Be intentional.. Be aware.. Be thankful.
Make the time count.
Time is a place I find myself in for moments like this.
Five years ago everything changed.
Head to toe; inside out.
What appeared to be a healthy and vibrant life found itself seismically torn and broken in half with a fault line carved through my chest. An organ that cannot be touched, but is felt every time on levels that supersede physical reality, was cut open. The heart of the matter, with something being a matter with my heart. For those in attendance wondering what was going on, my mitral heart valve was torn and severely regurgitating blood. My lungs were filling with fluid. My heart was enlarging. My time on this earth had a giant question mark suddenly placed over my player piece on the game board.
At 32 years of age, I did not know if I would live to see 33.
At 32 years of age, I had my wills (living and last will) prepared legally.
Letters were handwritten to a select handful who I needed to connect with in case surgery goes black and I fade to white on that table. Hugs, smiles, fist-bumps, text messages, and head nods aplenty in the weeks prior to surgery.
And through it all, with lenses of faith and hope and courage and a realistic optimism seeing through the time spent in surgery and other mechanical tinkering required with surgeons hands, I promised myself that when I get out of that operating room, and I get out of that deep freeze they put my body in, and I get into that intensive recovery unit - with all my heart and mind and soul - I will make sure to keep a light on for others out there to find a connection in case they have faced, or are facing a similar heart related storm in their life. I will walk through this fire, with my head held high, no matter what. Most importantly, for the long haul, for the duration past the time required for me to heal up and benefit from it in the rehab process, to do my best in making sure “someone out there” doesn’t feel alone as I did in their heart adventure.
It’s never you, until it happens to you.
Before we get too far along down scrolling and swiping lane, I’m not using this post today as a specific thank you rolling list of credits. This post is not for me either. This post is for (well.. you’ll see. Keep reading to the underlined grand finale at the end.)
Getting “me” out of the way? Sure, I’ve been published, videoed, interviewed, given a chance, coached, cared for, listened to, and I’ve also been blacklisted, laughed at, ghosted and more. I’ve hurt people, and I’ve been hurt. I am no model world citizen thanks to some revolutionary surgery that pumps glitter and kicks out rainbows to a hallelujah chorus inside my chest. Every coin has its two sides. In these past five years I’ve come to appreciate both the highs, and the lows. I’m learning that “love does”; no matter who hurts you, or who you have an opportunity to connect with and help. I’m learning more than ever that physical labor requires emotional, spiritual, and mental practice as well. They are often 10x tougher than a fully loaded barbell, and I savor the lessons and insights they offer on whatever level or spectrum of challenge faced.
Having that thin red line run down my chest has opened up a level of living and appreciation that few can imagine. Fortunately, to live and understand this depth of mortality and extra colors in life’s crayon box, I’m realizing that it takes tougher and more jarring life circumstances that push a person to their own finite boundaries (hint: almost dying or being in that reality) more often than not. In the past five years, I see - and appreciate - “that look” in someones eyes when it shows up. Different backgrounds, different ages, different situations.. but they’ve ‘seen things’ or have lived through something that adds that identifier. For me, having that thin red line and mechanical [tick.. tick.. tick..] offers the opportunity to engage in life that I never expected.
The opportunity was and continues to be there: Conflict between what I know and can learn with my new reality, and the whisper of wishing not to know it. I could face this surgery, recovery, and life ahead based on what statistics say, or I can flip that medical sheet over and color my own picture for the world to see and more importantly me to experience the adventure of. I can pick up the load, carry it fifteen paces, set it down, and regroup, or I can stay at the surface level and walk away never to see or experience ‘more’ again.
I’m thankful for that scar down my chest.
I’m thankful for the indescribable dark nights spent thrashing in pain.
I’m thankful for the sound of a heartbeat that once haunted me in silence.
I’m thankful for the storms, winds, and rains. I’m thankful for the wilderness.. Proverbial and real.
I’m thankful for the lessons that come unexpectedly.
I’m thankful for these glorious ruins of mine to come back to life and strive to find others out there.
I’m thankful that wisdom and grace are more than old words in old books. The aforementioned fuel me.
I’m thankful for that heart-deep thirst to keep learning and learning..
Patience. Persistence. Following through. Taking one more step. (Seeing more.)
Forgiveness. Ferocity. Rest. Realigning between the ears, and between the heart beats.
Five years. I’m thankful for every second of every day since the incision.
The Grand Finale
In the past year since I had an opportunity to share my story publicly thanks to CrossFit, I’ve had the opportunity to connect with over 50 people directly worldwide who reached out to me personally, and help welcome them into a network of over 200 of us that exists currently.
There were only 3 of us who I was aware of at time of surgery.
There were about 8 of us I met and connected with post-op.
There are now over 200.
High five to you, 200+ and counting, and your friends/families.
This post is for you.
Thank you for being there, for me. With me.
Thank you for making these past five years feel like home, and not a wilderness of wondering if I’m the only one out there. Thank you for listening, and for sharing. Thank you for your stories. Thank you for your thoughts, and prayers, on the real. Thank you for your tips, tricks, and documented medical experiences. Thank you for your examples of resilience, and also sharing your disappointments and pains. Thank you for being a blessing in my life.
Thank you for taking the time to read this today.
Take heart, today.