Just Keep Paddling

Every time we drive downtown, I am transformed into that woman. She’s terrified, and she’s lost. Every building is unfamiliar. The landscape is one road sign, one mile marker, and one interstate exit after another defining the distance from home to the unknown. She has only lived in this strange city for a matter of weeks. She has no friends here. A family member or two come to visit and to help, but she feels so very alone. For the first time in her life, she has no community, no support network, and no friends to help her on the most difficult journey of her life. She is lost, physically and emotionally. She never expected to be here. She has no idea how to get home, either metaphorically or in reality. Life bounces from one car ride to another, one traffic jam to another, a series of moments that divide one trip to the NICU from another. The only times she feels secure is when she’s with the only other person in the trenches too. She clings to his presence.

Until the day she had to drive to the NICU by herself. She had to park by herself, walk to the hospital by herself, pass the happy people leaving the hospital with balloons and presents and healthy babies by herself, ride the elevator by herself, sign into the NICU by herself, and scrub by herself. She had to ask hard questions by herself. And maybe most difficult of all, she had to touch that tiny baby, take his temperature, and change his diaper, using just the tips of her fingers through the holes of the isolette. By herself.

And she realized that she could do it all. She could do it all by herself.

There are things in life I don’t understand, people I don’t understand, and problems I don’t understand. But, since those days, I empathize with people who feel lost, for whatever reason. I can’t diagnose their problems, I don’t want to judge their problems, and I certainly can’t fix their problems. But, I get it. What it feels like to be lost. What it feels like to have so little hope. What it feels like to wear your pain like an ugly coat.

But, what gives me more strength than anything to face the unknown is the knowledge that I faced down the fear. I overcame sadness, loneliness, anger, and loss. I can’t say it was easier or harder than someone else’s journey, but I can say it was awful. And I wish I could be a beacon of light for someone bouncing around in a skiff in a foggy ocean, wondering where they’re going and when they’ll get there. I just want to tell them to keep paddling. Just keep paddling. Don’t give up.

You are stronger than you know.

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