It’s easy to feel frustrated when we suddenly find ourselves unable to do the things we love, the things we have always done and up till now taken for granted.  Numerous circumstances can drop us here:  illness, injury and/or medical treatment, modern over-stuffed schedules which strip us of “a life,” natural processes like aging, and a big one especially for today’s boomers, the caretaking of the sick and/or elderly (again, not an unusual situation but one for which we aren’t necessarily well prepared). Regardless of the reason, when our freedom to determine what happens in our bodies and lives is hampered by forces beyond our control, anger, resentment, victimhood and depression can all rise up to greet us.

This doesn’t make the job of living any easier.

Prior to two abdominal surgeries, I was an avid gardener.  Post-op, I couldn’t lift five pounds.  Nor could I bend over.  I was unable to shovel, turn the soil, or prepare garden beds.  Pulling weeds was out of the question.  It’s amazing how quickly you discover what key functions various parts of your body play when you’re suddenly minus their input.  With a stapled-shut, six-inch vertical incision between my navel and pubic bone, there just wasn’t a lot of core action to be had.  Previously one of the strongest areas of my body, my belly now required gentleness and time, and I obliged, maneuvering life in slow motion.  Whether getting out of bed, attempting the stairs, or scrunching my whole face while swallowing hoping to avoid a cough, I learned how to be in the world in a “gingerly” manner.  Not my usual m.o.  Have you ever tried to restrain a laugh because un-girdled mirth was just too dangerous?  As you fight to contain your guts, you’re simultaneously trying to avoid blowing a gasket elsewhere.  It’s pathetic, brutal, and absolutely necessary.

But I digress.

As spring was fast becoming early summer, I wanted to be outside in the garden, most days my medicine of choice.  It wasn’t enough to look out the window.  I longed for sunshine and fresh air.  I’m not sure I was yet at the point of detesting my bed, but I was getting there.  Too much of a good thing is, well, too much.  So as soon as I could manage a few stairs, out I went.

As I said, there was no bending, no pulling, no pushing or lifting allowed.  What could I do?  I could look.  So I did.  Sigh…

Dead flowers at eye level.  Hmmm…

Then, a glimmer.

I couldn’t use a hoe, but I could deadhead.  I could stand at the waist-level bed bordering my driveway and easily clip a handful.  Maybe not a whole garden’s worth, but I could cut ten, fifteen.  Now that’s a slight shift in ambition for one who has previously managed a hundred acres.  (Ah, humility.)  I could still immerse myself in beauty—even the beauty of decay—and like a flower, soak up the sunlight, drink in the air.  (Ah, gratitude.)  I could still be in my garden, tending her and letting her tend me.

This was a crucial moment, the memory of which continues to impact me daily.  Seeing what was before me, I also saw a choice: I could either focus on a very long list of limitations, bemoaning my condition and deficits, or discover what was possible.  Stay with the disappointments of can’t or step into the opportunities of can.  Grieve what was lost, or find the gift here.  Even now, a happy distance from doctors and hospitals and treatments and forced rest, I get overwhelmed by all that there is to do and feel limited and inadequate in the face of it.  Cancer didn’t cure my ambition (it may have made it worse), and I still create mountainous to-do lists.  But I’m getting better at foregoing the fantasy of a flying leap to the summit.  One step at a time is not such a struggle anymore.  I can do that…

… and enjoy the flowers all along the way.