It’s been a year and a half since I lost my left leg, and a year ago I published a post to break a silence and offer some reflections on my journey. It seems a good time to update what’s going on in my life, and a lot of what I had to say a year ago still makes sense. So here are some thoughts from a year ago and afterward where I am now. I hope you can find my story helpful.
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 year and a half. 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.
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 in 2018, 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 My comeback has continued, but I haven’t met all my goals when I expected. Rereading the line about “letting go of expectations,” I find I need to listen to my own preaching. My progress is infuriatingly slow, and I still feel like I’m putting together a graduate recital.
Almost a year ago, I started driving myself again: it was like riding a bicycle and the hardest part is and was getting in and out of the car. The liberation was powerful, and I can drive a couple of hours without problems, but I’m not ready to push that. I can walk with a walker, slowly, and in the past week I’ve been able to celebrate Mass using just a cane. It’s a lot of work, walking, especially with just a cane, and it takes a toll on my body I didn’t expect. Still working my way to a new normal, although it may be in sight.
At the end of June, I moved into a four room apartment at Our Lady of Mercy Country Home, where I’d been staying for several months. I can do a lot of things for myself that I used to take for granted: showering, cooking, dressing, organizing. Housekeepers visit once a week, and if I have a medical problem I can tool up to the nursing station, or hit my call button and get help. My diabetes is under control (knock on wood,) I’m on top of my health situation, I do my drugs every day, and I keep my medical appointments.
I call myself a time traveler. My residence is with people old enough to be my parents, I share meals with them daily and value their company. My main ministry is a University Chaplain with students in their late teens and early twenties, and I still feel called to serve the community at Avila University. Living in both worlds is energizing, and I wish more people could and would do that. We have a lot of offer each other across generations.
I’ve told folks in the past that living with grief isn’t about having the hole in your heart repaired, but learning to live with the hole. There isn’t a day that goes by I don’t regret losing my leg, and everything I lost with it. In the midst of what I can’t do, I still need to focus on what I can do, and try to do as much as I can. If nothing else, it helps me keep peace with myself, for it’s tempting to stay at the home, let others do stuff for me, and just ride my wheelchairs every day. I am crippled, disabled, physically challenged, broken, however you want to say it: the exact term doesn’t mean a lot to me. Whatever our life is like, we need to have a mission, and losing a sense of mission is something I don’t want to think about. We can always live for a mission, even if we’re bedfast.
The Serenity Prayer of Reinhold Niebuhr has a new meaning for me:
God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
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.