My journey has been characterized by moments of quiet stillness that make you believe that you are safe, only to be jerked up and down, and side to side – ribs pressing against the overhead harness, out of breath, exhilarated and at the same time drained. The rides speed around curves, carrying hopeful but cautious passengers. Finally, the familiar slow arrives, a rickety creep that signals the ride has finally ended. Hopefully, you emerge with a smile, a little rattled, but intact.
Many days I feel like the shaky-kneed kid who gets off the ride, proud but content to not ride again. Whole and splintered. The duality that has dictated the last 6 months of my life is a bit of a quandary that I am still considering. Some mornings, I am my complete self, taking on new adventures, digging into my work, spending time with people that I care about. Other days, the debilitating pain that surfaces from a simple attempt to walk my dog humbles me. Like disembarking at the end of Space Mountain, I am finally feeling that sense of accomplishment that comes when the security bars lift and I can stand steadily on solid ground. Yet, from one day to the next, feeling stable feels remarkably elusive.
The rip of the package releases the smell of lidocaine and menthol as my wife looks for the best place to put the patch on my back. “Put your hand where you want it.” I reach back as we share our new, sometimes daily, ritual. I put on my work shirt. I drive the hour from my home to work a little less timidly than I did in July.
I can truly appreciate the conundrum my clients face now. Yes, I go to work because I love what I do and because I have to support my family. I smile. I have a good day. I laugh with colleagues. Sometimes, I even pivot quickly to avoid a hallway run-in. I almost forget. Then, I turn too sharply, and my back helps me to remember. I am not fine. The frustration that washes over client’s faces when opposing counsel suggests that their basic pursuit of life indicates that they are clearly “whole” is now palpable.
The prosecutor barely looked up from his stack of case files as he mentioned the drivers multiple DUIs. It’s hard to believe that I almost missed her hearing. I remember being so angry after the accident that getting “justice” would consume an entire day’s thoughts. Ultimately, she would serve no additional jail time for plowing through a red light, crushing my Lyft driver under his steering wheel, and putting bulges in my spine while I spit out pieces of my broken teeth.
I still have days that I’m so upset and want her to pay, but I also understand we are all suffering to some extent. There is no excuse for her behavior, but the more I reinforced my own victimhood, an uncomfortable thought surfaced. Could she have been a victim too? The broken headlights on Memorial Drive seemed to suddenly pale in comparison to the fractured shards of disappointment that peppered her experience with the justice system.
Many times clients say to me, “this isn’t fair”. They are right, the system isn’t fair. It wasn’t fair that I was hit by a drunk driver with no insurance. Here I am, healthy and active one day. The next, I’m discussing the variety of back braces with the senior citizen in the pharmacy aisle next to me. I am certainly grateful that my experience was not worse, but I can’t help but pine after (and have a much better appreciation for) my pain-free former life. As I tell Plaintiffs in mediation, many times you don’t get what’s fair. But, hopefully, you can get closure.
I ultimately chickened out the night before my appointment for trigger point and epidural injections. I had reached a plateau with physical therapy and my orthopedist suggested them as my next step for pain management. Instead, I took some well-heeded advice and decided to attempt a lifestyle change. I’m dabbling in yoga, pilates and core strengthening, a long-term game. Ultimately, the best advice I got to get back to normal was to not let life pass me by.
So I went ahead and bought the back brace. I’ve made it half way around the world with it. My carry-on is a lot heavier with a combination of heat packs, meds, and the occasional disappointment of turning down the more strenuous activities on the itinerary. “Certainly if you can go and enjoy life, you aren’t truly impacted by the accident.” I used to make some of the same judgments as opposing counsel. Now, I know that the people that continue to travel and live life in pain are really grasping for control. Those people are brave, fighting for the life they had and pushing through to secure new happiness.
I’m embracing the “both, and” dichotomy of life and reconsidering my lawyerly affinity for the surety of “either, or”. I can be hurt by a drunk driver AND not get requite. I can experience pain AND immense joy. My reward for acceptance is freedom. I am free to value the things that matter most in life. I am free to live fully in this moment.
All of the unique experiences we encounter – not just the ones that bring us pleasure – enrich our lives. As long as the good mostly outweighs the bad, you’re winning at life. I am certainly working to outweigh the bad in 2019. It is a fact that my back will never be the same, that I will never see intersections the same, or travel the same and that’s ok. I will also never take for granted my health or the immense love that has surrounded me on this journey.
Thank you for sharing in this process with me.