A woman came up to me in Starbucks the other day. She smiled and asked, Are you Codi? The sarcastic side of me always wants to respond with Was it the glasses that gave me away? But as my husband has pointed out, people may not see the humour and instead simply think I’m an asshole. So I smiled—mostly at her, but partly because of my husband’s lecture running through my head—and I said hello.
I follow you on Facebook and read your blog. I sent you a message when you were newly injured. I thanked her as she fumbled with her phone and I—as I always do—struggled to say something more than thank-you and wished for the millionth time that words came to me in conversation as easily as they do when I’m alone in front of my computer. Then she showed me a photo on her phone. It was her dad. He is 90 years old and has been paralyzed since she was a baby.
If it’s possible, I became even less eloquent and began relying heavily on my million-dollar smile (I mean, that’s what my mom calls it). She told me a bit about her dad and we parted ways. I can’t remember much of what she said because my mind was grappling to reconcile how I felt about the photo of her dad, aging with paralysis and the emotions I would have had when I received her message shortly after my accident—my brain went into hyperdrive
If she had messaged me early on, I didn’t remember. I didn’t remember because when I was newly paralyzed, I didn’t want to hear stories of people who lived a life with paralysis. I would respond politely and then block it from my mind. In the beginning, I wasn’t motivated by seeing how others overcame our common obstacle. I needed to face it head on for myself and my family—not because other people had already done it and I should follow suit. I needed to discover it for myself and not second-hand. I didn’t need to see people thriving while I was suffering. It probably didn’t help that I messaged a well-known quadraplegic in the very raw, early moments of my recovery and her response was You’re a low-level para. You’ll be fine. She was right. But it wasn’t helpful advice—it was discouraging.
In addition to that, as I’ve written about before here, aging with paralysis is a difficult topic for me and the thought of aging with it while still so early in my recovery, was not somewhere I could even let my mind go.
Fast forward to today and I find it empowering to draw strength from other SCI survivors and my thoughts around aging aren’t all doom and gloom. So even though my conversation with this woman couldn’t have been more than two-minutes long, it left me with so much to think about.
I took my coffee and went back to my car with that ache you get in the back of your throat when tears are close to the surface but you don’t have time for them. I didn’t want to cry. I couldn’t even fully comprehend what I was feeling so the thought of crying about it seemed ridiculous. And while I couldn’t remember much of what this woman said to me during our very brief encounter, there were two big things I was left with. The first was how proud this woman was of her dad and how much love she clearly had for him. The second was that photo. Having only seen it for a few seconds, it was etched in my thoughts. And while it represented so much of what scared me about aging, I realized, it didn’t bring me anxiety because he was still cared for; he was still admired.
I went home and found the message she had sent me almost three years ago. I read it and re-read it—it sounded familiar. It was like a story unlocked from that place in my brain where I file things I am not ready to hear. Even in that first message, you could sense her pride and love for her dad. Just like our conversation, the message wasn’t long, but it left me with so much to process.
After sitting on all of this for a few days I was finally able to sort through it. While it brought up so much for me from the feelings I had in early recovery to aging, my biggest takeaway from this entire exchange was gratitude. Gratitude to her for sharing this piece of her life with me and for reminding me of something truly important. That is, it’s not our differences and our adversities that matter—it’s how we live our lives despite all of the reasons we believe we are not good enough.
If I make it to ninety, I can only hope my children will show my photo and tell my story with the pride and love that I witnessed in this woman who I met so briefly. I hope they remember that I showed up for them. I hope they remember me putting on the damn bathing suit and getting in the pool or getting piggybacked up to row 5 at the dance recitals because they hated when they could see me at the front. I hope they rememeber that I always tried.
Sharing your story isn’t always easy. And the reaction you get may not be what you were hoping for. I imagine this woman didn’t leave our Starbucks exchange knowing what an impact she had made on me because—from what I remember—I mostly just smiled. But she left me with immense gratitude. So thank-you kind stranger in Starbucks. You sparked reflection and growth in me this week. You just never know how or when you might reach somebody.
As you get older the body is less forgiving … things like osteoporosis, thinning skin , slower to heal can all become worse issues with age so make sure you stay on top of your bone density, infections , pressure areas etc … I am 67.. go to the gym at least twice a week and live a full life but lately some of those mentioned issues have become a bit of a problem which is upsetting… and a bit scary!!!!
Totally. We can only do our best and keep on top of it all. I hope you are well
A great post, Codi. We all worry about ageing but the fact that we get there is a positive thing for those around us. Your kids may never acknowledge to you that you went up those 5 rows but take it from one who has bummed up steps to watch my daughter in a show or who has pushed around 18 holes to watch my son play golf, they never talk about it happening but they know it did. Even more important is the fact that I know that l did it for them. So you keep doing what you’re doing but most of all, you keep smiling because it is beautiful and infectious and will inspire your kids to continue wanting you to go that extra push for them when they see how determined you are!
Thank you! I don’t think I expect them to ever really mention it but for it to just be built in to how they feel about me. Does that make sense?
Codi, you will find that as they get older, the chair will not be an issue because, sorry to disappoint you but, you will just be mom. It was different for me because I was in the chair before my 2 were born so it was always there. They are in their 20s now and they tell me that the chair was never something they thought about. The reason for that I guess is cos, like you are doing, I always pushed myself to be involved in the stuff they were doing, whether it was in sport, drama, music etc. I guess I saw myself competing with the ablebodied parents and I wanted to be as good if not better than them. The thing is, I was always doing more that any of them were doing anyways, because I was secretary of the football club, coaching the kids teams, chairperson of the Parents Committee, Chairman of the School Board of Management as well as having my own sports career (I played Wheelchair Rugby, captained, coached and managed at international level) while a lot of other parents did nothing.
So Codi you will find that all you can do is your best and guess what, your best will do just fine. Your kids will take pride from seeing their parents having a loving relationship, their mom being an online “geek”, helping others, going to the gym, keeping fit, doing activities with them and being an attractive woman, even in her “damn bathing suit”. But most of all they will remember that their mom showed up for them, the loving person that is their mom and not a person who would be defined by the chair. Bring them to Theme Parks where the chair gets them to the front of the queues. My daughter was away at a theme park last year in Asia with her friends when she said that she missed me. Well there was the usual “Awwwws” and “oohhhh that is so sweet” from her mates but she just said “would ye stop, if he was here we could skip this long queue!”
And while you are achieving all this don’t forget that it is ok and very acceptable to cry. Sometimes it’s good for the soul!
What a moving story. Thanks for sharing it so eloquently.