This week I was skating with my family, racing my 4-year-old up and down the rink as she giggled and squealed. I watched her wobble and right herself and push forward to win. I followed behind her, skating the length of the ice on one foot going one direction, the other coming back. I’m not a great skater, but I did it with ease, and in that moment I was struck by such a deep thankfulness for what I was doing.
I’ve had two babies, suffered through tough pregnancies and been lucky to have straightforward deliveries. I didn’t have so much as Tylenol in my system giving birth. I had my daughter at home in the bathtub. After having them I felt powerful and capable of anything. But that power was about me. It was about what I could do. I was proud of myself, and with that, I now see, arrogant about what I thought I had somehow controlled.
My stroke was the first time in my life my body failed me. It was the most humbling physical experience I’ve had, and it opened my eyes to my body in a way that childbirth never did. Suddenly, I couldn’t lie on my side without feeling certain I was falling out of bed. Once that improved, the neurologist asked me to sit up. I tried and fell sideways. When I could sit, he asked me stand. I toppled into the arms of the residents around my bedside. I had no control. And I was humbled in a way that shattered how I think and feel about my physical self.
Now, I am just profoundly grateful for my body, how it healed and what it’s capable of. And I’m struck at how it had to be broken before I could appreciate it, before I could understand how amazing it is. Now, I appreciate that while my body is mine, it is also its own. Now, I look at my body — every sore muscle and aching joint — with respect, reverence and, most of all, gratitude.
Growing and birthing and feeding two humans was not enough for this realization. For me, those were successes. Hard things, but successes nonetheless. It took my body failing for me to love it, to be gentle to it, to look at it with grace and kindness.
Today, nine months since my stroke, I am recovered. The residual symptoms I deal with are minor and do not impact my quality of life. I get dizzy more easily, but even that I find is a welcome reminder of how much I can do and how far I have come.
So when I am playing catch with my son and look up too fast and find myself dizzy, or when I’m dancing with my daughter and spin her in a circle and am left holding the counter to steady myself, I say a quick thank you to the body that grew two humans and had a stroke and didn’t give up. To one that is sturdy and strong and capable and that I can rely on every day to get me where I need to go.
My whole life I’ve been terrified to fail. I’ve minimized risk and followed the rules and colored inside the lines. I’ve made good choices and been responsible. Still, I know it’s true that failure is the only way we learn and grow. What I didn’t know until I had my stroke is that failure is a gift.
When my body failed me I learned to love it for the first time, and I learned how to be truly grateful for every single thing it does every single day. And I know this lesson was worth all the pain it took to learn.