I’m not good at remembering birthdays, maiden names, anniversaries of any sort, and sometimes what I ate yesterday. Even things I feel I could never forget, not in a million years, tend to slip my mind.
I write today to confess that I have forgotten an important anniversary in my own life, a date that I swore to honor every year for as long as I had breath in my lungs.
For those readers who are not familiar with my journey, on May 29th, 2007 I had major back surgery to remove a benign tumor that had been growing for possibly a decade inside my spinal cord. The surgery to remove it was successful, but it left me paralyzed for an amount of time that my neurosurgeon said could possibly last the rest of my life.
Luckily, it didn’t last the rest of my life — ya’ll have seen me using two legs — but the window of time that included paralysis from my chest down was life-altering. The months spent in the hospital and the ensuing years of rehabilitative efforts were similarly life-changing. It was a transformative experience that not only reminded me to be grateful every day for the gift of mobility and independence, but one that reinvigorated the passion of living life to the fullest. I promised myself then that I would no longer limit myself based on fears, social norms, or any other form of perceived physical or societal limitation.
This is why I do what I do. We’re all familiar with the stories of mid-life crises that involve a high-powered exec or other mid-life professional dropping the cash and career in favor of extended travel, or starting their own business, or enacting that personal goal that had lain dormant for decades. What I took away from my experience is that life is meant to be lived now.
I do not want to nor will I wait until I am 40-something with too many years of unfulfilling income-earning behind me, with a host of material possessions to prove an ambiguous degree of “success in life”.
As homage to the neurosurgeon who saved my life — he resolved the excruciating pain of my daily existence, a pain that I’m embarrassed to say would have led to me taking things into my own hands down the road — and also reinvigorated my life, I bring him photos from my travels whenever we have a follow-up appointment. I tell him, “This is possible because of you.” I’m not sure I can ever thank him enough.
I believe we are all capable of living our dreams, and choosing our dreams. What I strive to avoid is falling into the trap of living a life that I haven’t chosen. Following a path that someone else decided was right for “someone my age”, “someone like me”, or “a successful twenty-something”.
I consider myself lucky and blessed in too many ways to count. And one of the best experiences of my life was going through the agony, trauma, pain and challenge of back surgery, losing my ability to walk, and then fighting to get that back. Not just the ability to use my own two legs, but the ability to live my life as I imagine it.
This is why I am here. This is why I have embarked on many trips, why I do things differently than maybe what parental figures might suggest for their children, why I won’t stop doing this until I absolutely cannot continue any longer.
Life is meant to be lived now. Look around and ask yourself if where you are and what you’re doing is truly what you want to be doing. If so, congratulations, and keep doing it! And if not, the first step of an exciting new journey can begin at exactly this moment.