The thing about the water is that it doesn’t matter if your legs don’t work quite right or if you’ve had your third vertebrae removed. You can get in there and feel like a completely normal person.
We’ve been in Bear Lake for the last few days. My amazing in-laws let us stay at their cabin, so Mike and I could get some time alone and relax.
I could hardly wait to visit the beach today—the Caribbean of the Rockies. It took quite a bit of effort to get me into the water, but once there, I practically became a fish. We swam around, laughed, and joked.
Some people arrived not long after we did. I noticed them grinning at me and Mike as we splashed around. It wasn’t until I got out of the water that things changed. An older woman (probably in her 80s) looked at me with such pity as I limped out of the water. My back pulled with intense pain from the cancer, and the sand made my gait appear even worse.
She approached me after Mike left to get my towel.
“Let me help you,” she said.
“I’m all right,” I said. “I’m really okay.”
“But you look like you’re in so much pain.”
Mike got back to me at about that time, and I pleaded with my eyes, silently saying, “Get me out of here.”
Mike ended up explaining to the woman and her husband (who came up after that) about my cancer and my surgeries.
“I’m so sorry you might be dying soon,” the woman said.
I knew she meant well, but seriously??? We hadn’t said anything about dying, but this woman seemed willing to dig my grave.
“We better head out,” Mike said, seeing my dwindling pride. “Nice to meet both of you.” But the woman kept talking.
And even after I walked away to our beach chairs, I heard her telling Mike, “I can’t imagine how hard it must be for her. She’s so young. I remember when I had to get my handicapped sticker…that was embarrassing. And to think, I never would’ve known something was wrong with her until she got out of the water.”
I slid my sunglasses on so no one would see my tears. After that, Mike came over. “I’m so sorry, sweetheart. It was hard to get away. She just kept talking."
“I know she meant well,” I said after we made it to the car, “but I feel terrible. The pity in her eyes. She didn’t even know how to talk to me. And I felt so normal and happy in the water….”
When we returned to the cabin, Mike and I sat on the front porch. “I just need to find the good—that always makes things better,” I said. “On the bright side, isn't it wonderful how even strangers want to help us?”
We stayed quiet for a while, and as we sat there I remembered a moment for a couple of years ago. I’d gone to the grocery store and stood scanning items at the self-checkout. A man practically gaped at me. I instantly wondered if something was in my teeth, if my clothes looked wrinkled...if I stood oddly. So many thoughts raced rough my mind as I worried something appeared “wrong” with me. Then suddenly, the man who'd been staring at me came up and asked me out on a date!
“I’m married,” I said, “but thank you.” And to think, I’d been so self-conscious, paranoid that he’d judged me poorly. Yet now, look at me—now that something is actually “wrong”—it’s taken some getting used to. I felt self-conscious before; imagine what I’ll do if things get worse.
“I need to be grateful that things aren’t worse,” I suddenly told Mike. “I just need to embrace this. So what that people pity me. So what that I don’t walk the same as I used to. At least I don’t need a wheelchair! I don’t want some insignificant conversation to ruin my day, especially when that woman meant well. She really tried to be kind, didn’t she?”
Mike nodded then came over and held my hand. “I'm so proud of you. It must be hard to deal with all of this. And to admit when things are tough.”
So, the two of us eventually decided to get dressed up and go to dinner. “I love you so much,” Mike said after we'd changed our clothes.
“I love you back.” I smiled. “Thank you for making today so special. I had fun swimming with you."
Moments later we walked out the door, so excited for a night out on the town, grateful for each other, thankful for strangers who mean well, and happy to have positive perspectives that can change lives.