While I don’t think of these moments in my life very often, the moments when life seems to change literally overnight, but with the first half of 2020 bringing the COVID-19 pandemic, schools closing, unemployment skyrocketing, businesses filing for bankruptcy, social distancing, masks as the new norm, and the seemingly overnight awakening of many in America to the realities of systemic racism, it has caused me to reflect on the impact that the year 2020 can have on my life.
There have been a few times in my life, when my life has literally changed overnight. These moments in life have taught me to not waste a day. I love the line in the Lee Ann Womack song, “And when you get the choice, to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance…”
I realize that every time my life has changed suddenly, literally overnight—-it has made my life amazing – not immediately, often times through a lot of pain and heartache, but eventually. Looking back at how these moments of sudden change have forced me to regroup, gather my strength, and find the opportunity or the light in the darkness – these moments propelled me to something beyond my plan or even my wildest dreams. There is opportunity that exists in the struggles, pain and heaviness of 2020.
As my hospital room janitor – at Harborview Medical, Seattle’s trauma 1 hospital, told me after a serious car accident that I was involved in when a woman crossed the highway and hit me head-on, “You will be okay.”
The car accident occurred on a sunny afternoon, a month after my 22nd birthday and instantly changed the course of my life. At the time of the accident, I was 4 months away from graduating from college with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. I had hopes to head to the east coast for law school, awaiting letters of acceptance which started to come through while I was confined to a hospital bed. My body was broken. My face was sliced with so much shattered and broken glass that I began my hospital stay in the burn unit where “the plastics department” resided, later being transferred to the orthopedic unit to care for my broken body.
Despite my visibly obvious state of despair, the graveyard shift janitor decided to speak to me as he mopped the floor of my hospital room. The older woman who was in the same room as I, on the other side of the flimsy hospital drawn curtain that separated our beds, mumbled something to the effect of, “She’s been crying all day.” The janitor looked at me and smiled as he told me that I would be okay. My doctors did not tell me this, the janitor did. A janitor who was an immigrant to the United States, with a fairly thick accent, who was working the graveyard shift.
This particular evening was not the first time that the janitor saw me. During the prior week, he watched me move from extreme gratitude for being alive to the next step in my emotional journey – a steep fall to mourning my loss – I was sobbing, depressed laying in my hospital bed, not taking visitors and the janitor saw my deep sadness. I was devastated. I felt sorry for myself.
In addition to my swollen, bruised, cut, and broken appearance, my college boyfriend ended our relationship. He apparently had better things to do than to wait around for me to recover. In addition to losing the boyfriend and the damage to my appearance, I also had to drop out of college because I was physically unable to attend classes. This was 1992, long before video or virtual learning was the possibility that it is today. I had to tell the east coast law schools who’s letters I received while in the hospital – that I wouldn’t be able to attend. I had to stay close to home over the next year because my doctors were in Seattle and additional surgeries would be needed. The doctors told my parents to let me cry it out – if needed, a referral to a mental health counselor would be made. I was treated as a number and a checklist by well-meaning overworked physicians and nurses – but, the older janitor working the graveyard shift treated me as a person and actually spoke to me as if I were his friend or even his daughter. He told me that the scars on my face would fade and that my body would heel. He knew that the hardships that we experience in life push us forward. Coming through challenge and adversity is what makes us stronger.
2020 hurts, but if we listen, it will make us better. I am not sure what all of the current hardships will bring but I know it is an important year. It is a year of struggle, learning, and growth. It is a year to swerve and find opportunity. This year reminds us not to waste a day, this year, when you get the choice, to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance…
(Photos taken by the Washington State Patrol at the subject accident site.)