Live like you were dying

Hippie Group Playing Music and Dancing Outside

I have to begrudgingly admit: clinic camp was actually cool.  There.  I said it.  It was revealing.  It was challenging.  It was life-changing.  It was everything I thought it would fall short of trying to be.

We laughed.  We cried.  We cared.  We dared.  We shared.  (Gosh, this is starting to sound like my high school’s motto back before public schools got swept into the business of adopting taglines.)

I always got mildly irritated at the people who coyly kept all the details a secret, but now I know why they did, and I’m going to stay the course as well, because I’d like those behind me to go through it with the same vague information and the same clean slate and semi-open mind.  I wouldn’t want to cheat anyone else out of that experience.  So sorry, if you came here looking for some inside dirt, I’m not spilling the beans. 🙂

Suffice it to say that yes, there is physical activity.  Just when I thought I couldn’t go any further, I somehow found the energy (or maybe it was pure empty adrenaline) to go one more step.  Muscle groups I didn’t know I had ached.  There isn’t quite the new-agey feel-good propaganda I was told there would be, or maybe it just didn’t possess as much Cheese Factor as I was told it would.  We poured our hearts out.  We spilled our guts.  We dared to do things that we were originally brainstorming for exit strategies to get out of, and it was worth it.

My change-of-heart arrived shortly after we did.  I decided well, I’m here.  I have no choice in the matter.  People say this sort of shit changes lives, but you only get out of it what you put into it.  Well, I’m game.  So bring it.

I left a slightly changed person, altered on some level I was hoping to access this weekend.  We had climbed the legendary Pole–a 30-foot log that might as well have been 30 miles–with a full-body harness clipped to a thick rope.  We were to jump from the pole, although the jump would only last about a human body length.

I have to say that I had no plans to do this at first.  Three things finally convinced me.  First, I watched a classmate with many physical problems including MS, climb the pole and jump, even from 3/4 of the way up.

Then my partner, who is legally blind, made the jump, from the very top.  Both did just fine and said I should do it.  The second thing was, my staff doctor was very matter-of-fact and treated the situation as though I had planned to do it, mentioning the order in which we would go up, as if it were a done deal.  I didn’t want to let him down or resist that.

The third and final thing was the clincher, though; I didn’t want to leave that camp knowing there was something I chickened out on doing.  I didn’t want there to be something that I didn’t even try and thus would never know.  I also didn’t want to reach a point five or ten years from now and doubt myself, never having conquered that flaw, and regretfully wonder if I had sabotaged myself for years to come by not taking a simple step.  I wanted to have participated fully and to use everything about the entire weekend to my advantage.  I left no stone unturned.

Before ascending, we were to announce to the group what flaw, imperfection, insecurity, doubt, or whatever else that was holding us back, that we were going to leave behind as we jumped.  Mine was my self-insecurity.  I already knew it was significant when I found myself making my statement through tears, which continued as I climbed the pole.  I still remember climbing for what seemed forever, breathing hard, telling myself to keep breathing and to not ever look down, but to keep looking up.  Everything’s going to be OK if I don’t look down, keep looking up.  I got almost to the top but I couldn’t bring myself to stand on the very top of the pole.  I was at the last and next-to-last rungs.  I thought about looking down but I refused to do so and instead looked just straight ahead, as I was told.  I said screw it and jumped from there.

The next couple of days held some emotional transformation, as people took the mike and gave recognition to those who provided inspiration over the weekend, or they gave each other kudos for helping each other out, often during hard times, during the past couple years, or they apologized or cleared the air with anyone they were having a conflict with, whether those people were classmates or not.  I felt, welling up within me, a sense of duty to apologize to the class for not being as nice as I could, for being so negative all the time.  I was sorry for not reaching out to people or offering to help out more than I did.  I blubbered my apology to 125 people through tears and I don’t know how I managed but I did and I felt a lot better.

I don’t know exactly what changed, but I know that since this weekend, I’ve talked to more people more comfortably and more warmly, from a different place in my heart, and in a different tone.  I still struggle with the same nervousness of how am I gonna get through clinic, and how am I going to express what I want to say in these presentations, but now I somehow know that I’ll get through it, and that if I operate from the heart, for the good of the patient, the numbers will come.

And if that wasn’t enough to speak volumes to me, our sermon topic at the Unitarian church yesterday was about our deep individual calling, how we’re called to do things with our lives, and how events lead into each other until, strung together, they reveal a path that led us to a destination we were supposed to reach; it was exactly meant for us.  It was amazing.

Part of the service focuses on the congregation, and we’re invited to take the mike and share with the rest a joy and/or a sorrow.  Jay shared both a joy and a sorrow that day.  The joy was the transformation that happened at camp, and the sorrow was that a longtime friend in his circle of friends up north died suddenly of a heart attack earlier in the week.

Speaking of those who have passed on, it’s my grandfather’s birthday today.  He would’ve been 87.  As far as I’m concerned, he is anyway.


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