In the words of Viktor Frankl, “What is to give light must endure burning.”
Over the years, I have come to learn that the adversity I have experienced is a gift to me. Without it, I would be able to help no one. Without it, I would not know what it means to be thirsty due to adversity. I would not know my own strength. To pass through life without an opponent is the real tragedy.
On February 2, 1993, my teenage mother was being notified that I had had three strokes and would be deaf dumb, and blind. I spent three months in the NICU before she could even take me home. I was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy shortly after I was born. Yet, even as an infant, I was blessed with a fighting spirit. Today, I can hear, speak and see. Although I cannot walk, a wheelchair is not enough to defeat me. It is easier to bring giants to their knees when you are sitting down. I consider my beginning quite fitting for the life that I would eventually lead. In a sense, I was born with boxing gloves.
My mother was a beautiful woman who taught me altruism, compassion, and is the reason I have never met a stranger. She passed away when I was 10 years old. I still remember the day my relatives sat me down to tell me the news. My grandmother put my hair up in a ponytail, while my dad seemed to be searching for a way to say the unthinkable. I remember looking at the lamp that was near me as my dad said, “Your mom went to sleep on her birthday, and she never woke up.” I said, “You’re kidding, right?” My grandmother told me that they would never joke about something like that. The last thing I remember was hearing myself wail for about two seconds before I wiped my tears and watched cartoons.
I was given a day to decide if I wanted to go to her funeral, as I was still very young and my family was unsure if I could handle it. At the tender age of 10, I remember thinking that I would instead remember my mother the way she was; I knew she was not the body in that casket. Fearing that I would regret it later in life if I did not go, I went. The funeral is a blur; I remember not wanting to sit near the casket. I remember being afraid to say goodbye. I remember being afraid of her lifeless body. It was odd to feel afraid of your mother.
People have always said that when someone dies, it looks as if they are sleeping. It did not look as if she was sleeping. She looked more like a painting that evoked a surge of emotion, too much emotion. Still, I could not look away. Oddly enough, I think the thing that bothered me the most was that I could not see her feet. The top of the casket was open while the bottom was closed. So, I just kept asking, “Where are her feet?” I suppose, in order to make sense of the reality, I had to correct the picture. I did not cry that day. I have spent many years questioning whether or not I was a good person because I did not shed a tear in my mother’s funeral. Some have thought ill of me for it, while others have said, “You did not cry because she didn’t want you to cry.”
It rained that night. My family told me of how in some traditions, that when it rains at a funeral. The person is there with you. Today, I am still comforted by the sound of rain.
After my mom’s death, I spent a lot of time in foster homes. I also spent a lot of time thinking I deserved to be there. I realize that I can go into more detail. I could tell you all the horrible stories of what happens to children in foster care, but I do not wish to allow anyone or anything to steal any more of my life from me. They no longer have the power to do that.
The bright side of being in foster care was that it taught me to see people as human, always. One girl had cut up and down her arms but helped me to get dressed in the morning for school. She was an artist. I met a little boy who had fetal alcohol syndrome. He had been left on the steps of the building after his adoptive parents found out they were pregnant. He would often ask me, “Carla, do you love me so much?”
I met another little boy who was mute and had not spoken a word in the three years he’d been alive. I would often ride in the backseat of the car with him. To this day, I still remember him blowing me a kiss. This was the first time he’d ever done that.
When I recall these people and these memories, I often wonder where they are today. They are part of the reason I would like to be a therapist that specializes in trauma. With the right tools, I plan to do that. I know that those children are thirsty for love in the same way that I was once. I wish to be water for them, though I would never fully extinguish their fire. I know that it would also help them give light to others.
As of right now, I work as a volunteer Crisis Counselor. It is because of the past pain that I was able to calmly talk with multiple people who are on the brink of ending their life. A few have even thanked me for helping them live through the night. I wish to use my education to give back. With the help of others, we can all live to see another day.