Sunday, October 04, 2009

Swap Box Testimonial

On Friday night, I wrote the post Swap Boxes Save Lives! immediately after meeting Andy Williams.

That night, Andy e-mailed me with photos and his story, entitled How a piece of garbage saved me from trashing my life (or a serendipidous story of how salvage saved my life) (reprinted with permission). It speaks for itself.

- RG>

Dear Grouchy,

Firstly, I must say that your name is misleading. I do not find you grouchy at all, and I think its a shame that your parents chose that name.

It was nice meeting you tonight, although we met briefly about a year ago when you overheard me talking to a staff member at Bridgehead about an orange rubber band bracelet that someone "threw away". You were in the cafe typing on your laptop ("coffee culture" is intriguing in how people like to be alone together), and when I asked the staff member if it had been his, you seemed surprised and interrupted the conversation telling me it was your bracelet that I claimed as my treasure. Little did I know that your refuse would be my refuge. That rubber band would not only
change my life, but save it at least once.

My sister was visiting from near Almonte and I wanted to show her a neat little thing called a "Swap Box". Nailed to the side of a telephone pole by Bridgehead at MacLaren and Elgin was a wooden box adorned with paisley type groovy letters drawn on with marker, indicating, "Swap Box". It was a repository of refuge for some and treasures for other. The concept was that you would take something you need, and leave something you don't. I proudly displayed it to visitors to my sector of Centretown, each time they would visit, and, held it up as an example of "where community met creativity".

On that fateful day I opened the Swap Box I saw an orange elastic bracelet, similar in style to the Yellow Livestrong bracelets worn to commemorate cancer survivors. Engraved in the orange rubber were the words, "I count". Words are only words unless we breathe life into them. Still, the words attracted me. I rubbed my thumb over the letters as I thought of all the times I had been unfaithful towards myself and irresponsible towards myself at the expense of accommodating others, and, a demanding profession. Did I count? I had not been acting as if I did.

As I placed the bracelet on my wrist, I thought particularly about my health. Why was it so hard to commit to my health? At 41 I needed to get serious about exercise. It was no longer optional. I had begun smoking 3 years earlier and was ashamed of that. I resolved to make a change. I had been diagnosed diabetic, a disease shared by a sister and my mother. I would use that bracelet as a reminder to commit to myself the time and energy I needed to be healthy.

Immediately I quit smoking. I sold my car and I bought a bicycle. I began running. I felt defeated each time I went out to run, but I reminded myself to be gentle towards myself. Every time I wanted to tell myself I was "too tired" or "didn't feel like it", I rubbed my thumb over those words "I count", and got up and did what I needed to do. My energy increased. My lung capacity increased greatly. I could breath easier. I could run further and faster.

A few months later disaster struck. My intestine burst from something called Diverticultis. I had severe blood poisoning and periontinitis. I had to have emergency surgery and a cholostomy. The emergency surgery was rough. After surgery, the surgeon told my sisters that the following 48 hours would be crucial in determining as to whether I would live, and, that I would likely need to be put on artificial respiration if my breathing didn't hold up, which was tenuous. Needless to say, I believe that recommitment to my health and the constant reminder with the physical presence of that rubber band saved my life. In some ways my recovery was quick and in some ways it was slow. I made it though. And I keep wearing that bracelet to this day. And each day in all the decisions I made--especially the ones about exercise--I reminded myself that "I count" with that visible flourescent orange band on my wrist.

I joined 2 baseball leagues and I bought a bicycle. I continued running. This fall I won a prize on my baseball league for being the fastest runner. I bicycle from Parliament to Carp and surrounding communities to Ottawa on a regular basis on weekends. The cholostomy was reversed and the health of my intestine recovered. The diabetes reversed and my blood sugars returned to normal levels.

This winter I am playing floor hockey and taking swimming lessons and I am going to keep on running. My goal is to complete my first triathlon next summer. I know I can do it. I am showing myself the same dedication and loyalty that I have shown so many others all my life, because at the age of 42 I have finally finally come to understand that I really do count.

Grouchy, I'm not sure if I asked you this but, I felt that when someone put that bracelet in there they did so with a wish and that I was the benefactor of the wish. I always wondered did I make that up in my head, or, did someone really make a wish when they put that bracelet in the Swap Box?...

I believe humanity is interconnected. We never know what impact our actions might have. When a stone is thrown in a pond, the impact is made not only where the stone lands but across the pond. Regardless of whether you made a wish or not, when you put that rubber-band bracelet in the Swap Box, you "threw a stone in the pond", and the impact of a stone on water if felt in ripples through the pond. This month, my work takes "across the pond" to The Hague, Switzerland and Italy, and I hope the ripples keep going on and on...I am grateful for how a seemingly meaningless act by a total stranger has contributed to a profound impact in my life. The adage says that one person's trash is another one's treasure. I have come to treasure my life.

Grouchy, I wishing you the deepest successes in life, however it is that you may define success, and, whether or not you become more or less grouchy.

Yours very truly,

Andy Williams


Aggie said...

Wow. An amazing story you got there, RG!

XUP said...

What an incredible story. It's making my head buzz with possiblities of the fiction-writing kind. And, although he doesn't really look like Andy Williams, he was so correct in saying that you aren't really grouchy at all.

Woodsy said...

This post has made me feel wonderful...

Hannah said...

What a wonderful and inspiring story! :)