She was handicapped, disabled by crippling forces on her body yet I never saw her smiles falter. She seemed to glide through her days, carefully accomplishing each task she faced with confidence. There were things left undone at times, to be sure, but she accepted this too with grace.
I felt comfortable enough in our friendship one day while we shared lunch, to ask her how she maintained such strength in the face of her adversities. She smiled and reached across the table to take my hand. She had a soft smile as she spoke and a knowing twinkle in her eyes. I could not help but return her smile and feel wrapped up in her beautiful spirit as her story unfolded.
“When this first hit me, I had such shock and anger! I resented that my life had been so diminished. I constantly pushed myself to do more than I could and was often left frustrated with tears of failure. Worse, it was so hard to struggle back up to do even that which I had, in my limited way, been able to do the day before. I would cry and grumble at having to sit back and recover my strength before I would push against the barriers again. Of course I would overdo it and fail again. It was a most vicious and discouraging cycle.”
“One day as I lay on my bed staring at a ceiling that never changed; the fog in my mind lifted and I could see what I had been doing to myself. I was trying to live as I had been, not accepting the changes that had occurred and living fully within my new reality. I couldn’t change this reality. My failure was in my not accepting this fact. If I could accept what was, I could then feel good about what I could do and about who I really am. I had overlooked other strengths that I do have. I was still me, only my body had changed. I carefully took an inventory of myself, seeing the “me” within by taking a hard look at my strengths, not just my weaknesses. For the first time since I had fallen ill, I found peace and joy. With a new sense of purpose and hope, I set to work devising a plan of action, creating goals that I could achieve. It was so hard but I was finally going forwards!”
She stopped for a moment and sighed deeply as she looked down at our hands still joined. I knew she was seeing beyond this time and space, remembering what she had gone through. I was becoming concerned as the moments passed in silence. I squeezed her hand. She looked up at me then smiled, and with a wink to set me at ease, she continued her story.
“I had to come up with some tangible means to help me see what I am capable of and to help me to better know when I have pushed too hard. You may laugh at this but I came up with the idea of using spoons to help me to better live within my reality. I knew I had to be realistic in my efforts and learn to judge what I could do and at the same time, accept my limitations so that I wouldn’t overdo and harm myself. I gathered a handful of spoons at the beginning of the day when I still felt fresh and strong. I then placed aside one spoon for each chore and every effort that I made throughout that day. I paced myself in all that I did. Yes, I needed to stretch my limitations but I reminded myself to go gently forward and stay aware of the warning signs when I was pushing too hard. I had to learn to heed them and to rest. It no longer mattered so much that I complete a task. It was more important that I valued myself more than I did the task. I decided to be grateful for what I could do and be. There are always going to be things that need doing. I needed to love myself as I am. At the end of each day, I would count the spoons that I had “spent” that day and soon got a good idea of what the days would cost me in energy and ability. When I get up, make the bed, groom myself and get dressed, that’s one spoon. The preparation of my meals, eating them, then the clean up, would cost me a spoon for each one. Heavier duties, such as shopping, would cost me two. I learned to spend my spoons more carefully and not become ill. If I knew I had harder things to do later in the day, I took it easier up until then. If I knew I could rest later, I could add to my list of wants and needs earlier in the day. In time I discovered that if I used more than my daily “prescription” of spoons, I would have less energy the next day and had to reduce that day’s allotment accordingly. Balancing my reality better and loving myself, became my greatest priority. I have achieved that. In time, I was able do this without the spoons to remind me but they are ever constant in my mind.”
She chuckled at this point and took a sip of her drink. Looking me in the eyes now, I could see that she was searching to know if I understood what she had done. I was stunned by the revelation of wisdom she had given to me. We all need to achieve a loving balance within ourselves and to make this our priority in life. With such acceptance of what we can and cannot do, we too could live with the grace and joy I saw so clearly in her eyes. I slowly smiled and reached to pick up my first spoon…
I am recovering from a very serious illness which almost took my life. Though I am very grateful that I am still here, each day carried the burden of frustration and tears that I could not do and be what I had been. Then I remembered this tale that I had heard many times in so many ways over the years. It has inspired me! Indeed, I have employed this method many times in the past and have been successful in regaining my balance and joy in living. With my own smile now bright again, I have reached for my spoons! ~ Virginia
The Serenity Prayer
“God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things that I cannot change;
Courage to change the things that I can;
and the Wisdom to know the difference.”