In my youth, I complained a lot about life’s slow pace. Summers took too long to come and school years took too long to go. I wanted to transport through time to that magical place called "being grown." After all, I had been told that I thought I was grown (but not as a compliment).
My eyes were so focused on the future, I couldn’t see what life was trying to teach me in the present moments.
But time and lived experience--what some call earned wisdom--have since taught me the value of NOW and how much there is to learn when we give attention to the moments that make up our days. Life itself is the teacher, all of it: pleasant and unpleasant, good and bad, the ease and dis-ease.
As I write this, I am experiencing the toughest physical challenge of my life. This challenge has altered nearly every aspect of my life, including one of my greatest joys: my ability to write. In learning to cope physically, I’m also relearning the importance and meaning of what I do with each moment and a new appreciation for the gift of being able to accomplish things I once took for granted.
Two years ago, the vision in my left eye blurred seemingly overnight. I figured it might be a cataract. The doctor’s exam confirmed cataracts in both eyes. I had the cataract removed from the left eye first, with the intention of having the right eye done a few months later. But the surgery didn’t help. After a series of post-op exams and additional surgery on the same eye, I was sent to a neurologist specializing in eye health. They determined that something in my brain had impacted my optic nerves in that eye.
Over the next months, my eyesight gradually diminished and daily, almost-continuous head pain and dizziness commenced. Eventually I would find a neurologist, but it took months. This discovery came in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic. By the time I saw a neurologist, my eyesight had gotten much worse. I could no longer see well enough to drive. The diagnosis arrived with lots of unknowns. To put it in non-medical speak, somehow my spine sprung leaks that caused a reduction in the amount of fluid around my brain, causing it to reposition, the stress of which caused damage to my optic nerves. Damage for which the physicians have no treatment. I am left with what is called Low Vision.
As a result, my other great love, reading, diminished and is now very difficult, a fact that is hard to bear for a book lover like me. I’ve had an extensive library of audiobooks for many years, but for me there is nothing like holding a book and reading from its pages. Despite the feeling of loss and the intensity of this challenge, I believe that this will be the year that I will see fully again. That I’m able to write these words, slowly on my computer, tells me that everything is possible. I can’t imagine or accept that this is the way that I must live the rest of my life. This isn’t just wishful thinking: it's a deep faith. God has entrusted me with something and I’m getting more of a sense of what it is. That’s what faith means: a willingness to trust beyond what can be seen or humanly explained. This is a part of my journey and the knowledge I’ve gained I can barely put into words.
This isn’t the first time my health has challenged me. About 18 years ago, I worked for a private foundation and had recently returned from completing some work in Sub-Saharan Africa. I was scheduled to return with the rest of the team in about 6-8 weeks. I was sitting at my home computer when I noticed a weird pain in my right elbow. Over the next few weeks, it would intensify and spread to every joint in my body. All travel expenses had been paid and I was excited about returning to the continent and visiting the place where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. I packed in anticipation, determined not to let whatever that condition was stop me.
As the date of our departure got closer, the condition worsened. Pain relievers stopped working and I was not able to sleep. Despite protests from my family, I was still going, but I had a feeling that the 20+ hour flight and the other stresses that come with travel would be difficult to navigate. I felt like I needed someone to help me un-dig my heels. Then my pastor called me.
I don’t remember what she said to me. But in her warm, loving way, she convinced me that it was best for me to sit this trip out and see to my health. I am so glad I heeded her advice. Over the next days, everything hurt. My hands swelled and became disfigured to the point that I couldn’t drive. Doctors had me tested for some of everything but could not find the cause. I had all the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and some other diseases. Because there was no diagnosis and I had recently traveled out of the country, the CDC got involved. It would take nine months to come through it all. The doctors never determined the cause. I know it was Divine intervention that got me through it.
Back then, I didn’t write with the intention of sharing. But writing has been important to me since childhood when I got my first diary from the SS Kresge store. Then and now, I journal only for my own expression and reflection. It was so difficult to even hold the pen to write because of the physical pain and condition of my hands. But the mental angst that came with experiencing my body’s steady decline added a different kind of pain. Despite it all, I managed to write sparingly. It always helped.
And once again, perhaps more than ever, writing is healing for me. When I started writing for Thrive Detroit, I kept a notebook to handwrite thoughts, outlines, and ideas for articles. Eventually I would select one and take to my computer to type it out. Now, I’ve had to learn to hold the thoughts in my head and heart and write them as I hit the keys. The entries in my journals are from my heart, from that place within us that seems to be secret unless we decide to share it. Writing for the street paper or any other public forum was mostly from the head, that place of logic and knowledge that is already public. There is a place for both. But sharing publicly from the heart is a place of vulnerability minus the fear of rejection.
Now, I pause to allow thoughts and ideas to emerge, and I work on one article or essay at a time. These days when I write, I am in the moment, in the now. Although I have a slower pace, some benefits are surfacing, too. I’m happy I can see them as gifts even as I await the return of my full eyesight. I don’t have the distractions that I entertained previously. I find that the things that I can’t do for now didn’t deserve the level of time and attention that I was giving them. Rather than pausing from writing to do something previously seen as important, I sit back in my chair, close my eyes, and wait until I can continue to write. I stay in the seat. I allow life to teach and guide, as always, but without my resistance or need to control what is truly beyond me.
When I think about my full vision coming back, I feel an inexplicable peace and I promise myself not to lose the lessons of now. Lessons like seeing the value in taking time to do one thing at a time and that multitasking is indeed a big myth.
My relationships with my family and loved ones have grown into something that I couldn't have imagined. I loved them before, and I knew they loved me, but this has afforded us all the opportunity to take the act of love into another dimension, and we'll never lose it. I have a deep appreciation for the people in my life. I see their love in action every day. When I think about my full sight returning, I think of the joy that it will bring them. They are right here with me, accompanying me and learning. We are all learning.
I'll keep writing, as well, because I know that’s what I’m meant to do. My writing is no longer just for me and that is why I still write. Meaningful contribution is one of my core values and it’s never felt more real than it does right now. I've learned not to come solely out of the headspace. I'm no longer afraid of sharing from my heart no matter how long it takes to free the words and put them down. The heart space is how we reach each other; that's where our spirits connect, that's how we grow. This is indeed an adventure.
I don’t know the end of this story. Whatever it is, I hope I’ll always be able to say: I’m still writing. By faith, with full heart, I believe.