I dreamt last night I was back to my old tricks in gymnastics. For those who don’t know, I used to be a badass gymnast. I say that with pride because there are so very few things I really excel at, so I don’t feel cocky in admitting the one thing that I was truly gifted with as a kid. It came easy to me. I loved it. I didn’t care that practice was four hours a day every day during competitive season. I was so incredibly driven then, and I was nine years old. Looking back on it now, it’s like that was some other version of me from a parallel universe. Here I am in bed, wondering if I’ll have the energy to shower today. I can’t believe I used to do acrobatics on a four inch beam. And it was my favorite event, the balance beam. It required such devout focus, but I loved how everything would fade away to a colorless blur in the background while performing on it. All that existed was four inches of felt and a nine year olds concentration. It was almost holy being up there. And it was so unassuming to look at. It was literally just a beam; four feet off the ground, waiting around for anyone who felt worthy to mount it; one slip and it was all over. I’d always considered it the most difficult out of all four events, but immediately it was my favorite. I felt most myself up there. Most alive.
I was at the top of my game (both in gymnastics and in school) when I came down with the flu one ordinary spring day. I skipped practice, which I never did. Days with the flu turned into weeks, and I wasn’t getting any better. I was getting worse. Suddenly I began having headaches everyday, like clockwork. My muscles started aching for no reason. Sometimes my skin hurt to touch. In line at the grocery store, I felt too tired, too weak to stay standing, so I’d sit, on the dirty grocery store floor, my head in my hands. My homework began taking me an unwarranted amount of time to complete. At that time in third grade, we were being taught how to tell time. I remember looking at the clocks on the worksheet and the numbers not seeming in order. The questions about what time it was looked like they were written backwards. I’d reread them and reread them, slower and slower. I used to be incredibly quick. Always the first one done with in-class assignments. I grasped concepts easily and fast. Now words were scrambled, and so in order to answer a question, I first had to rearrange the words in proper order because my brain for some reason, liked to put all the words in a jar, shake it up, and spit them out in whatever sequence they fell in. This took completing things three times as long. Not to mention my pounding head didn’t like to read things when it hurt. None of it made a lot of sense. Even looking back on it is a blur. But we went to a few different doctors who couldn’t find the answers. My mom said she was cringing in silence because I was showing all the symptoms that she had when first becoming ill in the 80’s. She didn’t say anything for a while, but after months of being sick and getting progressively worse, she knew it was what she feared.
I was basically home-schooled by my mom for the remainder of third grade. I spent a lot of time in bed. It was a strange time. But after four or five months of the “flu,” I slowly began to get better. I wanted so badly to get back to my routine. I wanted to be a kid again. But what I really wanted was to get back to gymnastics. Finally after a very very long hiatus, I slowly eased back into it. My teammates and coaches all welcomed me back and I was thrilled to be doing what I loved again. But, of course, things had changed. I still had all the skills in me that I’d acquired since age 5, but my body wasn’t as resilient as it used to be. I’d be unnecessarily sore for days. I tired out easily in the middle of practice. Out of nowhere, the back of my heels started delivering sharp pain when I walked. I thought it’d go away but didn’t. At the orthopedic doctor, I was diagnosed with calcaneal bursitis. Some big word for my ten year old mind that meant walking was going to be a bitch now. One day at practice, while jumping from the low bar to the high bar, my right hand slipped and I swung around, slamming my head into the metal beam which held up the bars. I knocked myself out for a few seconds and woke up on the floor with a few teammates and my favorite coach Steve crouched over me yelling my name and “What happened?! What happened?!” as though he were angry or something. Of course, he was just worried. The E.R. later diagnosed me with a concussion and told me to take it easy for a few days. I had an enormous goose egg on my head and a scab on my nose. I brought that goose egg to show-and-tell the next week. My friends were impressed.
One by one, the signs revealed themselves that I wouldn’t be able to continue gymnastics. I felt like John Elway when he cried during his retirement speech and uttered “I can’t do it physically anymore, and that’s hard for me to say.” It sucked, because I was good at gymnastics, and not much else. I ended up “retiring” at the ripe old age of 11 and it was a terrible decision to have to make. I tried other sports and hobbies that weren’t as physically demanding, but I mostly sucked at them, and none compared to what gymnastics offered me.
It’s funny to think where I’d be had I not gotten sick and stuck with gymnastics. I showed a lot of potential. My coach Steve even pulled me aside one day and said if I stayed on track, I had a shot at Olympic tryouts for Salt Lake. It was probably something like a 1 in a million shot, but still, just him believing in me meant everything. Who knows where I’d be. But once again, the illness was making decisions in my life that I wouldn’t have made on my own. Similar to last year when I retired from my work at the gallery. I wouldn’t have made that choice on my own either. But sometimes I wonder if I was given this illness because the great designer of my life knew I wouldn’t make those choices on my own. I would only choose them out of necessity. And these choices, will bring me to exactly where I’m supposed to be. We have a tendency to think only we know whats best for us. And that was the root of my anger back at age 11 and more recently last year when I felt I wasn’t being dealt a fair hand. Periodically, usually in stillness, I feel the wisdom of something else at work in my life. When I start to trust that wisdom, my life isn’t so much something I own as it is an energy, a cause; a vehicle that I simply need to ride in (and enjoy) the paths shown to me, not get angry at the ones that didn’t materialize. Tolle puts it this way:
To complain is always nonacceptance of what is. It invariably carries an unconscious negative charge. When you complain, you make yourself into a victim. When you speak out, you are in power. So change the situation by taking action or by speaking out if necessary or possible; leave the situation or accept it. All else is madness.
So there you have it. No more whining about who I was, what I had. I need to stay present to who I am now. What I have now. And right now, I have some embarrassingly ridiculous gymnastic photos for your viewing pleasure…Feel free to point and laugh.
Health, Happiness, and Awesome 90’s Photos.