Preface: This is the continuation of the previous chapter, "Bitter Sweet Moment of Surrender," which I published in June of 2021. I wrote this 2nd part at the same time, but due to my life taking a sudden turn, I was never able to get to publishing it until now, New Year's Day 2022. In Part 1, I posed the question, "Does everything happen for a reason?". This is Part 2 of that conversation, where I share my thoughts from the perspective of someone who has lived through a fair amount of hardship.
Last night, at about ten minutes to midnight, I tuned into SiriusXM's U2-X Radio station and happened upon a sermon that was being given by Father Martin Roe, a priest and longtime friend of the band. In celebration of the new year, he had written a piece called "Begin Again," where he deftly interwove bits and pieces of the song's lyrics into the text. It was, of course, followed by the song "New Year's Day."
This sermon struck a chord with me because I feel like I have to Begin Again every day. Every morning, I wake up where I was the day before - sore, stiff, bloated, in pain, exhausted, and just about ready to give up. Being what they are, my health challenges force me to start over every day. I have to push through all of that and begin again. Nothing changes on New Year's Day.
And so, here I am at 51 years old, in a body that was once a temple, now ravaged by disease and surgeries. There was no stopping it. As hard as I tried to fight back, the illnesses continued to do their damage. Some damage occurred quickly; my jaw, neck, and hips were severely affected in the first few years of the disease. All the while, there was a slow deterioration that would take years to manifest as pain. Such was the case with my feet and shoulders, both of which are the most recent body parts to fall victim to my disease. Both have been significantly damaged by years of arthritis. In the summer of 2020, out of the blue, I tore my rotator cuff, just reaching over to grab something on my night table. It was, without a doubt, one of the most painful things I've ever experienced, and I've lived through a kidney stone attack, hip replacements, and neck fusion surgery. Losing strength and mobility in both shoulders has really complicated things for me. Until recently, with my hips, knees, and feet being my significant areas of concern, I could at least depend on my upper body to make up for the less reliable bottom half of me. But now, everything I do, every move I make, every step I take (shout out to The Police) has to be carefully calculated. I've already been through so much:
- Bilateral hip replacements.
- A 3rd hip replacement that was not 100% successful.
- Joint fusion in my left foot.
- Multiple cervical cortisone injections.
- Cervical fusion surgery.
Did I really have to lose my shoulders too? Could I not have been spared at least those joints? Was there a reason for that to happen? No, I don't believe there was.
Wheelchair-bound (maybe someday)
I once saw a television story about a 15-year-old who had routine surgery to remove a tumor on his spine that, regrettably, left him paralyzed from the waist down. It seems the surgeon damaged his spinal cord while removing the unwanted tissue - talk about hard luck. That boy's life was ruined. The course of his life was instantly redirected in ways most of us will never experience or comprehend. The ramifications of this go far beyond what those of us who can still walk can comprehend. Every second of the day and night is a challenge now for this person. And there is no escaping it. It's a form of prison really. In the movie Born On The 4th of July, Tom Cruise portrays Ron Kovic, a young man shot in Vietnam and paralyzed from the waist down. After seeing the movie, I was very jarred at the time as I tried to imagine what it must be like to be trapped in half a body. I'm currently stuck in a body falling apart at the seams, like an old Raggedy Ann doll, but luckily for me - although not easy and not without its challenges or discomfort - I can still walk.
I recently saw a tragic story on T.V. about a B.C. boy becoming permanently brain-damaged after eating lettuce contaminated with E. coli at a small California roadside restaurant. Once perfectly healthy and brimming with life, the boy is now five years old and can no longer walk, talk, or see. Can you imagine this happening to your 2-year-old? His life and the lives of his parents have been destroyed. I can't imagine the heartache. This sort of thing happens all the time. Any one of us could have eaten that tainted salad. Again, I ask, did this really happen for a reason?
Look at me; I'm John Travolta
It's hard to look at myself today and say, "Well, this all happened for a reason, so I'm good!" I used to be so productive, reliable, and dependable. From working at a car wash, lifeguarding, loading trucks for UPS, and designing toys, I was always considered a top employee. I was usually the fastest at completing whatever tasks I had been assigned. Fresh out of graphic design school, I started as a junior paste-up artist in 1992. I finished my tenure there 7 years later as a toy designer. (I know, it's not a very common job!) While employed there, I had the opportunity to travel to New York City a few times to participate in the annual Toy Fair. I can remember walking down broadway in my three-piece suit and trench coat, feeling like John Travolta when he struts down the street in Saturday Night Fever! I was on top of the world, it seemed. Despite already having some signs of joint damage, I was still capable and independent. I look back on those "good years" with quite a bit of melancholy.
I've been forced to give up everything I had worked so hard for in my life; my graphic design business, my rock band, my home, and even my marriage (my 2nd one). Being as sick as I am is not easy on a marriage. But I'm not taking the fall for its demise. There was far more at play there. Having said that, though, it really begs the question again; Did it happen for a reason? I have to say yes; I suppose it did in this instance. On a related note, would you believe me if I told you that my parents, who divorced in 1977, got back together two years later? Who does that? That's what happened, but it wasn't exactly a success.
From 1979 to 1991, when they broke up for good, my sister and I lived through some pretty heavy-duty conflict. My parents became alcoholics, with my dad being the "ugly drunk." Thankfully, we were never physically abused, but emotionally, there is a lot of scarring there. My dad was a wild one. To quote Marty Robbins, from the song El Paso, he was "Wild as the West Texas wind." Untamable. So, I ask the question: was their reconciliation a good or bad idea? Did it happen for a reason? Maybe it's a bit of both in this case.
I'm now officially disabled in the eyes of the government. I received my handicapped parking pass in the winter of 2020 - although I have come to appreciate having it, it was a bitter pill to swallow at the time. Even though I may not look handicapped when I get out of my car - I am invisibly. The difficulty I have getting in and out of the car, walking to and from the vehicle, and using my hands and arms to load groceries is not perceivable to the naked eye, but it's there. Neither is the chronic abdominal pain I suffer from due to my IBS. I'm not in a wheelchair, but I am compromised. I'm sure that someone has seen me getting out of my car that was parked in a handicapped spot and thought to themselves, "Hmmm, why does he need a handicapped parking pass? He can walk just fine". Shedding light on such assumptions is what these chapters are all about!
So, how does one cope with going from being a strong and productive husband, father, son, employee, and entrepreneur to being worn-out, beaten down, disfigured, limited, disabled, compromised, depressed, hurting, and emotionally broken? That is the BIG question. Why did this happen? Again, there is no answer. Perhaps we are like lottery numbers being tossed around in a barrel. The lucky ones among us are chosen randomly and plucked from the masses, and those of us who aren't so lucky stay stuck at the bottom of the barrel.
Interestingly, shortly after writing this piece, I happened upon an episode of Seinfeld that spoke to the subject matter of my post. Elaine gets kicked out of a beauty salon after bringing Frank Costanza in as a spy. He interprets what the women are saying about her as they giggle and snicker in their native Korean language. She's walking down the street, in the pouring rain, in tears, and accidentally bumps into someone - J. Peterman - the catalog and retail entrepreneur! They get to talking about clothing and footwear, and next thing you know, he hires her to work as his assistant. Now that is an example of something happening for a reason!
- Patrick Franc
a.k.a.: Your Friendly Neighbourhood Bionic Man