When you go through a near death experience there are several ways you can choose to celebrate your survival. Everyone is different but I believe it is important to celebrate recovery and the success you have during your road back to health and happiness. I’m not advocating that everyone gets a trophy or that one should pat themselves on the back and blow up social media after every breath they take, but if you lose the ability to smile after an achievement, why bother getting off the couch in the first place?
Years ago I was sitting in a barber shop when the man in the barber’s chair started crying. The barber, a friend of mine for years, looked at me and shrugged and kept cutting the man’s hair. After a minute or so the man wiped his tears away and they finished their business with nothing more than a few kind words. But upon paying my friend asked his customer if everything was okay, on the off chance his barber skills had diminished to the point of causing a customer to cry. The man explained that it was the first time he got a voluntary haircut since being diagnosed with cancer. My friend, always with a clever comeback, was speechless. The man went on to explain how he lost his hair during treatment, but that it had started to grow back and he wanted to come in for a trim, and how it made him feel nice to be able to do things on his own terms instead of being ruled by his disease, as he had for so many years.
I stood up, partly because it was my turn for the barber’s chair but I couldn’t stop staring that the man’s hair. It looked nice, and the first thing I thought was how it was fuller and thicker than my own, leading me to make an awkward joke about him having more hair that I had despite being twice my age and, you know, having cancer and all.
After shaking off the terrible joke I asked the man how he was planning on celebrating. He looked at me sideways, and said he was just going home and would probably watch television. My buddy was already walking toward the door of his shop and before I could say anything he flipped the open sign around, killed the lights and grabbed the man’s coat
The man looked at me and told him that we were celebrating.
“It’s not a big deal,” I remember him saying to me.
“Yes it is, let’s go.”
Not having a clue where we going I asked the man about some others things he hadn’t been able to do since his diagnosis. He told us a few stories and eventually explained to us how the treatments damaged his taste buds and he was afraid some of his favorite foods would never taste the same.
We ended up treating the guy to his favorite lunch (fish and chips) and some ice cream before parting ways. I never saw the man again but his image pops into my head every now and then when I think about the challenges we all face in life and how if we don’t stop to taste the victories we will be left only with a bitter taste of defeat day after day.
There is a hike a short drive from our house called Race Brook Falls. It’s short but extremely intense due to its incline and rocky surface. It eventually meets up with the Appalachian Trail where you can head north or south and enjoy amazing views and some additional challenging terrain.
Last November my wife and I set out to hike this trail after I had read about it in a trail guide. The weather was perfect as we made our way up the trail, my health, as we all have since found out, was far from perfect. I didn’t feel great during most of the hike and about halfway up the mountain I quit. I found a rock and sat myself down while my wife continued. A few hikers passed me while I waited on my rock, I tried to smile at them but the disappointment in my brain pushed my gaze toward the ground.
Since my recovery I have gone on longer hikes, even ones to higher elevations, but we haven’t returned to Race Brook Falls until yesterday. I took a deep breath and headed up the trail, again, with my wife leading the way. The trail eases you in the first quarter mile before it goes straight up, and up, and then up a little more.
It was just over seven months since my open heart surgery when we passed the rock I used as a bench, I pointed it out to my wife, we both paused, gave each other a look and a grin and kept moving, me leading the way this time. At the point where I had called it quits last November I was just getting warmed up now.
We made it to the top in one piece and cruised downhill without any major injury. Our celebration took the form of hugs at the trailhead and I indulged in a giant bowl of grapes that night. Not exactly how my old self would have celebrated but just as satisfying and more likely to guarantee future celebrations.
I have moments like this all the time. And I sincerely hope that you do as well. Your challenges may differ from mine. They could be work related, or relationship related, or just plain old complications brought on by one of life’s many mysterious. But whatever it is, you deserve to bask in your own personal glory when those challenges are met.
Keep setting goals, and when you reach them, set more. Get out of the passenger seat and change the narrative. When you do, the grapes will taste extraordinary, I promise.