by Patrick Lang
Shortly after Colleen and I were married, we bought our first house. It was a brick bi-level with cedar peaks. The stonework inside the home and the three wood-burning fireplaces reflected the mason’s beautiful craftsmanship. We worked hard to make that house a home for the next fifteen years. We loved it there. When Colleen’s condition was in its early stages, she started having trouble walking, which meant difficulty navigating stairs. As much as we loved that home, it was time to say goodbye in 2014. This was the beginning of adapting to perpetual change.
Saying Goodbye to the Old
When Colleen’s neurological diagnosis was confirmed, we experienced many raw emotions. A grieving of sorts took place. We knew the physical decline was permanent. Our lives were changing with our hopes and dreams slipping from our grasp. We had to say goodbye to life as we knew it. This period in our life was filled with fear, uncertainty, and sadness. We experienced an extreme absence of hope. Those early days were tough.
Change is rarely easy, especially when circumstances are out of your control. Many of the activities we once engaged in on a whim were no longer an option for us. Colleen’s changing mobility required us to learn to access a world that is often inaccessible to those with physical challenges. We were faced with many obstacles in this new life.
In the fall of 2014, we purchased what we thought would be our forever home, five minutes from Colleen’s office. It was laid out well, so we could modify it to Colleen’s changing mobility needs. We had reached another level along this journey, slowly accepting what our life was to be.
We Are One
Early in our relationship, three lives were being lived: Hers, mine, and ours. We spent much of our free time together, but we enjoyed our time apart. We had our individual careers, friends, and hobbies. As Colleen needed more of my attention, my life and her life shrunk, and our life expanded.
During our wedding ceremony, we participated in the ritual of lighting the Unity Candle. This ritual involved taking two smaller lighted candles and, in unison, lighting the larger unity candle. After the unity candle was lit, we blew out our smaller individual candles, displaying that our two lives are now one. The symbolism of this ritual would become central for our lives to come. We had to forge this new life together.
Building a New Life
A quote from Dan Millman’s book, Way Of The Peaceful Warrior: “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”
During this long process of adapting to our ever-changing world, what started to occur was a change in our mindset. As we slowly let go of the old, room was made for the new. When we were able to look past our limitations, our focus shifted to the possibilities. A whole new world emerged when we collectively decided to embrace this concept.
A New World Opened to Us
During the spring of 2016, a friend asked me to run the Crazy Legs Classic. Crazy Legs is a five-mile run through Madison’s University of Wisconsin campus. I accepted his invitation, trained, and ran the race. As I neared the finish line in Camp Randall stadium, I was utterly exhausted. Despite my fatigue, adrenaline hit me, and I sprinted to the finish line. Never had I experienced something like this. Later that day, as I reflected on the race, it occurred to me that Colleen and I could run together in local races. We bought a jogging stroller in June of that year. We might run a few races that summer, I thought. From our first race, Colleen was hooked! When I saw the joy this brought her, I knew this was our new thing. We ended up running 84 races over the next two years.
This experience of running influenced us in many positive ways. We found an activity we could do together that was also good for our physical and mental health. Little did we know this was only the beginning.
Starting in the fall of 2017, we experienced another series of significant changes. Colleen retired from her long career in distance learning. I accepted a job with my employer that allowed me to work from home to care for her. On the surface, all was well, but it felt like something was missing. It took some time to realize we were being led to make the life-altering decision to sell everything and travel the country. I gave up the 26-year career I had worked so hard to build in pursuing this adventure. Once again, we were moved to sell the home we dearly loved, but we embraced the change this time.
With our GRIT Freedom Chair packed in the bed of our truck and our travel trailer in tow, we were in for the adventure of a lifetime. We set out to experience the natural beauty of our country. Over the next 30 months, we would log 15,000 miles and trek through 37 states. We learned how to live a very simple but extremely full life during this process.
Living Life to the Fullest
Through this emotional journey, fear and sadness have been replaced by wonder and excitement in our lives. Uncertainty remains, but we have learned we do not have to fear it but rather embrace it. Experience has taught us that we always have options. We once viewed our life as a dead end. Today we view challenges in our life as a fork in the road. We always have a choice of which road we will take.
In his book Walden, Henry David Thoreau says so eloquently:
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.
We have embraced this concept working each day to live life to the fullest. We realize there is no “arriving” in life; there is simply the journey. A fantastic life unfolds when we embrace the entire journey, victories and challenges alike. If we adapt our view of the world, our life of possibility emerges.