As I continued reading the message from this woman whose husband had crashed into me, my eyes began to open to life in her shoes. Her email was heartfelt and sincere. About halfway through her message, she explained how she and her three young children were watching the Monday night news and saw the story of me training for the walk. Her 11-year-old son knew immediately that I was the woman his dad had hit. He stood up, faced his mom with tears in his eyes, and said, “Mom, we need to do this 5K with Becki.”
The words of the message blurred as I could no longer control my own tears, and my heart swelled with compassion for this woman and her children. She was reaching out personally to get my permission for them to join me in the walk. Her son, wise beyond his years, said they needed to show me that they didn’t approve of their father’s actions.
I couldn’t imagine the guilt she must have felt thinking about what her husband had done, the impact it would have on her children, and the embarrassment that must have been coursing through her. The message she sent took courage and strength. Her courage in reaching out helped me to see the whole experience through different eyes.
I thought back on the accident and my illusions of myself as a character in a James Bond movie. It’s all very thrilling to think about, seeing myself as a hero of sorts. The visual of a stereotypical bank robber comes to mind—mask over his eyes, mouth twisted into a teeth-gritted grimace, racing down the highway, guns-a-blazing, dollar bills flying out the windows. Those images gradually softened when his wife reached out to me. I started to see him as a real person, with fears, struggles, and feelings. The anger I harbored towards him began to recede, little by little, until one evening I surprised myself as tears filled my eyes thinking about him. I thought about his life before he made the series of choices that led him to rob that bank. I thought about his stresses and anxieties, and I thought about the sweet family he left behind when he walked out of his home that day. The holiday season was upon us by then, and I laughed when I found myself nodding my head in understanding when the Grinch’s heart grew three times in size. So much had changed. My physical body had changed, of course, but my mind had changed as well. My heart had changed. My life had changed.
Her courage in reaching out helped me to see the whole experience through different eyes.
December 31 arrived. My phone flooded with texts, emails, and social media posts showing photos of friends and family posing in their Unbreakable t-shirts. Although several words of encouragement and praise came along with those photos, I was nervous for the 5K that night. I was in a soft neck brace by that point, but was still dealing with quite a bit of pain. On top of that, it was the middle of winter in Salt Lake City, Utah at midnight. The temperature hit just a little over 20 degrees that night when I stepped cautiously out of the van with my brother and his family at the event location. The parking lot was covered in ice and snow. I took in a deep breath and blew it out in apprehension. I could almost see my fear in my warm breath floating in the chilled air. “This was a bad idea,” I said out loud to my brother, half-joking, half-serious. He laughed in agreement, and gave me his arm to steady me as we walked into the building to check in.
By 11pm, my brother’s family and I were waiting and ready, bundled up as best we could at the starting line. It was dark and cold, as one would expect, but the park lights that lit up the path allowed me to see all the smiles of my friends and family that were there to support me. A few minutes before we started, I saw a woman and three children walking toward me and I knew it was the little family of the bank robber. We shared very brief introductions and a heartfelt embrace. I was so thankful to them for coming to support me in the walk, while conversely, she was so thankful to me for allowing them to be a part of it. The height of my emotions in that quick embrace were matched by the height of my adrenaline pumping for the walk to begin.
It started simple enough, but by mile two I was already hurting. My niece was pushing my wheelchair alongside me as we walked, and suggested I sit. My stubborn resolve to finish this race on my own two feet had me shaking my head no without even thinking. My brother turned up the volume on his phone playing “Eye of the Tiger” and we kept going. Not having used the wheelchair even once, I crossed the finish line two minutes after midnight to a crowd of cheers. You’d have thought I came in first place. It was exhilarating to complete that race and deeply gratifying to share the moment with that brave, little family who came to support me. I know that they are dealing with their own share of pain, but the steps they took that night alongside me were a positive sign of their healing as well. With all the pride I had in myself for finishing, I was so proud of them for being there.
The natural high I left with that night was such that I felt I’d never come down. But two days later, I felt the freefall of fear, doubt, and discouragement creep back in. I was still dealing with physical pain, and still unable to drive. I started to feel a bit like Boo Radley from To Kill a Mockingbird—trapped in my dark house, a pasty-skinned, antisocial shut-in, peeking through the shades when I heard people outside. With the hype of the 5K over, I felt useless and broken again. I shared my feelings with my parents on the phone one day, asking in all earnestness, “What do I do now?” I don’t remember whose response it was, but the answer I got from them was somewhere along the lines of this: Keep going. Keep moving. It’s gonna be tough, but you’re tougher. God kept you here for a reason. Figure out what that reason is.
I’m sure no one would blame me if I had faced the whole experience with a bitter heart and negative outlook. But I had a profound realization one day—I could appropriately place the blame for my current physical state on the bank robber. There was no denying it was his fault. My attitude, however, that was all on me. I was responsible for how I acted every day, regardless of how I felt, regardless of any pain I had or anger I experienced. So I made a choice. I made a choice to keep going; to not let this break me. The 5K was not going to be the last thing I conquered. With all the twists and turns this story took, literally and figuratively, I can look anyone in the eye and honestly say that it has only made my life better. Of course I don’t recommend it. The healing process has been long and difficult. These were some of the hardest days of my life, but I was still alive…and with this mentality, I became more alive than ever.
There was no denying it was his fault. My attitude, however, that was all on me.
I’ve been given a slight glimpse into the mysterious ways that God molds us into who he wants us to become. It was true that I was protected from death and paralysis in this accident, but I was not protected from pain. Somehow, though, this pain brought me the understanding I needed to appreciate being alive. Life is like that. God doesn’t always shield you from pain, but, if you have a willing mind and heart, he’ll show you how the pains of life can bring you more joy than ever. These pains have not only made me stronger, but have also made me more compassionate, more giving, and more believing. When before I felt like I had no purpose, my purpose now is to live. And to appreciate life as it is today. There is always something to be thankful for. Find it today, because you may not get the chance tomorrow.
August 5th, the day of the accident, has become a sort of second birthday for me. It was a day of rebirth, in a sense, so I will celebrate appropriately! On the anniversary of the accident this year, I’ll be hiking the Na’Pali Coast in Kauai with my sister and niece. I have to do something awesome that day, and charging an 11 mile hike seems like a good way to prove to myself that, despite the aches I may have, I can take advantage of a solid pair of working legs and an impenetrable spirit. And maybe I’ll have some cake too. Carpe diem, right?
You’ll also like When Life Gives You a New Normal, Growth After Trauma, A Woman of Grit Without a Hard Heart, 5 Tips When Your Life Takes a Left Turn, Anatomy of a Strong Woman, Grace is Not Weakness; It Requires Strength, and I Never Wanted to Be a Pregnant Widow,