My Afternoon with Michael

I met Michael when I was 20 years old. A typical event put on by friends and families of the community where all sorts of people gathered to eat, drink, be merry, and of course to bowl. Michael was 46. He was tall, slightly bald and as I soon came to find out, had a very interesting story that has forever left a mark on my heart. Due to some health issues in his younger years, Michael experienced vertigo, dizziness, loss of balance, and overall loss of memory. After one dizzy spell event, he slipped and hit his head which resulted in brain damage, and from that moment on his life would never be the same. Michael would forever be blind, and would never be able to retrieve memories from the majority of the life that he had lived. To put it simply, Michael wakes up everyday with no recollection of what happened the previous day, week, month and even the past few years. It is as if every night he hits the reset button. He remembers the basics of life, however forgets new people that he meets on a daily basis. There is one memory however, that Michael remembers day in and day out: his muscle memory, and in particular: how to bowl.

ian-dooley-280945For the duration of the afternoon, I spent my time in awe at Michael’s bowling skills. He needed help to retrieve the ball and being guided to the lane. He would grab my right elbow with his left hand and we would slowly walk to the starting position. After that I would tell him where he should aim, and that the lane was clear for him to bowl. He would respond with a quiet “Okay.” and proceed to bowl as if he  were a professional. The day he bowled exactly 4 strikes and 3 spares; he had scored the highest out of everyone ther. When we had finished bowling, I said farewell to Michael knowing that I would most likely never see him again, and also that he would never even remember the afternoon we spent together.

This 4 hour experience initially broke me. All I wanted to do was to make a difference in his life. I wanted to get to know him, to help him make progress, to help him begin to remember and to help him return to the normal life that he once lived. I wanted him to remember that he had a daughter, and a wife, that he was a star bowler. I felt that I wanted him to see what I looked like. I wanted him to see the smile on my face when he bowled a strike.

There had never been a time in my life where I had felt so much emotion all at once. It was difficult for me to understand how such a short interaction left me feeling so empty. I was heart broken about his condition and overall about his life circumstances.

It was not until I spoke with a friend that I realized something about life. He said to me, “Maybe you were not supposed to make a difference in Michael’s life, but maybe Michael was supposed to make a difference in yours.” This simple perspective humbled me. I realized that this was not my burden to bear, nor my sadness to dwell on. Life works in peculiar ways and my afternoon with Michael forever changed me. Since then I have put in my time to volunteer with people with disabilities at Challenge Aspen (one of these individuals being my very special sister) not only for me to help them, but for them to help me remain grounded, courageous, and overall welcoming to all walks of life. This afternoon helped me discover a part of myself that I never knew how to access. It taught me to be soft-hearted and understanding. I am eager to learn as much as I can from as many types of people that I can.

There is not a day that goes by that I do not think of Michael and the impact that he left on my current and future self. He helped me discover my authenticity, and I will forever be sharing it with every breath that I take. Through sadness there is growth, and I am extremely grateful to have been exposed to such an enlightening experience.

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