Monday, April 19, 2010

The Survivor Tree

Today is the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing. I shamefully didn't remember this until I turned on my favorite CNN news program this morning and watched the live broadcast of a memorial ceremony in Oklahoma City. 168 people died that day, several of them little children in a daycare. It was a sad and scary day in our nation's history.

We remember the dead, and yet there is another side of this tragic coin: the side which includes the countless number of survivors. Yes...I'm always brought back to this topic, like it or not, and this morning was particularly emotional as it was butted up against a very emotional weekend. (More on the weekend shortly).

One of the things I really think we did right in our memorial creation is The Survivor Tree. The tree itself, an American elm, is said to be approximately 103-years old. The story is: it was a coveted area to park because of the shade it provided, yet the tree in general was neglected in its appearance and health. The day of the bombing, the tree sustained heavy damage from the bomb's original blast and further disfigurement as investigators chopped critical evidence out of the tree's branches and bark. The elm was left with little to no branches and a blackened stump, and most thought it was a lost cause. It was only during a memorial service around the tree's base +/- a year later did those around it notice that the tree was blooming once again. And that's how the elm became known as The Survivor Tree.

I like this story a lot. I particularly like the inscription the memorial planners used there: "The spirit of this city and nation will not be defeated; our deeply rooted faith sustains us".

Faith. There's that word again. I do not deny my hearty agreement with its sentiment. I know that we are sustained by deep rooted beliefs in times of hardship. Even non-believers are believers at such times. From my own personal experience I cannot discount the power of prayer because I was the object of so much of it for so long.

With that in mind, there are thousands of people...survivors...who need a prayer said for them today. Just as there are 168 souls that deserve recognition by a moment of silence for each. In whatever way you are able to express yourself, I hope that you will take a moment to send your healing thoughts to these people...people who will never forget how today changed their lives. People who have absolutely gone through what I am going through.

Back to the weekend.

I was pretty darn sick last week, as you may remember. I was literally bedridden through Friday, so when Saturday came, bringing with it a bit of energy, I slothed over to the shower and made myself presentable enough to face the public eye. I went out to the nail salon (my first pedicure since the accident--a milestone that was both strange and painful--and joyful because I could, in fact, endure it). I went to see a movie in the theater in the afternoon too. It was a big day for me to be sure.

I was in some pain when I arrived at home, mostly from the use of my legs and fatigue after a week in bed. I paid heavily for my outing the next day though with more leg pain, cold sweats, and razor-like nerves in my feet--something I can only liken to the sharp tingling feeling when your feet are in between asleep and awake--except mine are perfectly awake; they just have these shooting nerve-razors that...well...suck.

The good news is that I can manage 2 of the 3 ailments I just described to a certain point. I can use Aspercreme on my legs, and my mother can massage my feet to get the blood flowing again and reduce/stop the "nerve-razors". I can't, however, do a thing about the sweats. I can changes shirts, de-shirt, re-shirt. Doesn't matter. The truth is that I simply have to sit here and take it on the chin.

After hours of this, I start to become mentally drained. I know that's probably obvious, but my rate of speed from fine to desperate is pretty fast these days, simply because I have so many days like this. Days where I am not technically sick, so no one can do anything about it. It feels as though I am lost with no map. Perhaps that is exactly what this is.

In times of such despair--times when I simply can no longer be strong and positive--I start to melt emotionally, and like bullets, the questions come: the why questions. Why did I survive? Why do I have to live like this? Why am I so alone with this? Why can't I find a solution to these things that plague me so much? Why????

Yesterday wasn't any different than the other sick days, except that I had a long conversation with God. Yes OK. So that's notably different. Nevertheless I asked pointed questions to God; questions that I find myself now brave enough to ask because I have this project/outlet to help me work through the trauma of my suffering and my fear of religion. 

My first and ultimately most pressing question to God was why he didn't take me and save someone else that day. I asked this in all sincerity and not in vanity. Through my sobs I kept chanting that I was grateful for my gift...the chance for a second life. And I am. I want to live.

My struggle is the inertia of my life. The feeling that I am not living to enough of a degree. I don't know how to describe this except to say that I used to feel more alive than I do now. In my previous environments the power of nature was unavoidable. And I was always able to immerse myself in that beauty by simply going outside.

Intellectually I know that (a) I have been inside rather than outside because I have been in my mother's care in New England in the winter, and (b) my poor body will need more than another year to recover physically before I will be able to go out and do things spontaneously without serious painful consequences. However, as I said, I am struggling with the inertia of my life. I have come to know and understand my adult self as a person who needs nature, a warm climate, and right now I am on many occasion unable to visit even the backyard which awaits me in the sunny, chilly Spring of the Northeast. Looking through the window isn't enough. Not by a long shot.

So my conversation yesterday, which included a tremendous amount of sobbing (sorry about all the sob stories by the way...I hope to focus on other subjects soon enough), started me begging for answer...anything...that would appease me. But you already know what happened, don't you? That's right. I received no insight. No answers. I just got tired, and with that, relaxed.  

And just because that's the way the world works, it was then I started to think clearly rather than desperately. I realized that I feel I am in limbo because I don't know what my life path is yet, and I truly think I would be able to manage this phase of my life if I could find meaning. Yet I sit here day after day struggling to get my head around why I still suffer so intensely, especially when I have already done so mentally for years...much longer than the months I have had to deal with the effects of my accident.

And I cried again with this realization, though not as hard. I have figured out what I was looking for with respect to an "answer". Without knowing how to verbalize it, I was simply looking for a way to be at peace. I know that my life's path is not going to be anything near easy for at least another year. And although I become a puddle of messy emotions on numerous occasions, I am stronger with each passing episode. [sigh] What a crap deal this is.

Before I go, I really want to mention 2 names: P.J. Allen and Chris Nguyen. These two young men, along with many other children, are survivors of the Oklahoma City bombing. I watched them both on CNN today, and both are inspirational. P.J. has asthma so badly that he will never have the "normal" life that many of us (even me, in this condition) take for granted with every breath. Chris has scars to remind him of that terrible day in his life too. And both of them show me how incredibly selfish I am for feeling the way I do sometimes.

These two young men embody our nation's resilience to horrible events. They both have irreversible scars, mental and physical, but both stand in the face of the world (whereas I am in my room in the shroud of a Northeast forest) and defeat fear and find a way to come to grips with why they survived. I heard Chris say (I can't quote because I didn't write it down) that he felt he needed to do something with his life because of the others who never had a chance.

As you know, I am typically unable to even think about others' struggles to survive against tremendous odds...yet, I watched these interviews as tears streamed down my cheeks and thought to myself, "I will endeavor to remember that statement, rather than wonder why God didn't just take me that day". I will keep my eyes out for my purpose in life--the path that right now does not seem to be under my feet. And when I find it, I will also dedicate my those who did not have a chance.

1 comment:

  1. Ali,
    I wish you all the best on your journey to recovery. I hope you find peace while in your "limbo". I just started watching a new show, Miami Medical (I think) about trauma doctors. The last episode was about "luck". The question - are you lucky to have a heart attack and live? While you may take a year to recover, you have a year to put in perspective what is important and figure out how you want to live your live. Not the same, but the same. So today, I will consider you lucky. Lucky to be here, lucky to have your mom to take care of you, lucky to be able to feel pain, lucky to have lots of people who care around you.
    Godspeed on your journey to better health.