Two Cups is my metaphor for life. One cup overflows with gratitude for all the blessings I’ve come upon as I’ve walked the path only I could walk—infinite, really. The other cup, only filled partway right now, are heartaches I’ve collected along my almost fifty years of living in this crazy world. It feels like a healthy balance to have so much goodness and a few hardships too. Perfectly imperfect. It’s kept me shooting for the stars while remaining grounded in real life too.
I’m extra grateful this year as I’m still here, sitting on my couch with a book about Christmas, Paris, love, and the heartache of loss. My cat is curled next to me whistling in her sleep, the fire crackles below four Christmas stockings my grandmother made for me and my three girls. The darkening sky above the bay is a soft grey, one that whispers words of serenity and peace.
This summer while on a vacation in Peru, my girls and I were in an accident where I was directly hit by a boat while we were motoring back to our cabin in the middle of the Amazon at night. I blacked out but heard the sound of a fishing boat hitting ours and then me. It took another two to four days before I realized I had bruises on my arm, dislocated ribs, and a head injury that has a 60-90 percent mortality rate. After the accident, my girls and I were taken by a different boat to the third-world-strip-mall, urgent care to have my lip sewn back together. Novocain was injected, but I wasn’t numb to the needle and thread pulled in and out of my gums in a hallway surrounded by the soundtrack of devastation. Nine stitches, mostly on the inside, answered my prayer that it would be “better than I think it will be.”
The next morning I drank more coffee than I usually do because I had a Seattle-sized tumbler with a lid for my swollen lip covered in a bandage. And, perhaps, I was in shock and kept sipping, reliving the events of the previous night. “What the hell? It’s a family vacation!” What was happening inside my head was the bleeding veins between my skull and brain on my left side were being constricted by the extra caffeine. It only took a half hour for the bleeding to stop before my body encapsulated the blood like a blood blister and pushed my brain over just enough to give me a freight-train headache through the center of my being. This headache was enough to get us out of the jungle and back to civilization where there is migraine medicine, a real hospital, and people who could help me and my three kids get out of the country. We got our two weeks worth of clothes and souvenirs packed and back on the long, narrow boat for the 45 minute ride to the tiny airport and then to Cuzco at 12,000 feet where we spent the afternoon waiting for our flight to Lima. It just so happens that altitude is also a blood vessel constrictor. Lucky for me.
But for the Starbucks mug I got in Lima at the beginning of the trip, drinking too much coffee, and having lunch at 12,000 feet, I might not be here this Christmas. I would have stayed for another day and a half in the humid jungle where blood vessels remain in full dilation. I would have thought my headache was a regular migraine with the added benefit of being hit in the mouth and this would have caused me to continue to bleed until it was too late. I may have been on the airplane with my three kids heading back the next day. I may have had to have surgery in Peru to relieve the pressure of two days of bleeding inside my skull. If I would have made it through, only 30 percent make a full recovery after surgery when bleeding is undetected for too long. This is what makes subdural hematomas the most severe of head injuries—you don’t know it’s serious until it’s almost too late.
Angels were in the Amazon. There were so many things that could have gone wrong. The first being, our group of eleven didn’t get thrown into the murky water where caiman (alligator family) and other terrifying creatures live. There were five kids on board… Just the trauma of being thrown into that water in the dark… I believe my angels were my four grandparents I’ve lost in the last handful of years – Elwyn and Shirley, and Alice and John. I was protected in the Amazon until we were able to get all the way back to Seattle where I realized I might have a severe concussion. Yep, and then some. And, I was protected at home when I sent a prayer request because the hematomas got bigger and surgery was a real possibility. Hundreds of Facebook friends responded. I was sent to a different doctor at the last minute and he said we would wait despite the CT scan. After two weeks of excruciating headaches, they stopped completely with the prayer, thoughts, and love that were sent my way—the very next day. Gone.
Four months later, I’m doing so much better. Christmas is busy always, but it’s seemed like a little extra overload this year. Cookies didn’t get baked and not enough holiday movies watched from the couch all together. We had to get two Christmas trees because the first one was picked out in haste during a homework break at dusk. It was too small, “just not right.” Not to mention two sets of cards because there was a typo on the first set. Once again, life moving too fast.
The moments though… We had the best time shopping for each other in Seattle. We saw Annie: The Musical at the 5thAvenue Theater. We watched a couple movies and got to sleep in a few days. My family, aunts, uncles, and cousins came over for Christmas Eve. It was magical. Our morning was lovely too – matching pajamas, Christmas music, the fire flickering, twinkling lights on the tree and mantel, presents opened, and pumpkin pie and homemade whipping cream for breakfast. Around noon I helped my girls put all their things in Ellie’s car and off they went to celebrate the holidays with their dad and his family.
The house is peacefully silent now. I’m still in my pajamas and the filtered sun won’t shine again until tomorrow. It’s not picture-perfect, but it’s been a beautiful day. I’m surrounded by love and grace. My girls gave me the softest blanket I’ve ever touched (ever), photographs of my girls with Santa through the years sit on the table behind the couch, a nativity scene on the piano, a “perfect” (second) Christmas tree with ornaments I’ve collected since I was young, art, flowers, and even my cat and dog, surround me as a reflect on where I’ve been, how blessed I am to get to live this life of mine, and what’s ahead in the new year.
We all have moments of absolute magic and moments of deep grief for what was lost or what will never come to be. Me, too. I’ve decided I’m going to live for the magic, the connections to others whether minutes or a lifetime, and, most importantly, for the love I can give to those in my circle and their love given right back.
This is life. It’s two cups at the same time. Sometimes one cup is overflowing like a Starbucks cup from Peru. It’s easy to keep refilling until you have to get out of the jungle—right now. The cups are not always marked clearly. The cup of heartache just might turn into the cup that saves you, but patience is required. It’s happened over and over for me.
The only thing I need to remember is to accept whatever comes, have faith I will be okay no matter what, and hold onto the hope that is infused in both cups. I’ve learned that everything in this beautiful, messy life is meant for me. I get to decide the narrative, even when it’s as crazy as a rogue fishing boat hitting me in the middle of Peru on our family vacation.
There is always, always something to be thankful for… Today, I am thankful for every single thing because I almost lost this life. This Christmas I was given perspective and that grace surrounds me like the softest blanket I’ve ever been wrapped in.
May you also know for sure that no matter what, life is so, so good. Love and grace are protecting you too. xo