April is National Poetry Month and on the 3rd Monday of every April, runners gather from around the globe to run the Boston Marathon. But is that where the connection ends?
Not for me. In February of 2007, I sat in a leg brace, using a wheelchair at times for mobility contemplating a grim diagnosis of post polio syndrome, a progressive neuromuscular disease. I was told I needed to quit my full time award winning career as a VA social worker just 3 years shy of being eligible for retirement. I was given a list of contractors to adapt my Cape house or to consider looking for a ranch. Odds were that I would need a wheelchair full time. The best we could hope for was a stabilization of the symptoms where they were but there was a likelihood that even with the best efforts, I would be on a physical decline.
Flashback to July of 1959, from my memoir, "Coming Home: A Memoir of Healing, Hope and Possibility":
Before we began the painful physical therapy regimen, Miss Holly would come out into the waiting room asking me to choose one of the Dr. Seuss books splayed out on the dark mahogany round table. My three favorites were “The Cat In The Hat,” “Horton Hears a Who” and “How The Grinch Stole Christmas.” ...
Miss Holly would place the hot woolen blankets on my left leg and used manual manipulation to stretch the muscles that were affected by the polio virus. She would recite Dr. Seuss to me and have me “fill in the blanks” and recite back to her in an effort to make the physical therapy sessions more tolerable. Of course, I had already learned how to dissociate from my body so I was able to experience the sessions without feeling the pain. While this method of dissociation would serve me well throughout recovery from polio and during repeated rapes and beatings, I paid a terrible price for this coping mechanism. I slipped farther and farther away from a mind/body connection.
But during the dark night of my soul and in the dark winter of February 2007, I got still and the cadence of Dr. Seuss that brought me so much healing and comfort in 1959 returned; only this time, I was the one holding the pen and I wrote:
Running the Race featured in A Celebration of Life
Early summer 1959 my kindergarten year
Everyone around me filled with nervous fear
Despite the Salk vaccine hope polio would disappear
The polio virus crept right up and knocked me in the rear.
Dancing all around the gym feeling free just like a bird
I dropped to the ground just like a stone
and no one said a word.
The pain it was so searing-the diagnosis even worse
"It's polio" the doctor said...he was abrupt and terse.
Called one of the 'lucky ones' I had a 'mild case'
But with the other athletes I could never keep their pace.
Miss Holly physical therapist,
curly hair and a warm, broad smile
It tempered the pain of being apart - to walk I'd take awhile.
I always wore those 'special' shoes
the kids they poked and teased
With no support and much abuse
with childhood I wasn't pleased.
But put nose to the grindstone and learned all that I could
I couldn't kick a ball but my grades were always good.
Years went by and no more thought to polio did I give
I accepted the limp and everything else
and decided my life I would live.
But symptoms of weakness and muscle pain did grow
I kept a stoic face hoping no one else would know.
Life no longer was my own I struggled through each day
Suffered in silence, isolated from friends-
trying to keep depression at bay.
And with the grace of glorious God my world it opened wide
I discovered there was a Post Polio team
and they were on my side.
Using wheelchair to travel, set limits on what I could do,
Resulted in joy to realize I could live life anew.
Celebrated my body- creaks, groans and need for a brace
While in my mind I focused on winning a 10K race.
Sought out paths for healing and my spirit flew free
For the first time in life, I could truly be me.
The chains are gone and possibilities abound
I'm a tree with my roots planted firmly in ground.
I'm now off the sidelines, no need to sit and whine
So much gratitude fills my heart and love and beauty shine.
After all these years I can join the loving human race
I exceed all expectations and now I set the pace.
I may not have won a 10K race but on 4/21/2009, I crossed the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
I'd call that poetry in motion!