That’s a photo of one of the tiles on a hallway wall in the Shepherd Center.
Passersby may not pay attention to this tiny tile amongst the many other hand-painted ones. In addition, most people who see it will just smile at the nice grinning sun and just think for a brief moment that the quote must mean something profound since it is by the Roman philosopher Seneca. They will never think twice about it or why it was written on the tile.
When it seems like there is nothing to live for, when living each day brings deep pain of all kinds, then living becomes an act of courage.
When I think about about my fellow patients with me at the Shepherd Center, I think of the bravest people I know. We were expected to move on with our lives—nay, start a new life—after everything we have ever known changed. We did not ask for this, and complaining or whining about it would get us nowhere.
In medical school, one of the patient cases that we focused on one week was an individual with major depression. The patient felt like she “shouldn’t wake up in the mornings”, which paralleled her other signs of major depression.
“Wow,” I thought to myself, “I remember not wanting to wake up in the mornings either.” I remember going to sleep every night thinking and praying that this was all a dream and that I would wake up in the morning in my bedroom and everything would be normal. And then every morning, I would wake up disappointed. It didn’t help that we had to wake up early every weekday morning for therapy; to work hard just to do simple things that a two-year-old could do with ease.
I was very tired in the mornings. Physically tired because my body was sore and in pain and I never seemed to be able to get enough sleep anymore. Mentally tired because everything was so incredibly draining in this new life that was worse than death. There’s a song I used to listen to when working out when I wanted to get focused, and I occasionally listened to that in the mornings to get me going.
In the beginning, my chest brace hurt. My neck brace hurt. My neck staples hurt. The nerves in my right arm hurt. Speaking and swallowing were difficult.
After a while, I started wishing and praying every night that I would go to sleep and never wake up. Then, in the mornings, I would wake up disappointed that I had woken up to another day.
My relationships with friends would never be the same. The way people looked at me would never be the same. I could not participate in the same activities or go to certain places anymore. Simple tasks would become a huge obstacle. Everything would take longer for me.
But we found a way to start anew; to build from bottom up. What other choice did we have?
Our bodies fought for us to stay alive when we should have left this earth. We had to fight ourselves to stay alive each day when we sometimes wished our bodies would have just let us go.
Sometimes, living each day takes strength beyond measure. I applaud my fellow hospital-mates and hope they are all doing well and are happy.