Thanksgiving weekend is probably my most favorite weekend of the year. Yes, I love the food, seeing my family, and the four day weekend, but I also love the true meaning behind the weekend. Being grateful, pausing in the midst of our busy lives and those silly Black Friday sales to give thanks for the abundance and blessings that come our way. This past year as I reflect more and more on the idea of helping people fully live life with a disability, I keep coming back to the notion of how incredible it is just to be alive. For me, I experience this when I am able to get out of my thoughts and into the present moment – walking on fallen leaves, laughing with a friend, having dinner with my husband. These simple things can bring so much joy for being alive and able to experience these treasures.
For years now I have been working with a man who acquired a brain injury in his fifties, which left him with very impaired vision, severe short-term memory loss, and in a wheelchair. He has been one of the sweetest people I have work with. His functional limitations prevent him from doing most of the activities he enjoyed prior to his injury. Life has significantly changed for him. He lives away from his family to get the care he requires. He can no longer work. Because of his memory loss, the days blend together. Still, nearly every week when I see him and ask how he is doing, he says in an upbeat voice, “I’m alive.”
I’m alive. I am living this life. Life itself is good, no matter what. This is what this gentleman has taught me. When we talk seriously about the tremendous adjustment he has had to deal with, he will typically say at some point, “Well, I am glad to just be alive.” Then with a twinkle in his eye, he will say, “It’s a long time dead, you know.” It certainly is.
I recently heard an interview with the great Tony Bennett, who is still going strong at the age of 85. He recorded a duet with Amy Winehouse shortly before her untimely and tragic death this past summer at the very young age of 27. When the interviewer asked him about his reaction to her death, Mr. Bennett lamented what a shame it was that Ms. Winehouse was so troubled by her addiction that it was difficult for her to see what a blessing it was to just be alive.
Despite this sad reflection, I felt inspired by Mr. Bennett’s words. It is such a gift to be alive, to be given whatever hardship we are handed in life, and have the opportunity each day to figure out the mystery of finding the joy and beauty in life through our challenges and sorrows. It is something that emboldens me, rather than discourages me. It is also what underlines my passion to help others with disabilities lead full, joyful lives. Yes, there is certainly much heartache involved with living a disability, but being alive, having life itself, is such a precious gift. The struggle of living a disability should never overshadow that sacred realization.
In the next few weeks, as we become immersed in the holiday season – a trying time for some, I wish you all moments of feeling the gift of being alive.