Most people recognize the quote by Jerry Seinfeld in reference to fear of public speaking and death. It goes something along the lines of with public speaking being fear #1 and death fear #2, logic supposes that at a funeral one would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy. I certainly know people who can relate to that conclusion, but I am not one of those people.
The development of any kind of public speaking fear was rapidly obliterated during my childhood thanks to a wonderful mother who encouraged a very active participation in any and everything 4-H. Now I’m not being facetious with the comment about my wonderful mother. 4-H is and was a great experience, but it’s also a lot of work and responsibility of which an undeniable amount falls to the individual with a driver’s license in order to attend various events and gather supplies for fair projects. From demonstrations, to public speaking contests, to face-to-face judging, talking in front of people was unavoidable.
Fast forward to high school where some of my many extra-curriculars included forensics and debate where you are, in essence, scored on your ability to public speak. Then of course there were the more “fun” public speaking activities like spring play and fall musical. There’s nothing quite like the adrenaline rush that comes from performing for a live audience just like there is nothing quite like some of the ridiculous costumes I found myself in. I guess even after high school and college I still continued to public speak in one form or another as Ms. Wheelchair WI 2014 and then Ms. Wheelchair America 2015. Long story short, I talk… a lot… and sometimes people other than my mother find themselves in a situation where it’s only polite to listen.
I don’t “perform” like I used to (at least not in a structured sense…) but I do still find myself with the occasional public speaking gig. Normally it isn’t anything too intense – talking to a nursing class about my experiences in healthcare, trying to challenge perceptions during diversity week at a college campus, sharing my faith journey as it progressed before, during, and after my injury – you know, that kind of stuff. I guess public speaking has become something I (generally) enjoy. It’s exciting to be able to share experiences and knowledge, I mean, that’s basically the reason I decided to blog. The ability to educate, to start conversations, to catalyze thinking, to spread ideas – it’s an often unrealized power we all have so no, I don’t fear public speaking.
You know, I like the actual act of speaking but what I REALLY enjoy is the end. That sounds bad. I don’t like the end because it means I’m done, I like the end because that’s when I get to find out what people really heard during my presentation. That’s when I open the floor for questions, the curtains come down, and all is laid bare in a “what did you actually mean when you said…” kind of session. Don’t get me wrong, it can be slightly (if not overwhelmingly) terrifying because depending on the audience, there may or may not be a filter. When I speak to groups of little ones, I have a few questions I can almost always count on. For example, kids seem to be both shocked and fascinated by the fact I can shower sitting down.
Other times when I speak, I’ll get a question that catches me off guard. Maybe it’s one I haven’t been asked or something I haven’t thought about before. When I get those questions, I’ll give a surface level answer but I will undoubtedly spend the rest of the day and a good chunk of time that night thinking and rethinking and then again rethinking my response. I had one of those questions the other day. A question I responded to and moved on from, but like a persistent family of unwanted and prolific bunnies, that question kept wriggling its way back into my head.
Do you miss anything from before your injury and how do you cope with it?
That probably doesn’t seem like a world shifting question, but in the same breath, it was and is. Each day that passes is another day I live in this normal and my old normal – what the majority of the population can relate to – fades away a tiny bit more.
Ultimately my answer came down to some of those stupid sensations I never thought to appreciate, like cold toes, I never thought I would say I missed having cold toes. Oh and this one which is a bit ridiculous but it crosses my mind on more occasions than I should probably admit. You know how when you really really REALLY have to go to the bathroom, and then you go and it’s like, the greatest feeling of relief EVER? I totally miss that… I’m a “by the clock” kind of person now. Ridiculous yes, but you have to admit it’s a feeling that is inexplicably wonderful.
I mean, yea, those are both things I miss and there certainly are countless simple sensations I wish I could still experience. Yet, in my contemplation of that seemingly simple question, I realized “missing” something is so much bigger than the lone tree I pulled out of a much larger forest. In order to miss something, you have to first recognize its existence. When I was first discharged from Craig Hospital way back in August 2013 and came home to a world both familiar and unfamiliar to me, I missed so many things. I missed my friends at school in MN. I missed the rigors and challenge of college courses as I experienced my first fall season where I wasn’t in school since I was a little tyke with a bowl cut and massive glasses. I missed my significant other and everything our relationship was. I missed my independence. Those were aspects and images of my life so poignant and vivid, it was devastating to find myself without any of them.
Time changes things. I now have my independence that I used to miss. Sure, I still miss my friends, but we’ve figured out ways to stay in touch as our lives push forward. I guess I’ve forgotten many of the little things that were once so important in my “old world.”
Is it worth taking the time to pick through and remember some of those things?
Does trying to find and color those dull and faded memories mean you’re living in the past?
When you do “miss” something from your past, are you stealing thunder from your present?
If I had the ability to rewind time and answer that rather astute question a second time, I would likely answer it a tad differently. Sure, those little flippant sensations might make an appearance in my response, but they would no longer take the starring role. You know, the way I do a variety of tasks and activities now is so much different than the ways I used to. Of course it has become “old hat” and since there isn’t much I can do about said change, it rarely crosses my mind. The ease of life – of getting in and out of a car, of going to bed, of getting dressed, of traveling spontaneously, even of entering a building – is so different now. I take no issue with the way I do any of those things and am exceedingly grateful I do all of them independently, but if we’re talking about missing something, the ease of a walking life would probably top the list.
The ease of a walking life. Looking at that sentence all I can think to myself is, “Really Sam? Is there even such a thing?” We all have our challenges, regardless of if we approach them with feet or with wheels. Likewise, memory is a rather imperfect entity. What I remember and what truly was could very well be two completely different things.
So what does one take from all this?
Yea, I have zero idea. But maybe that’s the point. Maybe sometimes living and truly experiencing life isn’t about searching for answers but instead finding seemingly unanswerable questions. Finding those questions that ignite curiosity, motivate reflection, and plant the seeds for future adventures.
I certainly do miss things from my taller days and I can imagine I always will. Yet, the way in which I experience that “missing” has evolved in a way that’s hard to describe. The sharp corners of my past are more rounded, still recognizable but now present in a way I can only express as comforting. Maybe that’s the real magic of time…
No one knows what tomorrow will bring. I guess kind of like no one knows what memories you’ll make tomorrow or even what memories will pop into your head during those 24 hours.
What I do know is that it doesn’t take long for today’s struggles to become yesterday’s memories.
I do know I miss parts of my past, but I have no problem enjoying my present.
I do know sharing your experiences and ideas with others can be both exciting and freeing.
Recount your exploits. Open up and share your life.
Appreciate today for the memories you’ll have tomorrow.
Live loud. Love God. Learn lots.