I read again one of my posts from 2012. Life Is What You Make It: Constructing Meaning tells a story of my aunt Mary (Mimi, as we lovingly called her). She was a special person in my life, an encourager, teacher, loving supporter, and never-ending inspiration.
As I read the 2012 post, one paragraph took me aback.
She learned to get in and out of her wheelchair on her own, move the chair up and down stairs, and she drove her red Cadillac well into her 70s (she was one of the first to own a car with hand controls).
I wrote those words 10 years ago, and they packed a punch then, but somehow, perhaps because I'm 10 years older, they hit me harder now.
Mimi became paralyzed at age 13 from an abcess on her spinal cord.
Hope is the thing with feathers - That perches in the soul - And sings the tune without the words - And never stops - at all.
Who can say why she didn't give up? Was it her amazing parents? Her sister and brothers, who never gave up on her? Was Mimi born with an ability to flex, and to stay resilient in the worst circumstances? Where did she learn to be so strong, to smile through adversity, to give so unflinchingly to others when she lost all ability to walk, dance, swim, skate, run and jump?
I would watch her wheel her wheelchair up to her red Cadillac, open the car door, brake the chair wheels, reach over, put her hands in just the right spots on the seat and armrest, and pick herself up and pull herself into the seat. I saw that and thought nothing of it.
I watched as she came to a set of stairs--okay, one or two, not a flight, but still!!--and in a crazy balancing act, lift the front wheels of her chair just so and push the chair up one stair at a time. Was I not amazed? How could I take these feats of will and physical power for granted? But I did.
Driving that Cadillac was a gimme! We all took it for granted. She was like anyone else behind the wheel, except for her deft hands. It was fun to watch the peddles on the floor move when she moved her hands.
Back then, it was rare to find a spot marked for a "handicapped" driver. But people knew Mimi, and often made arrangements to hold a spot near their store or restaurant when they knew she was coming. She was treated like Royalty. It felt special to be among her entourage.
"Life is what you make it, Judy"
I can't write about Mimi without tears. I know my cousins feel the same. She was one heck of an example to live up to.
Life is what you make it, Judy. I'm sure she must have said this to each of us at one point or another. And we certainly couldn't argue. She was too strong a model.
So, here we are in 2023. What would Mimi tell me as the calendar turns, and I sometimes find it difficult to manage what life throws my way? No doubt, she would give me one of her penetrating smiles, sit with me a while, and ask me to take her for a walk.
As I imagine pushing her chair down Maple Avenue, no doubt I will once again regain perspective. Maybe I will think about what I can do for someone else today to make their life a little sweeter and help them live into Mimi's prescription for a happier new year.
Morihei Ueshiba said something similar:
Always practice the Art of Peace in a vibrant and joyful manner.
Mimi would have liked that. She lived it after all.
Good ki to you for the coming New Year, dear friends.