Thursday, March 19, 2020

Last of the Sidetracked

3/3 CONTINUED : I wrote this piece for a lovely little journal called Sidetracked.  It contains  incredible stories and beautiful photos of adventures, culture and experiences around the world.  Get the June 2019 issue and you'll see the full story.


My healing process mirrors this Earthly cycle. Grief floats through the raging rapids, sinking in, jolting into boulders, dragging across shallow bottoms, all while trying to maintain an airway as it jostles across the unforeseen landscape in one piece. 

I am still whole. 

I vaguely remember waking behind Texas Flake. Josie, my climbing partner, rappelled down to me. I was face down. I’d been unconscious, strewn amongst boulders. My head was bleeding. Josie rolled me over and I came to. Excruciating pain was vivid then, even though now it is a vague memory. I can’t feel my legs, I told Josie. She worked in Yosemite on their Search and Rescue team, and initiated the rescue by cell phone. Swiftly, a YOSAR helicopter flew two rescuers out to just below Josie and I. It was a delicate procedure given the sheer granite face, unpredictable winds, tiny ledges, and  virtually no room for error. 

That notion, ‘no room for error’ – I could marinate in that for hours. I already have. I worked as a climbing ranger in Rocky Mountain National Park, similar duties and job function as those then tasked with rescuing me. I hiked around every day on the job communicating preventative safety measures with recreational visitors to the backcountry. Our crew was intended to be always available and in high-functioning physical and mental shape. Ready to bust up trail at any hour, after any exercise we might have already done, to help those with a medical emergency, wherever they may be in the Park. I coveted the daily interactions with people and the wilderness. How lucky I was to marry them both as my job. 

While I evolve into acceptance, I strive to find joy and purpose. My life was brimming with it before. Before I was paralysed. Now, my brain is also paralysed at times, stuck on the spinning narratives of the past. Wishing I could run across crisp mountain summits and red desert trails. I long for a time when I can feel if my bladder is full or enjoy a slap on my backside. Golly, how about feeling an orgasm! I make bargains: for my injury to be one vertebrae lower, so I might have the use of my quadriceps and the ability to just stand up without clunky archaic full-leg braces that make me think of Forrest Gump. I have yelled at myself in private moments: 'What the fuck were you doing? Why didn’t you pay attention? Why were you even there?

The irony. The girl who couldn’t sit still.

As the seasons change the river changes her voice. Summer grows and she becomes loud and obnoxious.  Maybe she is scared as her waters spill over the bank. Fall evolves into winter and the chatter of the river quiets, its danger simmers. Fall brings romance and delicateness. Yellow leaves float down her curves. In winter, she freezes, perhaps flowing quietly under the ice. Unknowable hazards lurk there. Spring returns and she begins to swell, bellowing her growth. Year after year,  this process continues, like the process of grief. It may seem to have calmed down; I may seem to be ‘crushing life’ because I have this archaic device that allows me ‘freedom' of movement. I sit. My legs burn. While I am constantly in physical pain, my mental pain is more like the river. It ebbs and flows. Sometimes loudly exclaiming my sorrow; sometimes believing I am safe to walk across the ice in the winter only to find my foot slips in and I am back in the river’s darkness.  
Maybe I am crying with sadness.  Maybe I am yelling with anger.  Maybe I am bargaining, trying to get my damn foot out of the river, for one more muscle to work.  Maybe I am watching the yellow aspen leaves charily floating along as I soak in beautiful fall sunlight and warmth. This will continue for the rest of my life. As the river continues to flow for eternity. As the burble in my head calms, I have more time to ponder Me. Who was I? Who am I now? Who do I want to be? When we have experienced our own death, or something like it, how do we move forward in our unexpected rebirth?  

I am still a mover. I want to move my body, move my legs. My lower half will most likely never move again, without the help of science, research, awareness, the compassion of strangers.  I still can't sit still, taking part in a new movement, a new way to move my body but also new way to advocate for something sitting in my own lap.   Maybe, it was never the need to quell the body through physical endeavours, as I thought, I was perpetually seeking the straightest line, thinking that was the most efficient path in the mountains, in my work environment, in my relationships.  I was focusing on the wrong system, the wrong shape.  I was confused in my previous life, perceiving most circumstances in a linear way.  Perhaps true access to that quiet mental space and focus, is to also spend some time in the chaos of the mind.  After all the insecurities of my body stem from the insecurities in my mind. In this new life, a balance better serves the goal of full body appreciation.  

The shape of life.

The Earth continues to orbit the sun. The river flows downstream, ebbing and rushing, twisting and turning, but water fills its banks through the subtle process of freezing and melting. The river cycles from land to sky, feeding new life, helping the natural process of decay and renewal; carving new paths, fuelling the evolution of rebirth and death for eternity.  This circle is full, all encompassing of emotion and experience.  I am still on this earth and participating in the continuous cycle.  I continue to breathe. I am changed, carving a new path but my head and my heart like this Earth, are still full, colourful, and rounded.

1 comment:

Mitch said...

You express your emotions with beauty and grace so coherently that I can feel your anger, frustration, pain, hope, love and acceptance. You will find your new place and purpose and I believe with God’s grace you will walk again.

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