“Why me?” It is a question I used to ask myself more times than I probably even realized. And for as simple the question may seem on the surface, given the context, it was impossible for me to answer and mental torture to ponder.
At eighteen, my life took an extreme detour after I fell from an open window, three-stories up, headfirst to concrete. The accident resulted in a spinal cord injury in my neck and lower back, which created paralysis from the chest down.
In a moment, my life changed forever. The future looked unfamiliar, daunting, and not like one I could ever enjoy. The world as I knew it was no longer, which interestingly enough, these days, is something we can all relate to in some way.
I was asked recently to share my story with the employees of a company, drawing parallels between my early rehab experiences and our current reality living through this COVID pandemic. In short, COVID has disrupted us all. What started off as travel restrictions quickly escalated to social distancing, masks, and quarantine.
Looking through pictures from the past few months, one can see world attractions, typically packed by tourists, closed—the Great Wall, Eiffel Tower and Times Square are just a few of the many examples. Airports, train stations and even highways are shown empty around the globe. It is as if we were in a post-apocalyptic world, like something out of Avengers, where everything changed in a snap.
The images that hit closer to the heart though are the pictures of parents working from home by laptop. Often times there is a kiddo playing in the background while the parent works feverishly to get whatever they need to get done, done. Compounding matters, when one throws daycare or homeschooling into the mix, the level of frazzledness increases. Simply trying to get to the store becomes harder than ever before. When stuff breaks, options are limited. How does one fix an appliance if no one can come to the home? Or if shops are closed? One step further, imagine the stress and fear of facing furlough or getting laid off. Or being a business owner, not being able to pay the bills and being at risk of losing it all.
Then of course there is the actual virus itself. Those that are infected are fighting to get well. Family and friends feel the heart wrenching emotional anguish of supporting sick loved ones while also trying to protect their own health. And we cannot forget the healthcare workers who tirelessly hold up the front lines while public safety guidelines continue to evolve to keep us as safe and informed as possible... These are all real issues—real challenges—and real people are sorting through them the best way they can.
“Why me?” gets asked. And with sincere empathy, I do not have an answer. It is the same dangerous question I asked of myself twenty-some years ago. I asked and asked and with tear-filled eyes never got an answer. Given some time though, I suppose the way I combated the why-me? poison was spinning it into the question why not me? By adding an additional word, the dead-end question cleverly turned into a question of open ended opportunity. The obstacles did not magically disappear, but a direction started to form. Then came the grind to see through and out of the fog—to a bigger world that I never thought could be possible.
I am reminded of a Dark Sky Reserve that my wife and I once visited. For those not familiar with Dark Sky Reserves, they are regulated areas with nearly zero light pollution. In other words, the sky is super dark. As such, on clear nights one is dazzled with more stars than one has ever seen before—at least that was the case for me. As we were staring up at the heavens, I recall our guide pointing to an area in the sky that appeared to have no source of light, as compared to the other star-filled areas around it. Hooking up his high-magnification telescope, he pointed it directly toward the dark spot in the sky and asked us to take a look. Upon looking through the eyepiece, I can honestly say there were more stars in that area of space than in the entire sky that I could detect with my naked eyes. It was incredible. And I never would have known of its existence had he not said something, nor set up the telescope. It took the correct person, with the correct knowledge, who had the correct tools to literally let me see a larger world beyond the one my owns eyes confined me too.
A current cosmic example that is captivating the world’s attention is NEOWISE—a 3-mile wide comet hurling itself across the sky. Discovered only a few months ago, this ice ball clocks in at 4.6 billion years old, which is as old as our solar system. For me, this kind of science uncorks my brain and reminds me of a bigger picture—a MUCH bigger picture. I can be told about and believe there are countless stars in the dark spaces in the sky. Or I can be told about and believe there is an ancient space rock passing within our view for the next few months. But when I actually get to see it, it takes on a whole new meaning. Somehow having that sense of something bigger takes away the weight of the world that I may feel bearing down on me—the burden turns to an inspiring reminder that I am part of something more... and I have an opportunity to do more.
The universe is unfathomably large, and we are each a micro spec within it. So as "micro specs" can we make an impact? Absolutely! Think of a single COVID virus particle that measures 0.125 microns across. That is about 100,000 times less than the diameter of one's pinky finger. You know what will also be a small particle? The antibody. Think about how much of our world operations remain paralyzed until a microscopic cure arrives.
We ourselves may be micro specs in the greater fabric of the universe, but we are nonetheless capable of doing amazing things. We can make a difference in ourselves, our families, our homes, our neighborhood, our city, our county, our state, our country, our continent, our planet... Focusing on something bigger pulls us forward. We learn. We live. We grow. We work together.
An ocean starts with a drop.
We need to move past why me? and ask ourselves the empowering question, "Why not me?" As the old saying goes, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you will land among the stars.”