It was a sunny day in mid Spring in the early afternoon. The road curved my car as I steered it steadily homeward bound. I left work early that day, and although everything seemed as it should outside my car window, inside, gingerly holding the leather steering wheel, my world was collapsing.
I had worked hard over the course of many years to climb the male dominated auto industry. Long hours, discrimination, and the hustle was all gone. Cat Stevens was singing the song “Trouble” through my headphones as tears ran escaped my ears and slid down my headphone wires.
I had had many good fights in my life, from losing my son, to being emotionally abused. I had intimately known hunger, sleeping in the freezing cold, and hearing gunshots as I tried to sleep. All of those situations rang loud in my mind; all tarnished with terror, screaming, begging, and fighting. But as I drove down that Florida road, it was empty and I was alone in the silence. This battle which I had now been given was far greater than any I had faced, but above all, it was deafeningly silent. Not even my own heartbeat could be heard in my ears. The whole world had been muted.
Oh trouble can't you see, You have made me a wreck, Now won't you leave me in my misery, I’ve seen your eyes, and I can see death's disguise, Hangin' on me, Hangin' on me
I had left early that day to receive my diagnoses, the first of many I was later to find out. The truth was, I was told there was nothing I could do. I had done battle for years, and then was told I would lose- no matter what I did. There was no sense to fight, I was to be resigned to the fact that I would be forever ill.
A year later, I was walking back into the doctor’s office, in what seemed my only outings anymore. I was carrying a painfully typed up list of every current diagnoses, their symptoms, my medications, dosage and descriptions. Walking was painful, but the two stairs leading to his office was my new battle ground. I was no longer having to fight for my spot in life, I was now fighting two long concrete stairs. These were stairs I wouldn’t of even noticed in my tall, long strides. But today, I was mentally gearing up to grab my partners arm and focus on lifting my foot two inches off the ground.
Two years later I spent my days looking out the window from the confines of my bed, day in, day out. I watched my body waste away and become frail and weak. I watched the fire leave my eyes a little more, day after day. The silence of my pain and misery was deafening. No longer was I in the roar of war, I was in the silence of loss.
I wanted more than anything to have the simplicity of my past problems and struggles. Life seemed bitterly sweet in hindsight, knowing that that rollercoaster ride would be my last, knowing that I’d never really feel the wind beneath my hair as I ran, knowing that I’d never be that strong beautiful woman I was…that I was inprisioned by my own body.
I spent a very long time wishing for death’s kind embrace. Even at my worst, I felt like a failure not being able to end my own misery in taking my own life. Instead, I laid in my sorrows, wallowing like a great ship lost at sea, allowing the waves to carry it.
It was a very long time before I ever got angry over my loss. I had been robbed of a life. Time and seasons passed by while I lay in my bed watching it from a window.
The world told me if I worked for it, I’d earn it. No one ever told me it could be stolen from you. It wasn’t fair, I wasn’t even 30 years old yet, I needed to work to support my children, and above all, everything I ever was, was ripped from me.
I was mad I was unable to move in the mornings. I was mad my feet hurt so bad. I was mad I couldn’t remember anything, that I was alone, that I was dependent. I was mad at the injustice of it all and as I laid there in my bed, swollen limbs and a sore heart, I swore that if I ever got better, so help me, I’d become the strongest version of me. I’d never let anything ever hurt me again. I couldn’t walk and yet I watched martial arts videos. I listened to hours upon hours of motivational speakers each week. Their voices were the only voices that pierced through the empty silence of my pain. They were the only voices that told me I could fight. They told me that no matter what, my purpose had to be my life; and I had to be willing to lay my life down for my purpose.
I read about athletes, watched their stories and admired the simple ability to be able to jump or run.
I was angry, I was hurt, and I decided to do something about it. I decided to live in the future. I made a conscious choice to plan my life as though I would get back up. I was furious at the world, at myself, at God. “You just wait until I’m better!” became a near daily statement from me.
The deafening silence was overtaken by the voices of my mentors telling me to push on, of the stories of men far greater than me, burdened with far more than me. It was filled with men and women who had overcome all odds, and many who didn’t, and died in their pursuits. Slowly, their voices became my own, slowly, their strength and perseverance became mine and instead of asking “why me?” I began asking, “why not me?”
Why not me? Who am I to anyone else, to anyone else’s suffering. I’m but a speck of dust in the wind. Why not me? Why shouldn’t I get sick? Why not me?
I was no longer resigned, I was no longer angry. I accepted. Through my acceptance I was able to change. I spoke to myself in the mirror when practicing to stand completely upright and look half normal.
Then I started yelling at my own stairs everyday as I hobbled towards them. No longer was I mentally preparing for a battle. I was letting the stairs know I was bringing the battle to them. “Damn straight I walking down everyone of you f-kers, here we go!” Had you been standing at the top, you’d still hear my words of mingled pain and “you can do this Linda, come on girl” as I went.
I was willing to give my life for my purpose. I was willing to endure whatever it took to get strong, even if that meant horrible failure. I knew that if I stayed where I was, that if I believed the titles given to me, that if I allowed this to dictate my life, that my life would never change.
I’d always be unable to go shopping alone. I’d never be able to have the strength to push the gas petal in the car, or go on a walk in the park without pain. That was all a given. That was my current situation, and if I did nothing, it would become my permanent situation.
Out of my own anger, I decided to go into battle one last time, not for financial stability, not for my children, but for my very quality life. I decided that if ever there was a time to fight, this was it. I already knew what the outcome would be if I lost; and although I wouldn’t physically perish, I knew it would be a life marred in isolation, pain and regret. I chose to give my life for my purpose. I decided I didn’t care what it took anymore because where I was couldn’t be any worse that what lies ahead.
Many, many months followed of me dreaming, now out loud of what I would do when I was better, not if, when. I decided that I would be strong, really strong. I wanted more than anything to be impenetrable. I never wanted to hurt again. I never wanted to be in that bed again.
It was a cool and purple morning months later that I stood at the precipice of the doorway, headphones in, sneakers on, and the feeling of sheer dread in my guts. It was about 5-6am that morning and the rest of the world was still asleep, silent, not even the sun had peaked it’s crescent head yet.
And that’s the way I wanted it. I wanted to be unseen, I wanted to melt away, to drop to my knees and cry. But I had made a choice. That I would give my life for my life, and the only way to achieve that was to hurl myself directly at my fears. I hadn’t run in over 5 years. My best feat thus far had been walking to the stop sign at the end of my street and back, but never had I attempted running. Walking was already so painful.
I pulled my phone out of my jacket pocket and rolled my neck like the tough guys I saw in my videos. I pushed play on my motivational speaking recordings, held my chin up, and allowed their words, now my own, to blare into my ears as I walked to the edge of the driveway.
I remember I stood there for much too long staring at my own cheap sneakers on the concrete until the desire to run inside and give up became so great, that I had no choice but to run.
Every muscle in my body ached. Muscles I didn’t even know existed started hurting, and in my ears came the beautiful strong voices of those men and women who had gone before me. In the darkness of the morning, I imagined they were right there next to me, pushing me forward, telling me not to quit.
It wasn’t until I felt the wind rush through my hair that the tears came. They were tears I haven’t cried in half a decade. They were tears of joy, whisking past my cheeks and into my ears and hair. I ran down the street like a mad man, and imagine I must of looked like one, but that morning, and many to follow, I felt powerful again after a very long time.
I began lifting weights, well, more specifically, imaginary ones, because even moving my arms was painful. After a while, I added soup cans to the regimen, and later, gallons of milk. To the whole world I must have looked crazy, but in my mind, I was living out the dreams I had planned from my bed. Later, I got my first set of small dumbbells, then a push-up bar, and there wasn’t a day I didn’t use them.
My best workouts came on my sickest days. Days where I felt the black hand of illness grabbing my throat and trying to lure me back in. On those days, while I never was capable of nearly anything; I’d start yelling in my bed, pounding my fists and shout “no!”
Fevered and sick, I’d put my gloves on and get on my push-up bar. I’d hang, I’d do leg lifts, I’d turn around and start punching the backboard, all while crying. I was not going to be brought down anymore. “No, not anymore.” I’d fight until the fight was out of my weak body, then fall back in bed, knowing that today, I gave all I had and no less. I lost, but I know I also fought, and that’s what mattered most to me.
If I was going down, I was gonna go down fighting. Over time, that anger that propelled me further, also sparked a fire in me again that I thought had be extinguished long ago.
By the time I was able to define myself as healthy and strong, I had long sleek red hair that lay just above my hips. It was so pretty and I hated it for that very reason. It was pretty, I was strong.
As I reentered society, I was treated like a sweet girl, not the victorious fighter I was. Did the world not know that I was my own hero? Had they not felt the life changing energy force that burns in my veins? I received no trophy for winning. I got no slap on the back or congrats. No badge of war, no award for my success. I was just there, untouched and unchanged on the outside while a completely new woman was on the inside, a stronger one, one with endurance for the fight and the wisdom to know when it’s over.
And so, the pretty girl walked in the hair salon one day and one recognizably different walked out- namely, one with all but 2 inches cut off. Tattoos were soon to follow, hell, I’d give myself badges of honor- I already had the battle scars.
My hair has been short for a while now, my mentors still shout at me while I run, tears still slip out and escape into my hair, and I still hurt.
Getting angry was one of the best things I ever did, and the best use of it for me has been through training my body physically. With every strike, kick, or swing, I’m literally fighting back. I have an outlet. Some days I’m fighting the repeated nasty phrases I’ve been called. Sometimes I fight what I’m afraid is to come, or I fight what was in the past, but I fight. Had I never made that decision to risk it, I’d still be in my bed, swollen, sick, in pain. I wouldn’t know any better. I’d still be visiting one doctor after another, going broke and unhealed. I wouldn’t know.
I’d still be waiting on a medication, on a test, on a doctor visit. I wouldn’t know that I could be my own hero.
I didn't know that I could be both Clark Kent and Superman, I thought I'd just be Clark.
You need to have a dream, a purpose, and a plan. I guarantee you that when you exceed your own limatations, you will grow from it. I promise you that if you go beyond what you think you can do, you’ll grow. I can tell you from being there, that if you risk it, it will be worth it. Whether you succeed or fail, you will win, because you’ll grow. You’ll learn who you are and over time, win the greatest award of all, the mastery of one’s self.
Wherever your bed is, where ever your weaknesses lay, where ever your silences are louder than the world, I want you to know that where you are isn’t who you are. That your present circumstance isn’t the permanent one. You are on the precipice life, like I was at that doorway. You can either run inside and hide, or you can run and fight.
Run, run like your life depends on it, because it does. Run like hell and don’t look back. Run towards your fears, not away from them, and they will never haunt you again the same way again. Whether you run to hide or you run to fight; you’re gonna be running. Whether you are running from your fears or towards them, you’re running. So run to your dreams and run for your purpose. Run to let the world know you will not going silently into the night.
My burden, my story, isn’t yours, but I know one thing- you have the power to write your own story. You have the power to dream, the power to feel deeply, to create, and you have the power to change the world if you’ll only run out of the darkness and into the light.
It won’t always be silent, and it won’t always be dark… So run. Run like hell.