly erect. And yet their more fragile branches break in the higher gusts and sometimes even the stronger branches snap and fall. The sound frightened me as though danger is nearby.

Despite what those trees have lost, they stand. Every tree has scars and knots, evidence of what they have lost over their lifetime and somehow those scars are what makes them so beautiful... And still, they stand.

And yet some don’t stand. Weakened by disease over many years, they no longer have the strength to stand against adversity.

Despite all of this wind, no leaves fall. It's almost as though the trees were not going to give up their babies.

My oldest childhood friend, Ellen, lives in California near Big Sur, and several years ago took me to see the Redwoods. They were literally jaw-dropping; I felt small and humbled in the presence of their magnificence. And I learned from Ellen that even though they’re such large trees, they have very shallow root systems.

“How do they stand?” I asked her. She explained to me that they stand by growing in clusters and interlocking their roots. That’s where their strength comes from: each other.

40 years ago I was in a car accident that caused my quadriplegia. The accident was about 90 minutes from South Jersey where I live. Anyway, the only thing I remember from those moments was when the first person came to the car I said: "please tell everybody I know to get here right away." And then, after asking for my root system, I lost consciousness for several hours and lost awareness for several days.

Over the last 40 years, I have come near death more times than I can count.

I've had illness and more illness. Bedsores, sepsis, infected equipment in my spinal cord and more.

Like those slender trees, I have bent in the face of this adversity. I have become severely depressed, felt despair and hopelessness and feelings of not wanting to go on anymore.

Like those larger trees, I have lost branch upon a branch, significant parts of who I thought I was.

And still, I “stand” (okay, not a perfect metaphor for a quadriplegic). But I am here breathing and living and loving and laughing and crying and grateful. And suffering.

And like the redwoods, when I called for everyone I knew to help me, they responded. My daughters have been holding me for the last 15 years when things started to get worse. But their presence and their love and my love for them has held me from the time they were babies. For the last 10 years, Joan and her daughters have been in my life. Joan has enabled me to feel love and security in ways I never thought I could have experienced. All of my friends, who, hold me with their love. This, not to mention the many people I love. That love sustains my life.

As I sit in my garage, I'm fully aware that I am like those trees that do not survive. I understand that one day, likely not too far away, that wind will knock me down.

And that knowledge makes it easier to love fearlessly.

Despite all I’ve been through and will go through, today I still stand.

And despite what we all have been through, we all still. “stand.”

How lucky we are to be part of this story.