November 28-29th 2015
This is a great story. While we were in Sedona, Arizona at a campground, we ran into a couple coming back from the toilets. Cory and Cheryl. Cory said good morning immediately. We exchanged small talk from a distance at first. “Where ya headed?” “Where y’all from?” They came closer to the trailer as we were hitching up, and we chit-chatted about travels. I knew these two were my sort of people right away. I asked them if they wanted to smoke together, and yes, they were my sort of people. They were so kind that they told us if we passed through Tennessee, we could park outside their house. We really had no idea if we were going to make it but we took their info and went on our way.
The rest of the trip until Tennessee, Raven and I spoke about these two. Raven had a really strong feeling that we should visit, she felt we were destined to be friends. I was very excited because Cheryl is a double amputee…I thought of the CHARGE project right away. It did’t feel like the appropriate time to ask at the campground where we met…I wondered…if I asked, would she say yes? What would I make with her? I was nervous and hopeful she would be interested. When I first met Cheryl she came off as independent, strong, and absolutely capable of anything. So let’s go to Tennessee!
We called Cory and Cheryl when we left Memphis and they welcomed us with huge hugs. They live in Lyles, Tennessee right outside of Nashville. We had a beautiful place to park and three wonderful dogs to keep us company. (It seems we’ve run into a lot of awesome dogs this sabbatical.)
We rolled in Thanksgiving Day, and Cory brought us to his mom and dad’s house. Turns out Cory comes from Grand Ole Opry royalty! If you know something about country western music then you probably know that many of the first breakthrough artists got their start on the Grand Ole Opry. The first woman of the Grand Ole Opry, Jean Shepard, is Cory’s mom. So we spent the day with Jean Shepard, country superstar, 82 years old! We also got a private guitar pickin’ session from her husband Benny Birchfield! It was an honor. Truly.
Friday, I asked Cheryl to dance with me. She was confused at the question. “We can make anything we want, Cheryl. You can tell me yes, you can tell me no.” We agreed, and Saturday we tried something. As Cheryl left the room, her man, Cory, told me about her prosthetics. “She has two legs in the closet she needs to work with.” Instinctively I knew that we needed to use her new legs.
She allowed me to be a part of the whole process. (Cheryl, you are so generous.) I watched her attach her legs. There is a screw at the end of these neoprene knee sleeves that locks into the legs. We started in the living room with her wheelchair and a walker in front of her. I had no idea what to do.
Honestly, I was nervous as hell! I have no training in amputee physical therapy. Period. I was worried the whole night before. I reminded myself to stay open. To learn, not teach; to say yes, with no critique or expectations.
So there we were, ready to begin…Where to begin? Cheryl says it’s been a couple months since she has attempted to stand on her legs. Let’s try! Using the walker, and a lot of upper body strength, she pulled herself up. Her legs cramped immediately, and she sat right back in her chair. A short break later she tried again. Cramping immediately. When she went to sit back in her chair, her chair slid back and she fell to the floor. Slowly, fortunately. We both got scared. Cheryl looked at me and said, “I’m done.” Damn! I joined her on the floor and we leaned into each other. I felt her frustration and her fear. Her disappointment. We took a smoke break on the floor together. We sat and talked and smoked. I was so curious as to how her body has responded to losing her legs. She only lost them one year ago. I felt as though her back would be so tight from sitting in the chair day after day. What about a forward bend? “Hey Cheryl, can you stretch toward your feet?” Holy shit! She folds in half. Just lays completely flat on her prosthetics. No hamstrings! She is incredibly flexible! I asked her where her forward bend was before, she never checked.
The energy changed just like that. Our work was on the floor. Exhale…yes! Can we roll over? Can we cobra? Down-dog? (No) The windows opened and I could tell that Cheryl felt safe. We spent the next 3 hours rolling around on the floor. Eventually we came up with a little flow that included some rolls from front to back and a cobra pose. It was beautiful and a lot of rest and work.
As we were in cobra pose I noticed Cheryl’s prosthetic knees hit the ground. I saw it finally. I think she can push herself to her hands and knees. Yep! A couple tries and she has it. She’s crawling. First time in years. We were so exited we started screaming! Cheryl’s man Cory was outside talking with is mom, he thought Cheryl fell and came running into the house. We crawled around the floor laughing and screaming. It was truly a joyous experience. We ended the day right there and agreed we could work the next day too.
I went back to the trailer by myself to contemplate. As I walked in the door I began crying. It was everything. It was the truth in human hardship, the beauty of friendship, the sadness of loss and the sunshine of determination. It was the simple success of crawling and the overwhelming feelings of how hard this will be for Cheryl in the future.
How lucky I am that this beautiful stranger would share this journey with me. The truth is I know nothing about rehabilitation of an amputee. I wish I knew more. But Cheryl and I found something that day. WE found the strength in the Earth below us. It was truly from the ground up. WE walked the next day, further and further every time.
At the end of the 2nd work session we sat together her in her wheelchair and me on the sofa. I was telling her how brave and inspirational she was to me. If I ever lost my legs she would be the first person I would call. She stopped me and said something that I will think about for the rest of my life. “Everyone says how brave I am, how inspirational, but Amy, this is not ok. It will never be ok.” As she places her hands on the top of her thighs.
I love you Cheryl. Thank you. I know this is not ok, and you are brave because you have to be. You are an inspiration to me whether you like it or not. Peace, love and growth to you my friend. I hope to see you soon.