A few days ago, I passed an anniversary: it’s been six months since I lost my left leg. For many weeks, I’ve debated how to tell this story in print, practicing many times in person with people of all ages. In many ways, the past few months have been a Lent for me, however I don’t say that meaning it’s been an endless grind of darkness. It has been a time of grace and blessing as well as a challenge on a scale I’ve never known. I have lost some weight over this time, however I wouldn’t call ‘almost dying’ an acceptable diet program. I’ve had a lot of time to reflect, and I’d like to offer some thoughts that may be helpful for this Lent:
Repentance I am completely responsible for what happened to me. It’s wasn’t sin that did me in, but I let myself be controlled by my own fear and stubbornness. There was an infection on my foot that got out of hand, don’t know exactly when it started, but I tried to doctor it myself and failed completely. I was in denial about being in bad shape, in denial about the possibility I had diabetes (I do), and afraid to approach a doctor. Then one day, I fell in my apartment and couldn’t get back up again. My family couldn’t help me although they came when I called, and I had to call an ambulance. The next three weeks were rather hazy: I had six surgeries in twelve days, and wasn’t sure of what was real and wasn’t real. In the end, I lost my left leg above the knee, and since then I’ve been working my way back.
Honesty with self is probably the most important thing we need to do with ourselves. We don’t have to beat ourselves up about our faults, but we shouldn’t hide from them. If we aren’t honest with ourselves, then we have no hope of doing much good with anyone, much less ourselves. What we don’t know can kill us.
I hear a lot about people getting what they deserve. That’s happened to me, and I can say with certainty I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. What happened to me wasn’t a tragedy, and wasn’t something noble to rise from. From now on, I’ll try not to live in denial, not just during Lent.
Almsgiving (Charity) Many wonderful people have helped me over the past six months. I’ve learned a lot of patience and a lot of gratitude. There isn’t much I’ve been able to give in return, but what I’ve offered what I could. Since I got my wits back together, I’ve particularly tried to treat my caregivers kindly, as human beings, as well as my family and community, who have stay with me literally. I am still a priest, and I have a calling to live the Gospel, however that looks, and preach what I live. Don’t know what that’s going to look like exactly in the future, but I will do what I can.
Gratitude is the best motivation for helping others. It doesn’t matter how good it looks, or whether others see what we’re doing, what matters is to see what others have given us and respond. It doesn’t matter that we only respond to the people who’ve helped us, although that’s very important, but we respond to everyone who needs us as best we can.
Penance (Fasting) Over the months of therapy I’ve been through, I’ve realized this journey is very similar to my graduate studies in music when I learned difficult repertoire for degree recitals. It requires a particular mindset: relaxed, yet alert; paying close attention to detail, but keeping the big picture in view. There are peaks and valleys, moments to triumph and long stretches where it takes everything to keep moving. It’s a long journey and will be longer. I have a set of motions and reflexes to program into my muscles, a choreography if you wish to think of it that way, and they must become second nature, done without thinking yet perfect. I can’t take anything for granted while I do this programming. The journey is just as important as the destination. It’s said of musicians (and athletes) “Good musicians practice until they get the notes right; great musicians practice until they can’t get it wrong.” The price of wrong notes these days isn’t embarrassment on the concert stage, but landing on the floor hard. My therapy continues, and hopefully I will be able to go from a walker to a cane before long.
Letting go of expectations is the most helpful step. That doesn’t say we don’t have hopes or goals, or we should put up with anything, but the rest of the world isn’t here to keep us happy. Our expectations can be blinders that keep us from seeing what’s going on around us. If someone doesn’t answer the call button, it’s probably because there are ten other people who’ve pushed it about the same time.
Self control is the other key piece. We have control over how we think, how we feel, how we act. If we don’t have control, we are at the mercy of any craving, any obsession, any mood, any fear that crosses our paths. I know, because I didn’t have it last year, and it cost me dearly.
Prayer (Community) I’ve felt all the people praying for me. There weren’t any great visions of heaven when I was dreaming, but I knew Christ was near. I remember more frightening visions than consoling ones, but knowing those bad dreams weren’t real was a gift and an insight. There have been many cards and visitors, and many times I could hold others up in prayer, as well as do a little spiritual direction. There have been a few setbacks, but there have been opportunities to grow. There are times I grieve my loss and where I’m at now, but I try not to dwell on it, try to let it pass like a summer storm. I know there’s a reason I’m still here, a mission I’m still part of, and that keeps me looking forward.
Prayer should be a time we let God work on us. We pray because we need to, it’s part of our ongoing therapy. God already knows what needs to be done, and what we need. Not everyone listens to God, and that’s why so much evil happens. “Let go and let God” is the best advice about prayer I’ve heard yet.
I know one important thing about prayer is that it’s supposed to bring us together. Christ didn’t send us out to be lone rangers: at the very least he send his disciples out in pairs. The most important thing about prayer is connection both to God and to one another. It’s a change for God to work on us more than anything else, we all need more. We need to do more things together to grow as a people and grow as individuals.
Coda Since Christmas Eve, I’ve been celebrating mass again, and I’m able to stand through most of it now. So far I can only serve where there are no steps to climb. I can travel a little locally, but not far. The best thing has been the chance to return to the Avila University Campus. I can take care of a lot of things, like dressing myself, but it requires more planning and preparation than it used to, ordinary things aren’t so ordinary any longer. Recently, a young friend of mine called my prosthetic my “robot leg,” and that sounds good to me: thanks be to God for Robot legs. Before long, I may be able to drive myself again. Since the first of December I’ve been writing music again, which has been good therapy if nothing else. I stayed offline while I wasn’t able to trust my perceptions, and it’s only now I’ve feel comfortable putting something in print again. Don’t know what the limit of my mobility is going to be, probably won’t be able to travel as much as I used to, but what matters most is being present to now. What will be, will be.
Lent is a time to get a great song together, imitating our Master in all we do. We can regret wrong notes, but not get lost in them: we will get it right eventually and not remember where we had problems. God gives us all the time in the world, we just have to keep working to be what God has made us to be. When we get our chorus together, we will have the grace to be part of the greatest song of all creation: the Song of Resurrection, new life.