You’re Always Smiling!

I knew moving back home was going to be hard, I just didn’t know how hard. If I was bordering on the constantly tired before, I was now teetering on the edge of exhaustion by evening. The 5am starts, trying to remain on top of work, while keeping up with rehab, as well as stepping up a level of independence, was probably more than I could cope with. But I needed to learn how to cope and the only way I knew how was to hang onto every strategy I had learnt through rehab, and by just keeping on. Harder still was remaining resilient.

Walking through the automatic doors of Calvary Rehab on the Tuesday afternoon, then making my way up the corridor to the physio room, I was smiling. My physio saw me, and I met her smile with a smile. While I was putting my bag onto the chair next to the physio bed, the Physio asked me the usual questions, ‘how are you going?’ ‘How are the pain levels?’ I gave my normal kind of answers, ‘I’m still going’, ‘The pain is about 6-7, but that’s okay, I’ll just keep going.’ During this exchange, I would get on the bed and begin the same routine of leg exercises that we had done the previous week. I started the first exercise, sliding my foot up the bed and sliding the foot back down. There were tremours, but no spasms, so after ten on each leg I started the second exercise; moving my legs, one at a time, to the side and back again. A simple exercise for most, but not for me. On the third, the spasms start in the muscles of my right leg. I lose control of my leg when the muscles start seizing, and the only way the muscles calm down is if pressure is applied down. The physio, sighing, straightens my leg and holds it down. A minute passes and the muscles calm. I start the exercise again. As soon as the right leg starts to move back to the centre the spasms return. And I burst out laughing. My laughter caused the physio to laugh, and with the next breath she asked, ‘How can you laugh?’ And all I could say was, ‘If I don’t laugh, I’ll cry.’ It’s true. My physio gets incredibly frustrated with the muscle spasms, the deteriorating leg weakness. I can’t. I just can’t give into frustration. I can’t afford to. I’m not being stoic. I just know that I will gain nothing from frustration. Frustration and tears won’t change the leg spasms or the leg weakness. But the muscle spasms and the leg weakness do test my resilience. Sometimes all I can do is laugh.

But the physio’s question reminded me of something my pool physio said to me four weeks earlier. While I was stepping down into the pool, the Physio asked me how I was going, and I wasn’t aware that I was smiling when I said, ‘Good, thank you’. Although I was brain dead from lecturing in the morning, I was good. Taking me by surprise, she then observed, ‘Even when you are exhausted, you are always smiling. How can you keep smiling?’ Smiling though is a choice. Remaining positive is a choice. But smiling for me isn’t about looking positive when inside my thoughts are negative. My decision to smile is genuine. My resilience isn’t about being stoic. I can smile, laugh, and keep pushing forward, because of joy that is rooted in something beyond my physical health. I can smile when I am in pain, exhausted, and weary because I don’t depend upon my own strength. I can’t. My resilience will stumble if I depend upon myself. My wellbeing is tied to something more enduring than my physical health and mobility, which is just so changeable. My hope is not bound to whether or not my ability to walk recovers. My ability to walk may deteriorate, but the hope that I have is imperishable. That is why I can smile and laugh in the face of such utter frustration. What I’m writing about is the life I have in Christ. A friend asked me in a facebook message what I have been thankful for recently. My answer was simple, I’m thankful that my life is hidden in Christ. I’m not sure I would have the resilience to see out each day if my life wasn’t. Sure, there are days when I am too grumpy with my students when they don’t get to task at the beginning of our sessions together. My patience has a tendency to snap when a taxi company does not send a car when I had pre-booked. And I fail sometimes to meet a smile with a smile, even when that smile is meant in kindness. I’m not perfect. But each time I do fail, my conscience soon reminds me that my impatience does not help anyone, and each time I do give into frustration, my attitude doesn’t display glory to the one to whom I owe my life. So I smile, laugh, and I say sorry when the need arises, because I hope that irrespective of my physical condition, Christ will be honoured through me. I remain resilient, I remain smiling, because ultimately my life isn’t about me.

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