On being strong

“You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.”



This quotation greeted me as I lay on my hospital bed. I had just opened one of the many cards and gifts sent by well-wishers. As I stared at it tears welled up in my eyes but never actually fell. I thought about the many times I had been called “strong” by people who liked and respected me and also by those who disliked me passionately. It had become somewhat of a personal trademark. At the school where I teach, I work collaboratively but due to the unfriendly atmosphere and the inability of most of the staff to unite on important issues, I tend to be a loner. Too many times I had stood up in defense of some student or put forward collective opinions about controversial topics, only to realize that I stood like a solitary cactus plant in an arid desert. This trait of standing up for matters I feel passionate about coupled with the small group of friends and being a divorcee, had led to my classification of being strong.

I always felt that perhaps I was overrated as far as strength was concerned. After all I have always been known to be quiet, unassuming and shy by those who have known me since my childhood days. But as I read that quote about strength and pensively played out the previous few weeks in my mind, I began to believe in my own God-given strength. The old saying about God not giving more than we can bear also lent confirmation to the idea of me being strong. How else could I possibly have been lying so calmly on the bed, perusing books and cards, without having shed any tears, without casting any blame, without knowing how long I would be warded and with the injuries I had sustained?

In my previous post I touched on the incident which led to my hospitalization. I was the victim of a violent crime, an attempted robbery turned into wounding with intent. I had been brutally shot resulting in my chin being shattered, my lower jaw being fractured on both sides and with wounds to my chest and shoulder. I had lost a great deal of blood during transportation ( I walked from one car to the other as we switched from my car to a nearby police vehicle). As preparations were being made for emergency surgery, my body began to go into thermal shock as I shook uncontrollably. During the surgery the decision was made to remove four teeth from my lower jaw along with part of the jaw itself and a tracheostomy had to be performed as my tongue had been injured as well and was in danger of slipping down my throat. A tracheostomy involves the insertion of a tube through an incision made in the throat through the neck. With this procedure, speech was temporarily suspended. I was kept in Intensive Care for four days then was transferred to a ward for the next  twenty four days.

It must have been strength, through the grace of God, that saw me through the time immediately after the shooting. What else could it have been that kept me from behaving deliriously? How else was it possible that instinctively I restricted unnecessary movements and histrionics which could have promoted greater blood loss and perhaps the ending of my story would have been different and would have come much sooner? The nurses, attendants and doctors were amazed as I walked into the emergency room. My friend had tried to lift me anticipating that I would be too weak to walk and, I suppose, also in an attempt to help me conserve energy. I refused, in my usual independent manner, to be lifted .

My family was told that I would be staying for at least one week in Intensive Care. My God had other plans for me. As I lay in that Unit, my mind dealt with healing my body. Stray thoughts about being afraid or of the pain or the impact of such an injury on the rest of my life were kept at bay. When given the opportunity to self administer morphine via a dose dispenser, thoughts of the addictive and other effects of morphine on the body helped keep the doses taken to a minimum, which just held off the pain. My brain was functioning on a different level. This worked in my favor and within just four days, my condition had improved sufficiently for me to be transferred to a ward.

At the ward, as soon as I could begin to move, two days after being transferred, I was able to have my first real shower. I felt so clean, so whole as I could do something for myself. Gradually as my strength slowly returned, albeit I was still extremely weak as there could be no eating, I focused on trivial matters. This was my technique for coping. I could not dwell on what was still to happen in the coming weeks or months or years. I instead planned when I would go to rinse my mouth, to have a shower, where to place my possessions and clothes to make them easily accessible. I planned by the minutes. I was fully aware of the atrophy possible when muscles are not in use and so I scheduled time to perform stretching exercises initially, then I started to walk the corridors to get in some exercise as soon as I got strong enough. I even remember doing some light weight lifting with some bottles of water!

There was never any crying. Nothing would be gained by crying. Instead I prayed, I read inspirational books and the bible and I listened to gospel music supplied by my elder brother’s mp3 player. I reflected a lot on events of the past two years but I did not allow myself to wallow in pity. I repeated John 3:16 whenever I had to undergo any sort of procedure. There was one time I remember going in for the doctor to perform a debridement, which is a medical procedure to remove dead, damaged or infected tissue. This was done in a supply room with me holding a pan below my chin to catch the runoff as the wounds were washed. At one point the doctor was cleaning off dead cells with a scalpel and he was shocked when I did not even flinch. He was so shocked that it led him to jokingly ask if I was dead. John 3:16!

Finally I was discharged after twenty eight days when the doctors had told my family that my stay would be at least four to six months. My progress constantly amazed them. Every time they gave a timeframe or said that some process would not work out or that I would not be able to do certain things, by God’s bestowed strength I was able to prove them wrong. What it came down to was that even though many people thought that I was strong before I was shot, when I was at my lowest, physically at my weakest, I actually was stronger than I ever imagined because I really had no choice but to be strong! Praise be to God.


One set of footprints….

One set of footprints....

On that auspicious day earlier this year, I cast a backward glance when my life was nearly snatched from me and there I saw one set of footprints in the sand of time. Unlike the author of the popular, stirring melody, I did not need my Lord to explain why there was only one set of footprints.

I was shot. By an uncompassionate, cold-blooded criminal who wanted to rob me of my possessions. There was no warning. It all happened in a rush. Just like in the movies – there was a loud explosive sound which initially I thought was the sound of a piece of lumber smashing into the window of the car. As my friend and driver sped off, with screeching tires, there was a volley of shots ringing out as the attacker made a desperate effort to stop us.

I gingerly raised my hand to touch my chin. What I felt instantly filled me with more fear, dread and many conflicting and unexpected thoughts. I hoped that it was only the glass splinters which had adhered to my face but as I simultaneously felt and saw the blood pouring down onto my car’s mat, I knew it was much more than that! My chin had been blown away and there was a gaping hole where it once prominently adorned my face.

Thankfully my driver spotted a police vehicle as he frantically made his way to the hospital and he had the presence of mind to stop for them to transport me instead of him. On the way to the hospital I lost a lot of blood. I sat in the back seat of the vehicle with the left side of my head propped against the back door and all the while my mind was racing. All women are vain to different extents. I was no different. The thought of how I would look terrified me. As soon as that thought tried to take root in the rich soil of my mind, which by now was in overdrive, a quiet peace gently pushed it aside. People who know me, the me before the shooting, all consider me as tending toward negative thinking. I tell you this so that the impact of that quiet push could really sink in – one set of footprints.

The thought of dying never even crossed my mind. I had no idea of the extent of my injury… and perhaps that was a good thing. As I lay in the Intensive Care Unit, probably high on morphine, I had no visions, no hallucinations but I can tell you this. My bed and its appurtenances were off limits to all negativity. There was an almost visible and tangible presence of the Lord. It was, as I like to describe it, like a force field was around my bed. I could feel it and when my family told me about the numerous persons, right at home as well as internationally, offering prayers for my well being, I was not surprised.

When in my speechless, weakened state I was left without medication and food for close to two days, I was transported to the most beautiful place I had ever seen. It was as though I was in the middle of clouds. There was no pain, no sadness, no anger. There was only peace and the feeling that I wanted to stay there forever. However it was not yet my time and from deep down in my tracheostomy ( a tube inserted in my throat to prevent my damaged tongue from slipping and which temporarily rendered me speechless), I heard a male voice saying my name repeatedly, softly at first but when I did not respond, it became louder and urgent. I was on a female ward at that time and when I finally opened my eyes there was absolutely no one close by my bed.

My Lord had lifted me and was keeping me safe. He had a purpose for me still, here on earth. My heavenly Father was not yet ready for me and it is my firm belief that He was the voice that I heard bringing me back, even though I did not want to come back after such a pristine experience. He tenderly looked over me, ensuring that I was well enough before two sets of footprints could be in the sand.

Not the end!

Today is 3rd November 2013. This is more than two years since my last post – growing to love. What I have found out during the course of previous months this year have made me realize that what I thought was the mutual end of a long and arduous journey was in reality a biased perspective.

At the beginning of this year, an incident occurred in my life which nearly brought it to an abrupt and violent end. The details of the incident and all relevant precursory information will be forthcoming. For now I will keep the focus on what I had previously deemed as a done deal, a dead-end relationship. So, as I had been living alone, I kept several dogs for security purposes and also because I just love them. When I was left lying in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at the hospital, there was no way of determining for how long I would be out of commission. The question therefore arose about who would look after my dogs.  The only answer I could provide was for my relatives to contact my “former’ friend. He was the only logical one since he had given me some of the dogs and would have some ideas to assist my relatives. I could not conceive that an ex- would be willing to assist with the care of my dogs but that is exactly what played out.

Within the next seventeen days, all the while I am lying incapacitated in the hospital, my dogs were cared for diligently.  My former friend took on the task of cleaning my yard and feeding the dogs  not just everyday but twice a day. After that time my relatives took over. I spent a total of approximately one month in the hospital. I emerged twelve pounds lighter, unable to speak and of course very weak. My dogs were traumatized by my prolonged absence and the presence of other persons tending to them. Remember I lived alone for many years and I had them for several years before this incident occurred. When I was finally able to venture back home to visit with them, they were hesitant and scared. It took several days before they came around and accepted me.

At the end of one of my visits to the dogs, my good friend and neighbour, Gillian, was driving me back home to where I was temporarily staying by relatives, when we decided to stop off at a drugstore. Before we even pulled into the car park I had spotted my ex’s car parked right in  front of the store. I could have spoken a little by this time but I chose to not say anything to Gillian. As we walked to the entrance of the store I knew that he would have seen me but I chose not to even glance in that direction. Gillian on the other hand, spotted him and waved to him at the same time exclaiming about his presence to me. I then let her know that I had already seen him. She related to me how he kept staring at me and that he did not return her greeting. I in turn had predicted what he would have done. No surprise there for me. That incident led me to believe that the conclusion of my previous post was correct. I left the store with mixed feelings and a myriad of thoughts.

The following week I decided to contact my ex to thank him for the duties he had performed during my stay at the hospital. I was still angry with him over the failed relationship and for the way he had treated some of my relatives but I knew that thanks could never be too late and… I was grateful for his invaluable assistance. I was not prepared for his response over the phone, At one point he began to cry and I initially thought that it was due to his feeling sorry for the pain he must have conceived that I would have had to endure as a result of the injury. How wrong I was! He was crying for himself, for the humiliation which he felt I had put him through as a result of the publicity associated with my incident and because he felt that I had betrayed him with someone else. i ended that call so quickly once I realised why he was crying. I was once again agitated by him and angry with myself for initiating contact. I vowed, once again, that I would have nothing to do with him.

To cut out a lot of back and forth, a lot of oscillation, I will simply say that the next few weeks saw a period of change, of renewal. We gradually learned to become friends but this time around I set limits for the relationship. I tolerated no nonsense, no attempts at manipulation or of dominating my time. Temper tantrums were dealt with immediately with definite negative consequences. If he got angry or upset then I became angrier or more upset. As far as I was concerned if he did not like me as I am or if I said or did something which he did not like then that was just his problem. I was no longer concerned with trying to please him. After this, when he began to grasp that things were not going to be as they were before our breakup, he began to make changes – small at first, then more important ones. Finally the day came when he confessed how much he loved me and me alone. He told me that it was always me and that it was still me in spite of all which had transpired and he told me that he was not aware that I had really left him in 2012. He kept thinking -even after more than nine months – that it was just like all the previous times when I left for a few weeks. He expected me to return at any time and was able to continue his routines only because he thought I would be coming back. It was so sad because those were the words I had waited twenty odd years to hear and now that they were being said I felt nothing.

The pain and hurt which I had experienced repeatedly during the course of our relationship, had re-enforced their messages to the extent that when I decided to move on last year, it was final for me. The pristine landscape of my love for this individual had been completely eroded by the harsh elements of his treatment. He was now trying to rebuild the profile of our relationship and I had already destroyed the blueprints. As I said before, I could no longer feel that love for him. The chemistry between us was no longer there and the more I tried the more this was confirmed for me. How unfortunate for us both that he waited until I almost lost my life before he realised that he could not live his own without me. I agreed to remain friends but on my terms which really means just friends. Who knew that this man who once could only find fault with me could now only see the good in me. I guess the best way to end this would be to thank God for His mercies

growing to love

I was deeply attracted to him when I was just twenty five years old. It initially was not attraction but avoidance. Something, that little inner voice called instinct, told me he looked like trouble, stay away, far away. Time and his persistence made him become ultimately irresistible. I didn’t fight it in fact I sought him.

He played all the right cards. He was indeed the master of the game. I was hopelessly lost without even knowing it. Like a wild bird, he wooed  me with morsels of compliments, deep eye contact and boyish charm. He was ten years older than I and knew all the traps to set. For me I longed to be caged by him. But for him it was more about having a prize to show off.

After our first intimate time together, which in all honesty was not earth-shattering, I could not wait to be with him again. I planned and hoped and waited. He was all cool and disinterested. Smart man! the more I was sideswept, the more I wanted to be with him.

As I write this I realise that it was the perfect combination. He was a master manipulator and I was a willing puppet. The age difference did matter. Some say it doesn’t but it does and it did. His views on life, his rules, his expectations, his perspectives on relationships were all different from mine by a whole generation.

The thing is I changed gradually into a mini me of him. Some of that was good but some was not. I gave freely of time, love, money… you name it I gave it. To keep me in line or to have his own way without my knowledge, he would have an angry outburst and chase me away. Initially this worked well for him because I would always leave… and always return.

What was amazing was that after many years he actually grew to love me in a pure wholesome way. I became a much needed part of his life just as he was part of mine. I had lost myself in him which helped him to find his way. As happy as I was for him I could not go  on living a life in which I had no dreams, no needs, no expectations…

And so what was a lifetime had to finally come to an end. Undramatic, total acceptance by both parties. Life does indeed go on. The younger me would never have understood that concept.