Not quite a year ago, I pushed a seven-year old girl on a swing and froze. My low back had seized up and it felt as though I was being crushed under the weight of a brick house. I couldn’t walk; I could barely move. Crawling would have gotten me anywhere faster. It was the first time I felt absolutely helpless: if someone attacked me in the state I was in, there was no possible way I’d be able to fight back.
Exercises and rehabilitation for over a month helped put me – Humpty Dumpty – back together again. The pain went away and it was out of sight, out of mind for nine months. It made me think for a moment that maybe it hadn’t been real.
And then it came back with a fury four days before I was scheduled to leave on a much-needed escape out of state to Miami. I was devastated. This could not be happening to me now! I went into overdrive to enlist a team of doctors, massage therapists and medicine to eradicate the pain and make me whole again. Or, well enough to be able to enjoy a respite in the sun. And somehow, I was well enough. The tide of pain ebbed away almost as quickly as it had come in.
Until one Sunday in June it happened all over again. I couldn’t stand or walk straight. Walking was perilous, too, because one step out of place stopped me dead in my tracks as shockwaves ricocheted around the source of my discomfort. Rather than a proud 6′ tall woman, I shrunk into a wizened, bent old lady. I was in a sorry state both physically and mentally.
Convinced that I was slowly breaking down, it struck me during this time of incapacitation that I was the very antithesis of “Six Feet Standing Tall.” My anger bubbled over at this weakness in my back and in my body, maybe even translating into some sort of lack in myself. At a massage appointment a few days into the agony I was feeling, tears flowed uncontrollably down my face. The pain was so intense and I was unbelievably frustrated. I couldn’t hold back my sobs. This has robbed me of a regular yoga practice for a few months now and I subconsciously live in fear that the pain in my back will return at any moment and I’ll be immobilized. It seemed as though this time was by far the worst.
I apologized for my outburst. In response, the therapist said: “Stand tall. Fight through the pain. Force yourself to stand straight, breathe through it and know that you are brave and strong. This hurt does not define you.”
And so several times that night and for the rest of the week, I would do just that. Stand. Breathe. Fight. Be strong. Be brave.
I imagined myself some sort of warrior princess.
The evening of the first full day of the pain, a strong storm passed through Chicago. The skies turned greyish-green seemingly in a matter of minutes, the rain drove in sideways and the wind violently rattled trees and branches so much so that a hearty maple across the street from where I lived snapped in half like a twig. The weight of the tree crushed a wrought iron fence as it fell and broke a window.
After my massage, I stared at that tree as did so many of my neighbors who came to photograph it before it was finally removed. I thought about that poor tree and the California redwoods I’d fallen in love with and designated as the symbol of my blog, “Six Feet Standing Tall.”
The day I visited Muir Woods on the outskirts of San Francisco, I listened to a park ranger reveal that I was in the forest on a very auspicious October day. It was the first day it had rained since March. These ancient towering trees need up to 500 gallons of water every day to survive and they’d gone seven months without nourishment from the skies. It’s a true miracle that they are even standing at all since they must be reliant on other water sources and on their fellow trees.
Staring at that broken tree, I stopped to remember and thank those redwoods for being such an inspiration to me. Unlike that maple caught in the storm, I will try to continue to struggle against this pain. It is no part of me. I find that a glimmer of fight still burns within me. I refuse to be felled.
Be strong. Be brave. Be six feet standing tall.
No, be as tall as those magnificent California redwoods who teach us all a lesson of strength and survival.