The hardship I am most thankful for is the accident that changed my life in 2011. I know that probably seems a little predictable for me to choose that night when discussing hardships, but I’m not thankful for the reasons you might expect.
Sure, I learned that life can change in an instant. I learned just how precious and fleeting life can really be, and I learned how very important it is to always say “I love you” because you may never get another chance. I’m so thankful for the change in perspective I got that night. I mean, it should have been a ten-minute drive to the church and back. I’d done it every Tuesday night for years, and there was no reason to expect that this particular Tuesday night was going to be any different.
I’m not thankful for the four and a half-years of constant pain, or the downward spiral of job loss, divorce, depression, eviction, betrayal, and . . . where was I going with this?
Right. Being thankful for hardship.
I learned that life is too short to keep pushing my dreams to the back burner with the excuse that there will be time later. No, there may not be time later. Time is finite, and life can end with something as simple as driving past a maple tree in a thunderstorm.
If I hadn’t broken my neck that night, I don’t know if I ever would have gotten around to writing anything. My little romance novels may never sell well or make any kind of bestseller list, but they mean the world to me because they represent my lifelong dream of writing. I did it. I made it come true, something I may never have accomplished if not for life hitting me upside the head with a tree.
I wish life had been a bit more subtle, but it is what it is.
Still, none of this is what makes me so very thankful for everything that happened that night. That part is a little harder to explain.
Sometimes in life, I feel invisible. I’ve always been sort of average. I’m the kind of person who tends to blend in with the wallpaper if I’m not careful. In high school, I once missed two weeks of school and discovered that not one of my teachers had even marked me absent. No one noticed that I wasn’t there.
I’ve never felt important. Never been elected into office, never been anyone’s boss, never been much of a leader. Someone’s mom, someone’s wife, someone’s sister, but never the Someone that is anyone else’s point of reference.
The night of my accident, I saw the look on the fire chief’s face when he recognized me. I watched the color drain out of his face and I heard the emotion in his voice when he kept saying, “Oh, no. Oh, no, no.” I saw the way no one else would look me in the eye.
At the emergency room, it took a while for the x-rays and CT scan to show that I was beyond anything they could do for me at our little hospital. As they were wheeling me back out to the ambulance, I remember someone saying that there were some people in the hallway who wanted to see me.
I couldn’t see much because I was immobilized by the C-collar and backboard, but I remember faces. Lots of faces, leaning over to speak to me. Some were crying; one of my husband’s friends leaned over to kiss my cheek and I was surprised to feel his tears against my skin.
I thought at first that one of the firefighters had been injured as well. I figured the crowd in the hallway was there for him, and I panicked until my husband assured me that no, there were all there for me.
It’s been four and a half years, and I’ve never forgotten the way I felt at that moment when I realized they were there for me.
Me. Not someone’s wife, someone’s mom, someone’s sister. Me.
In the days and weeks that followed, I was amazed by the flood of cards and phone calls, of people stopping by to bring food and Diet Coke, or just to visit. People who came to clean my refrigerator or drive my silly butt to the Sav-A-Lot because I was going stir-crazy at home with nothing but my neck brace and a whole lot of self-pity.
It’s been four and a half years now. I have a lot of bad days, especially since I seem to be going through a pretty rocky stretch of bad luck with things like cars, housing, and money. But at the end of the day, no matter how bad it’s been, I can look back on that moment and draw strength from it.
You see, that was the moment I understood that I matter. Sort of my own personal “George Bailey” moment, like in the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, when George realizes that he’s really had an impact on the people around him.
I’m thankful for the accident because it showed me that I am loved. That I matter. That I’m not invisible.