A mere 18 months ago, I was in a hospital bed with a stitched-up slice in my abdomen running from pubic bone to belly button.
A nice woman was there to talk about our payment options.
The morphine haze made it hard to understand the details, but I got the line that mattered: “You don’t qualify for financial assistance.”
She apologized. It’s policy. I’m sorry.
I didn’t have the numbers then, but I do now.
Pre-surgery blood work, major surgery, anesthesiology, a four-night hospital stay, and post-surgery pathology and consultation: approximately $40,000.
Not dying because of a 9-pound ovarian cyst: priceless.
How would we pay for it?
We had no idea. I laughed at the absurdity of it all and immediately regretted it. Laughter shakes the abdomen, and the sliced-open abdomen does not like to be shaken.
I closed my eyes and let the morphine take me away.
A few weeks later, I sat on my suitcase outside the San Juan airport. Joe was on the phone. The kids skated around me, working out their travel kinks.
I was weary. We were almost home — only a 3-hour ride away — but we couldn’t get there. The shuttles that run from SJU to the west side of the island cost about $150.
We didn’t have enough money.
Joe got off the phone and gave me a smile. A friend was in San Juan, about to head back home. He would give us a ride. We crammed our luggage, our skateboards, and our six bodies into his small SUV and drove away.
We had to move in two weeks. We didn’t know where we’d go. We had no car. We had no income.
My body was hurting. My brain was tired.
We had no plan. We had no options. We had no certainties.
I rolled down the window and let the sunlit air wash it all away.
A mere two months from now, I’ll be hiking in the mountains in Switzerland. I just booked the tickets. I’ll be with my husband, a client who has become a mentor and a treasured friend, and several colleagues whom I am ecstatic to meet face-to-face.
Every morning, I wake up and go for a run or a long walk. I come home and meditate. I take time to read, journal, chat with Joe, and check in with the kids. Then I pour another cup of fresh Puerto Rican coffee and do work that I love doing until late afternoon.
Tomorrow is my 38th birthday.
We’re going to one of my favorite restaurants. We’ll eat sushi while our kids play in the pool. We’ll laugh and talk with beloved friends. I won’t drink — my menopausal body doesn’t respond well to alcohol — but I don’t want to. Everything is rich and dear and awe-inspiring enough as-is, unfiltered.
On the way home, I’ll roll down the window in our beat-up Trooper and stare at palm trees leaning on the sky. I’ll hold every memory, every moment, every feeling close, like a treasure. Then I’ll open up and let the coquí songs carry it all away.
I don’t need to hoard these treasures, because there is no end to them. This is not a one-off divine dispensation, meted out according to the staggering greatness of my need. I don’t get more by being pathetic. I don’t get less by being happy.
This is a holy fucking flow. There is more. There is always more.
Your life can change faster than you think.
It doesn’t change easily. That’s not what I mean. But it can change quickly.
The circumstances that seem so overwhelming, the limitations that feel so immovable, can dissolve. They can disappear and leave you breathless with wonder, holding only a memory, a story you’re still learning how to tell yourself.
I don’t know you. I don’t know how helpless you feel but I know what it is to feel utterly helpless. And I know when you feel helpless, when you feel most helpless, you have reached a moment of great opportunity.
This is your chance.
When you realize that your life has — or will — nosedive despite your best efforts to keep it flying, you have a choice.
Keep doing more of the things you’ve been doing: keep struggling, fighting, hustling, doing whatever it takes to survive. Keep believing what you’ve always believed. Keep repeating those cycles of fear-based decisions, of reactive behavior. There are infinite versions. You can stay here a long, long time.
Or you can change.
You can realize that what got you here is exactly what will keep you here.
You can realize that you may not know what works, but you now know what doesn’t work. And you stop doing it.
What that meant for me was simple and terrifying: instead of focusing on survival, I would focus on what mattered to me.
I would choose what was important, what resonated with my soul, whether or not it could be formed into a coherent and reasonable plan for rebuilding my life.
I would choose what I wanted over what I was supposed to want.
I had no idea what power that choice held. I had no idea, and I was terrified, and I was pretty sure it would end in more disaster. I didn’t feel confident or assured. I didn’t have a formula and I certainly didn’t have a guarantee.
I also didn’t have anything left to lose.
I changed, and then my life changed.
I don’t know how alone you feel. I don’t know how terrified you are. I don’t know what battles you’ve fought. I don’t know the wounds you carry.
But I know who you are.
I know who you are because I know who I am. That’s what I’ve learned in the last few years of failing, falling, flailing, and coming undone in every possible way.
When you let go of your safety, your identity, you find something better. You find your self.
The less you have to hold on to, the easier it is to let go. That’s the gift of failing, the gift of pain, the gift of tragedy, the gift of every limitation you face.
I am infinite — a sacred, limitless conduit.
The only real limitation I face is my capacity for love: not love for the world, not love for others, not love for what is good or right or noble. No. The only limitation that matters is this one: how much am I willing to love myself?
I don’t always get what I ask for. I don’t always get what I envision. I don’t always get what I affirm. I don’t always get what I want. I don’t always get what I work for. I don’t always get what I expect.
I do always get what I allow myself to receive.
So do you.
In Greek mythology, Charon is the one who ferries the souls of the dead across the river Styx. The cost is one coin, and those who cannot pay it are doomed to wander the shores of the river for a hundred years.
What is more terrifying, do you think? To pay for the ferry and cross the river into the unknown, or to wander the shore in circles, weeping and wailing, alone and unknown, for a hundred years?
You get to choose. As long as you are willing to tolerate the pain of what is familiar, you will choose your pointless wandering, crossing and recrossing known paths of pain, cycling and repeating the same situations, the same rejections, the same turmoil, the same helplessness.
Over my desk, there’s a note I look at every day. It has a simple reminder:
An openness to indirect paths
Next to it is another, with an equally simple message:
A commitment to complete honesty in word and action.
These are two sides of the same coin. The coin is what it costs to change your life. You feel stuck? You don’t like where you are? You want to get to the other side of the river? This is the fare. This is the payment required.
This is what it takes to change your life.
Whoever you are, wherever you come from, whatever your privilege or lack, whatever your interior voices scream at you in the dead-silent coldness of night, however abandoned or hurt or broken or evil you feel, whatever you’ve done or left undone, however much you feel you deserve what you are receiving, the same fare is required to cross the river.
Everything else is an illusion.
Reach in your pocket. Feel the coin. It’s there. Take it out. Hold it in your hand. Look at it. You have what you need. You have the power to change.
Will you use it now, or will you wait for a hundred years?
For more self-study, The Urban Howl recommends The Universe Has Your Back: Transform Fear to Faith.
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