All of us know, at least in an abstract sort of way, that our life's trajectory can change in a moment. We march along with a compelling mix of poignant and prosaic experiences and challenges, perhaps with a false sense of security that what we have planned for the near and long term will, indeed, come to fruition. Alas, as so many of us discover, the best laid plans can be dashed in a heartbeat. The accident no one saw coming. The job that ends abruptly. The relationship that sours because of one impertinent, poorly timed comment. Or the harrowing medical crisis. Often we have limited control over the arrival of these sharp detours. But, as we hear from Michael and Carolyn Obel-Omia, sometimes we have powerful control over how we respond.
Today, I’m lucky. I can walk under ladders. Two years ago, Saturday, May 21, 2016, I had a stroke. Okay, not so lucky, but I am okay, I am doing more than I imagined possible, I can improve, and I feel lucky. I really do.
In May 2016, my wife, my children, and my in-laws visited me during my extended stay in Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital for 37 days. I was disconsolate, I was in pain. I couldn’t walk, my arms didn’t work, my slur was hard to hear. One evening, on day 35 of my stay, I called Carolyn, my beloved wife, and cried and cried: “Please take me home, Carolyn, please, take me home.” I was anxious: “Who would have my job, who would have my work, who would want me?"
Words whirled before my eyes, but I couldn’t find them: I could think of every single word, but I slurred the ones that came out of my mouth. They felt like thick, sticky maple syrup. I thought, “I’m drowning here, people!” All I heard in response was, “You can do it!” I hated it. I was depressed, really depressed.
But, I’m lucky, I really am: My friend Chris pushed and pushed me in Tai Chi, until I could hold my arm up. I had hundreds and hundreds of people behind me, so, I had to make it. I cried, and I persisted. This I believe: When someone faces a black hole, someone, anyone, can be okay if he is not alone. I am okay because I’m surrounded by love, support, and endless encouragement.
A quotation from the author Zig Ziglar speaks to me: “FEAR, forget everything and run, or FEAR, face everything and rise; the choice is yours.” I cycle thrice a week for 60 miles, I rowed for six months with East Bay Rowing, I competed in a rowing challenge, and I tried, and then I tried some more. It was great. I work with occupational therapists, speech therapists, and I participate in the University of Rhode Island Book Club. I won’t give up. I face everything and rise. The choice is mine.
Tomorrow will be an exciting day. I don’t know what it will bring, but this I believe: It will be a lucky one.
Michael and Carolyn Obel-Omia, both seasoned educators, live with their family in Barrington.