Many trees stand stoically on my family’s property, one of which I pass each time I ride my recumbent trike. I take notice of its bark and branches more than I have with any other tree in my life.
I only recently found out the name of this tree — a Bradford pear tree — and I was confused because it hasn’t produced any fruit since I was born. But this tree does not make pears. Instead, it’s known for its white blossoms in the springtime and the broad variety of color its leaves display in the autumn.
Despite previously knowing little about the tree, I treated it like a familiar neighbor, waving as I rode past, day after day, season after season, year after year.
Earlier this year, a severe thunderstorm hit my hometown. A bolt of lightning struck the center of the Bradford pear tree, causing half of it to fall.
The next day, when I noticed that half of it was lying there dead, I thought it was only a matter of time before a landscaping crew would remove the standing half of the tree. After all, nothing could have survived that lightning strike, and the tree was literally cut in half.
But I noticed that the leaves didn’t fall. This was early spring, and the leaves kept getting greener. They even multiplied.
I had assumed the tree’s remains were just a dry husk, but it showed me that it was still capable of life.
The bare side of the trunk that had been split open also began growing greenery, to my surprise. I was shocked to see a new branch stretching out from where the other half had once been.
From that tree, I learned that living doesn’t necessarily end when you think it should.
My diagnosis of Friedreich’s ataxia struck me like a lightning bolt. My identity was suddenly struck in two: Though my current self remained intact, the future I had planned for was gone. Most of my goals seemed to suddenly disappear.
I didn’t think it possible to carry on. My happiness was tied to my physical abilities, and I didn’t want to be without them. I assumed that my life was over.
And yet, to my surprise, it wasn’t.
Although passive and hopeless, I survived. But sometimes “surviving” isn’t active or noble, it only means holding on for one more minute, one more hour, or one more day. And sometimes surviving means barely holding on.
Over time, barely holding on quietly became a lasting desire to live. And slowly, after giving up hope that I’d ever be happy again, I found myself smiling.
I am happy. And I didn’t see that coming.
The most devastating part of me, my diminishing abilities, taught me a lesson. My strength isn’t in how independently capable I am, but in what I am able to do despite the hindrance. Sometimes simply choosing to endure may be the strongest thing we can do.
You may not be able to plan what the future will look like, but it may surprise you. As long as there is breath in you, there is hope of new, unexpected life. A Bradford pear tree taught me that.
Note: As I wrote this, Hurricane Delta hit the area, uprooting many trees on my family’s property. But the Bradford pear tree still stands.
Friedreich’s Ataxia News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Friedreich’s Ataxia News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Friedreich’s ataxia.
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