Parker Palmer in his new book On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity and Getting Old, writes, “My life has been graced, but it certainly hasn’t been graceful – I’ve done more than my share of falling down, getting up, and falling down again. The falling down is due to missteps and gravity. The getting up is due to gravity.”(page ix)
Parker Palmer’s “graced” life that hasn’t been very “graceful” resonates within me. Playing basketball in high school was tricky for me. Tripping and sliding across a gym floor, wiping out the other team’s players may have been my greatest defensive move! Activities that involve coordinated movements are not easy for me. Walking in long vestments is an activity that, I think must be protected by God’s grace. Perhaps there are angels whose only job is to hold up the skirts of those in the processional!
Falls get more dangerous as we get older and so I really try to be careful, but one morning in early June as I was feeding Bella, my left foot caught on the floor (rubber shoes on hardwood floors) and before I could catch myself, I fell forward onto the floor. Lying there, waiting for the shock to subside, I was aware of a very scared Bella nestled up against me. I decided to sit up, but this was harder than I imagined. Bella didn’t want to move and my body also didn’t seem to cooperate. Managing to gently get Bella to move, I was able to pull myself into a sitting position leaning against the door. Nursing 101 kicked in and I checked myself for injuries, and because I was having trouble moving, I did a stroke assessment on myself. FAST is the acronym for this assessment. Face (is the face drooping on one side); Arm ( is one arm weak or numb) S (is the speech slurred or slow) and Time (call 911). None of those things seemed positive and I could make a strong fist with both hands, but…I couldn’t get myself up from the floor. As I sat there, scared and not sure what to do, I tried to place myself in God’s heart where there is no fear, only perfect love. I leaned back against the door and rested. At this point the story gets too long for a blog post. The story gets complicated by our “broken medical system”. Two and a half weeks after the fall I had an MRI and, it showed a stroke on the right side of my brain.
During this past month I have lived Parker Palmer’s words: “Getting up is due to grace.” Held in that place of unconditional love has meant allowing others to be the “hands of the Holy One”, helping and healing me. Recovering the ability to walk (with a cane) is so sweet. Equally sweet is the ability to type again! Even when my little finger goes rogue and sits on the Caps Lock key or my thumb drags across the mouse pad doing strange things to what’s on the screen, I am grateful to be “thinking out loud again” in this way. So much grace!! So many “holy hands”! I can now say to others , “I ‘ve had a stroke”, but this has been a hard process of coming to understand the reality that although some parts of my life have not changed, there are parts of my being and my physical body that are now marked forever by this injury to my brain…this “stroke”. Even while continuing to work hard on regaining the losses, I now know that some deficits will remain.
Life over this time feels like a sacred journey. There are those moments when, listening to music, I am taken back in time…I can smell a perfume I wore when I was in my 30’s; feel the way the mask I wore daily in the Operating Room felt on my face; remember a moment sitting on the steps of the chapel at seminary talking with another student from Tanzania and I can hear his amazing laughter! I am wandering and wondering over the paths I have been on. Tears come freely these days; and then the little joys feel like Christmas! What a strange journey this is into a future that seems both changed and unchanged. I am able to walk Bella, slower and with mantras running through my head from therapy: heel, toe, keep your feet straight, heel, toe, weight over your hips, etc. It’s a steady pace forward from here with time for naps, of course! Unchanged in so many ways and yet I am changed because I have had an experience of Grace that has marked my life as surely as the stroke put its mark on my brain.