The Resiliency of the Human Spirit
This week, the Today Show has started a “Love Your Selfie” campaign. In this campaign, they talk about the things they love about themselves and the things they don’t like about themselves. Everything from cellulite, not-flat tummies, to too much hair or lack of hair…these are the things that people hate about themselves. There are those who struggled with their weight…from being too skinny to being overweight. Everyone struggles with their own self image every time they look in the mirror or try on a pair of pants.
After this last surgery, I realized my neck is never going to be the same. I usually wear big statement necklaces. These days, I don’t because my neck isn’t ready for it.
I have a cut that will eventually turn into a scar. For three months, I had no idea just how bad that scar would be. When I took off the bandages I realized just how great my surgeon was. She made sure to make the cut as small as possible and hard to see as time goes by. I see the cut when I look in the mirror. The only time anyone sees the cut is if they’re staring directly at my neck.
I tried to use skin creams to get rid of the scar, but I found I was allergic to the creams, so I decided to just let the scar heal on its own. It’s my battle wound to remind me of my new beginning in life.
I didn’t realize just how important that wound was until last night. I was on the phone with the insurance company because there was a problem with the hospital’s billing [ends up they've been submitting the claims to the wrong insurance company]. While I was on the phone, the agent said she noticed I had a biopsy. She asked if everything was okay.
In my experience with health insurance companies, they aren’t that nice. They’re mean and refuse to give you any information. It was using the word ‘biopsy’ that took me by surprise. My doctors made sure not to say that word, because most people think of cancer when that word is used. But I had a tumor removed and that is linked to cancer. It was the fourth tumor that was removed from my body within this last decade. Each tumor came with a ‘you could die’ notice from each doctor. They wouldn’t know until they opened me up and removed it.
Luckily, I survived each time. At the same time, those scars are a constant reminder that I will always have tumors. It’s just a matter of where and when.
I thought of that scar when the woman at the insurance company said the word ‘biopsy.’ I thought of how silly it was that I even cared there was a cut across my neck. That scar will forever be a reminder of survival.
I thought of what Angelina Jolie went through when she had a double mastectomy…yet, she pushes on, looking for signs of what gives her a reason to live. In an interview with Tom Brokaw she said that as she was looking for her next inspiration, she never knew that the answer lie right outside her window. You see, she came across a book called “Unbroken” and decided that she wanted to direct this movie. She battled with film executives to get this movie done. It was one of the hardest things she ever fought for.
She made storyboards, cutting and pasting the material onto the poster boards, loaded them into trash bags and took them in to pitch her idea. Eventually, Hollywood relented and let her make the film. When she asked if the man Louis Zamperini was still alive, they said he was…and he knew where she lived.
While that may sound a little creepy, it ends up that Zamperini was her neighbor. He could see her house from his window. Who knew that her most inspiring work would come from looking out her window and discovering that the man she would fight so hard to tell his story was her neighbor?
This story she’s fighting to tell is a story about the resiliency of human beings. When you think you are at the lowest point of your life, the human spirit is what keeps us going.
Zamperini was a long distance runner. He was in the 1936 Berlin Olympic games. He shook the hand of Hitler himself. He later went on to fight in WWII. His plane was shot down and he ended up in a Japanese POW camp.
He wasn’t expected to survive, yet at the age of 97, a young woman is taking his story and putting it on the big screen so that others will learn about the resiliency of the human spirit. She was making this film for her children, but it’s becoming a story for all.
Since I woke up in the hospital, I’ve felt that life was a little different. Most of my memories from life disappeared. What memories I have regained over these last few months I react to very differently than I did before. Those memories do not define me. They only explain why I feel a certain way about X situation. Memories of certain individuals are blocked and are not returning. People have been helping me to remember my stories…at least the ones I should remember. If I don’t like someone, I’m not told why, I’m told why it’s important I don’t forget to stay away from that person because they are bad news. I don’t question it. I just accept it, because that emotion is there and very real.
Even though those emotions are there, I’m not wallowing in the pain. I don’t remember the pain. I just remember there is an emotion I’m remembering. I need to embrace that emotion as the final truth in the situation and move forward, don’t wallow in it…just move forward.
Not getting those memories back is a godsend. I don’t want those memories to return. Now, I focus on short term memories and how to remember those. I may not remember what happened the day before or 15 minutes ago, but ask me in 2-3 weeks, and I’ll probably remember what I was trying to remember.
But I will say this…watching Jolie’s story this morning of how she was trying to figure out what step to take next in life, I knew exactly what she was talking about. I’ve been looking for a sign to show me which direction in life I needed to go. That sign came in the form of Daniel Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe.”
I was looking for a book at the library when this book just jumped right out at me. There was something about it pulling me towards it. I checked it out, not really knowing what the story was about beyond it being a classical literature piece.
After seeing Jolie’s story on Today this morning, I read this in Crusoe: “And let this stand as a direction from the experience of the most miserable of all conditions in this world, that we may always find in it something to comfort ourselves from and to set in the description of good and evil on the credit side of the account.”
What that means is that no matter how dire our situation, we can find both good and evil in it. On one side of the account we can list everything bad that’s happened, but at the same time, we can discover what good came from it.
It was after weighing his good/evil (i.e. pros/cons) in his situation that he was able to take measures into his own hands and create a better life for himself, despite the circumstances he was in.
That has been the reoccurring theme since the surgery. When I did my interview with Jaromir Jagr, he talked about how sometimes you think it’s bad someone is hurting you, but it’s actually for a good reason. I thought it was weird that he said it, because it was coming out of nowhere. I asked if he was saying this to me or in general. He said it was in general and then mentioned that God told him to say it.
But the way he said it was in the exact wording God speaks, so I think that was a lesson for me, because the theme keeps repeating itself again and again. First Jagr says it, Jolie talks about it, and now I read about it in Crusoe.
There’s a reason why I picked up Crusoe. In a way, Crusoe’s spirit is a lot like mine. He sought adventure in life all in an attempt to find his path in life…his destiny. Who knew his destiny would throw him on a deserted island?
This is all about the resiliency of the human spirit when it reaches it’s lowest point.
These days I try not to think about why I’m still here, but it always lingers in the back of my mind. There’s a purpose to why I’m on God’s borrowed time, I just can’t remember why that is.
Since last year’s episode of having to cancel all of my trips because of the tumor, I’m afraid to book anything. The expiration on my airline ticket was coming up, so I decided to book a trip in September to New Orleans.
I walk by the photos I took around the world over these past few years. I look at them each time and my breath is taken away. It always surprises me when I remind myself that I took those photos. This is who I am. This is Paris, Morocco, London, Prague, Switzerland, Italy, Ireland…these pictures are depictions of how I saw these places…how I saw love and beauty in a moment.
Yet, I look at those photos with sorrow in my heart because I’m not ready to go back out there again. I am not 100% out of the woods yet. I have another blood test next week. After next week, if all is clear, the next blood test is in July. I’d like to plan an elaborate trip jet setting all over the world, but part of me says…don’t book it yet. Don’t even plan it!
Yet, the reason why Robinson Crusoe called my name has everything to do with who I am and the adventures that lie ahead. I have an adventurous spirit. Symbolically, my adventures led me to an island, where despite living on an island with 8 million people, we are all inevitably alone. I came here to get lost in a sea of 8 million people…I came here to survive from that gruesome sea of torment in order to save myself.
The symbolism of the book is definitely there. Yet, the book is also calling to my adventurous side. Each day I look at those photos I took, I feel the pull to go to places these eyes have not yet seen, to meet the people I have yet to meet, to photograph the beauty of a moment I loved. You know…the place where I can stop and love just about everything that’s in that moment.
How many can tell stories of running hand in hand across the Sahara desert with a berber nomad as the moon lit their way? How many can tell the stories of gypsies praying for their safety because they sensed death following? How many can get away with photographing inside the Notre Dame after hours and the police say it’s okay…because they can see what you’re seeing through the lens…you’re photographing the beauty of the moment?
Those are the stories of my adventure through this life so far and I miss not being able to do that every single day. Instead, I remind myself why I am on this island…it’s to make due with what has happened and to do what I can to make things simpler for myself. That’s what the next paragraph in Crusoe is all about after he realizes that with every bad thing in life, something good can come out of it. It’s about understanding that and moving forward with life, making sure you are comfortable within your own limitations.
With Obamacare, I understand why it’s extremely important to stay out of Obamacare and make more than enough money so that I can have a health insurance that is carte blanche and covers everything, no questions asked. A tumor reminds me of why I stay on this island…access to some of the best doctors in the world…and my insurance pays for it. I understand why I stay on the island…because I’m happiest here. I’ve created a life that helps me to live comfortably and where I always know I will always have more than enough. That’s the life I set out to have. That’s exactly the life I got in return…a life that has more than enough.
Yet, I’ve changed so much of my life since 10/22. The way I look at everything is different. I save more money, I track my spending like a hawk. I check all of my finances 3x a day now. This diligence creates a karmic reaction…it attracts more money to me. I keep a jar for the splurges on a new wardrobe. I sold two rings I haven’t worn in over a decade a few weeks ago. I got more than I expected to get out of them, so I put it in the jar and looked at the money in that jar over an entire weekend.
It made me so happy to see that I got rid of some clutter and I got rid of something that had no meaning to me expect a memory of someone hurting me. What the rings symbolized was defiance and anger. I let it go, and the money I got in return made me happy.
Since that weekend of looking happily at the money in a jar, I got a check I wasn’t expecting in the mail, a generous raise and bonus, a sizable tax return (I totally didn’t think I would get one), a free breakfast, a free lunch, DirecTV sent me a movie certificate, I got a free movie ticket from Regal Entertainment, and because I watch movies all of the time, I got another $125 just for watching a movie. In a karmic sense, movies make me happy, so it’s no surprise I got rewarded generously for that love and happiness. Karmic energy is rewarding me with the things that make me happy.
How does one get rewarded like that? You go out and pursue true happiness.
All I’m doing with the money is saving it and paying off debts. Sure, the shopping bug has been biting, but I’ve been focusing on the things I have already and enjoying those things. If I spend money on anything…it’s on the things that either bring me happiness or happiness for others. An expensive gym membership? I don’t think of the cost, I think of the adventure I have access to. Sure, I can’t get there every day, but I know it’s available to me. It’s like my MoviePass, I know I can go see whatever movie I want, whenever I want, but I don’t go every single day. I’m just happy I have access to it.
It’s the same with getting a monthly train pass. I never bought one before until last December. After I discovered I could use it all of the time, even on the bus, it became so much easier for me to commute around without the added stress of running to get to the train station to buy a ticket before the train arrives.
I have basically, in a nut shell, made my life easier in every single way possible. I appreciate my body enough to know that this is what it is. It will always change as the years go by. I joined the gym so I could exercise again, but not as a chore. I go there for fun, not because I want to look like a supermodel. It’s available to me because I know my body needs to feel like a kid at times and play out on a playground. I get to watch the dogs in the dog park outside of the gym. I can watch the kids going to/from hockey practice. That’s all part of my playground.
The purpose of every single decision I’ve made since 10/22 all lies within the confines of happiness. I invest in the things that make me happy.
Yet, there is a distinction in that happiness. Before the surgery, I did a lot of shopping. A LOT! After the surgery, I didn’t remember what exactly I did. Actually, I was quite disappointed when I realized what I did to feel better.
I went through my closet with new eyes thanking myself for having such great taste in clothing and bags. I didn’t need to go shopping after that. I had more than enough…like to the point I can barely fit another piece of clothing in my closet or drawers. That clutter part is what disappointed me. I realized that I had supplied myself with more than enough of EVERYTHING to the point that I really didn’t need to shop.
When I do shop, I’m extra cautious with how much I’m spending. Before, I would get what I wanted, when I wanted it. Now, I have more than enough of what I need. But I’ll admit that the pink bug has bitten and I feel the urge to add a few things pink to my wardrobe, but trust me when I say I’ve budgeted myself. Instead of spending $1500, I’ve brought myself down to spending only $200. Why? Because what normal person spends $1500 on a shopping spree every season?
When my brother was visiting, I took him to Saks Fifth Avenue to buy him a belt. We looked at so many belts. He’d look at the price tag and tell me, “No, it’s too much.” We went on like this until I found a belt under $50 that he liked. He complained it was still too much, but we got it any way.
Being with him out shopping made me realize that my way of living is a bit astronomical in what I believe is normal for me. Even $200 is a lot of money for some people to spend on a shopping spree. I remember when $40 was way too much to spend.
Taking a lesson from my brother, I decided to scale back on how much money I spend. Instead, I focused on saving more money. When my total purchase came up to $35 at Marshalls one evening, I was shocked. I’ve never spent $35 at a store before. The final total is always around $100 no matter where I go. I’d never been so happy to spend so little money. It was going with that feeling that I decided to continue to only spend my money on what I need, and when I do, not to go overboard.
It’s finding happiness in money that I’ve also realized that’s the only true way I’m going to be happy with what I get out of life. It takes money to fund the great adventures in life. Once I can truly feel like I can move forward in spirit and take adventures around the world again, I’ll have the money squirreled away to do that.
After all, my retirement isn’t dreamed up as being in the US…it’s living in the South of France and having a place in Morocco where unwanted children can find a home and go to school.
I’m saving up for the adventure, but making sure that I make my life as easy as possible in every aspect…from money, to how I manage my days, to doing the things that will bring me happiness, and great, happy memories. That’s the life I’ve set out to pursue. It’s being happy with who I am and understanding what brings me true happiness that has helped me to discover what I plan on doing with the rest of this life.
I may not know exactly which step is the best step for me to take, but I am always open to the universe’s suggestions…even if that means reading Robinson Crusoe so that I can remember the type of person I am and why I am where I am today.
Finding out this morning how Angelina Jolie’s spirit post-op was a lot like mine, it helped me to realize that we can get through this…when it’s time, the universe will give us a new passion to pursue at all costs. We just have to follow the signs, and most times, the answer is just right outside our window. In the end, it’s all about how we gave back when God granted us more time.