“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
In spirit of Thanksgiving, I’ve decided to write a post of thanks. This one isn’t going to be theoretical or academic, but rather a long overdue thanks to those who have helped me over the years. You see, living with a disability often means time complaining about your body or time in the hospital, or time when you’re wrapped up in your physical Self for a bit. We all have moments when we become more self-absorbed than we should be, when we talk about ourselves a little too much, or ask a lot from friends, and I think we also forget to say thanks.
I’ve been wrapped in my Self a lot the past three years, as my body has been on a new, and not-so-secret, mission to get me down lately. My ankle has been bad for a long time, but it’s one of those things I can’t do anything about, and so it has become a silent, gnawing part of my day. But, I thought that my knee surgery in 2007 was going to be it for a while, I really, naively, did. However, my left shoulder gave out in 2012, and it’s been downhill from there. I’ve had two major surgeries in a year, and now my back hates me. My other ankle is chiming in as well. Good times.
Since then, I’ve called on friends and family, and they have risen to the challenge. They have listened while I’ve cried about feeling as though I am in my 30s but live in a 70-year-old body. They’ve listened while I wonder how much longer my body can take my 150-mile roundtrip commute. They’ve listened as I fearfully ponder what new challenges my body will throw at me as I age. They’ve babysat me after surgery, brought food, and took time out of their own lives to bring me laughter and support. For this, I thank all of you who have been on the other end of my diatribes and sobbing. I probably don’t say thanks enough, or at all. Thank you.
I have to give some shoutouts to specific people:
“I sustain myself with the love of family.” ― Maya Angelou
First, my husband. It’s a cliché, I know, but he’s my rock. He lets me cry and feel sorry for myself when I need to, but he also tells me to suck it up and keep my body in good shape. Though I would prefer to drown my sorrows in gooey chocolate, he encourages me to eat healthily and exercise. He’s a coach and a cheerleader. He’s got my back. He is the best teammate a person could have. I know it’s not easy to watch me on my bad days; no one likes to see someone they love in pain. Unfortunately, he has to do it more often than I do. He’s got the most comfortable shoulder to cry on, and his hugs are the best. There’s palpable compassion, love, and strength in them. Simply the best.
My mom. Oh my, I cannot even think where to begin. She was my biggest advocate as I was growing up. She fought with schools and teachers, jeopardized her job for time off, and dragged me to doctor after doctor. She taught me to speak up for myself when I was an angsty teenager who wanted to blend in. She’s also been there for the surgeries… so many surgeries. For my first shoulder surgery, she came to stay for 7 weeks. Yes, she left my lovely dad and her two dogs, four states away, to do the things moms do best. Parents never stop caring for their children, and I know each new medical challenge that arises pains her heart. I’m sure it’s not easy.
My dad. My dad is a dork and keeps me laughing. He’s taught me to not always take myself so seriously. If you can’t tell a stupid joke and laugh, then what’s the point? My dad is a “trucker,” and I don’t mean he drives a truck; he keeps truckin’ on. What an example! I grew up with him as the epitome of the American work ethic. He worked for the same company as long as I can remember, until I was in grad school. His loyalty and commitment taught me to keep on in my own pursuits: at school, at work, and with my disability.
My brother. I’m sure it wasn’t easy having a kid sister with a disability, a sister who got all kinds of attention during surgeries and procedures, and the days out of school for doctor’s appointments and x-rays must have seemed totally unjust. The teenage years are always rough on the psyche, and who knows how my medical issues played a role in that. I hope not too much. We haven’t really talked about it. Maybe we should. My big brother is a thinker, and sometimes he surprises me with a gem of an observation about something I’m going through, and it means a lot, that thinking about me.
My in-laws. All of them. I suppose that it’s unhip to love your in-laws, but I do. From J’s parents to his brother and his wife and daughter, to the aunts and uncles and cousins. They are all so supportive, like blood relations. J’s mom has spent weeks here helping out during surgery, and right now when my back is acting up, she’s done the cooking and the driving that I can’t do easily at the moment. J’s dad is running around Chennai checking into alternative therapies, calling and boosting morale; in fact, everyone calls and checks in. I feel like family.
“She is a friend of mind. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order. It’s good, you know, when you got a woman who is a friend of your mind.” ― Toni Morrison
My friend C. She’s amazing, and I don’t think she knows how much. She stayed with me a week after my first shoulder surgery, and she rocked it. She cooked the best food and just sat next to me, quietly reading, while I slept the sleep of the drugged. She saw the worst parts of surgery. I’m a vomiter. I vomit from pain pills, from anesthesia, from migraines. She was there for the vomit, the worst of the pain, the most helpless phase. She was awesome. She continues to be awesome. We talk every week, and I probably monopolize the conversation as I delineate my latest bodily complaints. I need to listen to her more. She’s got a lot going on herself, and I am trying to make the effort to be the kind of friend she has been to me. She’s new to academia, so she’s forgotten how wicked smart she is. Academia has a way of doing that. So, I’m telling her here: you’re wicked smart, caring, thoughtful: quelqu’un de bien.
My other friend C. I think she’s psychic. She somehow knows when to text or call. We also have the most odd maladies two people could have. She’s the person with whom I can complain and laugh in the same breath. Together, we are Murphy’s law: if it can happen, it will happen. She also keeps me reading, which is essential. I’ve always followed C.S. Lewis’ thoughts on this subject: “We read to know we’re not alone.” Reading keeps me out of my Self, concentrating on worlds of images and ideas. Plus, it keeps me and C connected even through spells of silence. There’s something lovely about reading something, knowing that the other person is reading it too. I’ll see a passage and think, “I wonder what C thought of this, or if she’s read that part yet.” Sometimes we text about it. It’s our way of keeping in contact. It’s weird, but we’re always in contact, even when we’re not, and that’s a comfort.
My friend D. This lady here let me stay at her apartment twice a week all last academic year so the commute wouldn’t be so tough on my body. We enjoyed talks, cards, and wine (medicinally, of course). Friendship, in a nutshell.
My FB friends. A lot can be said about the dangers of over-cyber-connectivity, but I do think it has a the potential to create a strong and vast support network. No, we aren’t going through the same things, but reading about people’s everyday struggles, and big struggles, puts life into perspective. We’ve all got stuff: good stuff, funny stuff, sad stuff. I like reading the stuff. Also, it was my FB community who forced me into writing this (very cathartic) blog. How could that be bad.
Happy Thanksgiving, and thanks for being there. You make me happy!