Reflection

I walk slowly. So does Kojo. Neither of us have a choice.

He walks slowly because he is almost two and a half years old. His legs are short, he’s still perfecting all the components necessary to walk with confidence, and there’s so much around to stop and look at.

I walk slowly because 24 years ago, when I was 23, I jumped off a 40-foot cliff into a peaceful lake in Austin, Texas. Instead of hitting the placid cool spring water as I had intended, I landed feet first on the rocks. I shattered my heels, then fell onto my back and broke my tailbone and the vertebra on my spinal column called L5. 24 years ago yesterday, I vividly remember falling knowing that things were not going to be good. A rescue boat was called that took me to a spot where a helicopter was waiting for me. The paramedics took me to an emergency room where I was quickly assessed. They poked and prodded and asked if I could feel anything. I only felt pain in my back and remember asking for an aspirin.

They called my brother who was 3 hours away and he spent the night driving to the hospital just to wait for me while I underwent surgery. They told him honestly that they didn’t know if I’d be able to walk again. When he first saw me in the recovery unit after the metal rod was placed in my back and three vertebrae were fused together, he smiled widely. What I didn’t know at the time, thanks to the pain medicine, was the extent of the damage. He wasn’t smiling about the tubes or monitors attached to my fragile self. He was smiling at the toes he saw wiggling underneath the blue hospital sheets. This was the sign of hope he had been envisioning as he waited uncomfortably for hours far from home, alone, answering the call from his little sister.

Over the difficult months that followed, I learned to walk again with the incredible support of my mom, dad and my other brother that came from even farther away. I was transferred to a spinal cord rehabilitation hospital and taught how to survive in the world in a wheelchair. I remember startling the nurse one evening when she came to turn me over and I moved on my own. My hospital roommate and most others I met there are still confined to wheelchairs today.

Some, who don’t know, think I have a temporary sport’s injury, or think maybe I’m sore from an intense workout. Some sigh because I walk too slowly and can’t keep up when there’s a need to hurry. Others, don’t notice my heavy steps, bent over back, or unsteady hips because they never really look hard at things.

As I walk with Kojo, my perfect walking mate, I see my reflection clearly in the window of a darkened clothing shop. I am immediately taken from the distraction of the world around me to the reality of my imperfect self. I see my leaning posture, the ungraceful pounding of my heels, and my hips moving exaggeratedly back and forth. Kojo doesn’t notice. I will tell him the story one day.

There’s so much I want to change about myself and it’s not my pace, gait or posture. I want to look at my reflection and be able to smile from deep within. I want to see first not my injury but the love from those around me that helped take me from wiggling my toes in the intensive care unit to walking in Ghana with my young boy. I want to be thankful for being given the opportunity to walk slowly every day in order to notice the beautiful imperfections of life around me. I want Kojo to grow up seeing my strength and power but also my vulnerabilities. I promise myself to smile widely each time I pass by that shop window not just for me but for all those who are watching.

I walk slowly. So does Kojo. We both choose to do so.

8 thoughts on “Reflection

  1. Wow. Vovome, this is so reflective and vulnerable. You went for the jugular and really paint an incredible picture of pain and resilience. It’s an amazing reminder of the importance of pausing to see both beauty and imperfection as we walk, breathe, exist.

    So grateful to you for your courage and insight. Thank you for this brave writing.

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  2. You are obviously incredibly strong and resilient, and I am sure your son will grow up knowing that about you. You gave us a powerful story about the often unseen struggles in people’s lives and a reminder that we all have a choice in how we perceive those struggles. I hope you and Kojo both keep choosing to walk slowly!

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  3. This post left me breathless with wonder. Not only is your story incredible but your writing – the structure, the telling of it – is powerful. I am left breathless by your reflection. “Kojo doesn’t notice.” Of course he doesn’t, but your admission that you do and the realization that some day you will explain so that he *does* notice, is really powerful. May you some day see yourself as your toddler does: powerful, resilient, comforting, and, frankly, perfect.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The fact that you are standing and walking is in itself a miracle.Your story once again brings me into your world with glimpses of who are are and how you are where you are.

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