As we turned the calendar over to May, I had already picked a book for this month's column, Dr. Seuss's "Oh, the Places You'll Go!" Believe it or not, this is not one of the hundreds of titles that has found a spot on Grace's bookshelf, and it's not even one I've ever read to her.
Facing a terminal illness, it seems odd to talk about her future, or even dare to dream that she will have one beyond INAD. But as I read through the book, I found that I learned a few lessons myself about the places that all of us can go.
"You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose."
May is a month of celebrations as many students are marking new milestones. Whether it is graduation from high school or college or even just moving up to a new school building, students stand at a crossroads, a chance to make a new start.
"You're on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the guy who'll decide where to go."
I read those sentences several times, getting stuck on only the second page of the book. Sometimes I feel like the circumstances of my life dictate all of my decisions. I can't do anything to change Grace's diagnosis, and I find myself feeling like I am powerless to make any decisions that will affect my life in a positive manner. No matter what decision I make, Grace will still have INAD.
While that may be true, I can make decisions every day that affect my life in a positive or a negative way. It's true, I have NO power whatsoever to change the fact that Grace has INAD. But I can make choices to keep a positive outlook, to give Grace the most opportunities that life has to offer and to raise funding and awareness about INAD, so that someday, other families might not have to face this battle. After all, if Grace can keep a beautiful smile on her face, then so can I.
Dr. Seuss goes on to describe the forks in the road and choosing not to go down "any not-so-good streets."
"And you may not find any you'll want to go down. In that case, of course, you'll head straight out of town."
Many of our high school students will be heading out of town for the first time in their lives, to live in a place they've never known. I went to school three hours from home with a population of 22,000 undergraduate students, nearly the size of Montgomery County, just at the school! It was overwhelming, and I got lost more than once my first week in Columbia, MO. But eventually, I found a group of friends, who helped me in my journey.
"Out there things can happen and frequently do to people as brainy and footsy as you. And when things start to happen, don't worry. Don't stew. Just go right along. You'll start happening too."
That can be a tough one for me. I often expect things in life to work out just like I planned. High school - check. College degree - check. Career - check .Husband - check. Baby - check. You think you have all the things that make up the recipe for happiness, only to find life throws you a curve ball, like an incurable illness.
One year in a Christmas card, a friend sent me a bookmark (that I use all the time), that read "Life doesn't have to be perfect to be wonderful." And that's something I try to remember. Life may not turn out anything like we imagined, but each of us has the chance to choose the path to happiness. It just might be different that your mental picture.
"I'm sorry to say so but, sadly, it's true that Bang-ups and Hang-ups can happen to you. You can get all hung up in a prickle-ly perch. And your gang will fly on. You'll be left in a Lurch."
All of us find ourselves in lurches of different shapes and sizes at some time in our lives. It's what you do in that lurch that matters. "Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in? How much can you lose? How much can you win?"
The next few pages of the book describe someplace I often find myself, even though not intentionally - the Waiting Place. On these pages, all the characters are waiting for a bus or a train, for their hair to grow, for a pot to boil or even for a better break. But do your best to make an escape from that place. Don't find yourself waiting for life to be perfect. Take a step out in faith and see what life has to offer. If you wait around for things to be perfect before you find your happiness, you'll miss out on so many great things along the journey.
"On and on you will hike. And I know you'll hike far and face up to your problems whatever they are."
No matter if life is taking you somewhere hundreds of miles from home in Montgomery County or not, remember that there's not any problem you can't face. Some are bigger than others. Some may take you to places you've never been, or places you hoped never to go. But one thing that will never change is the chance you have to make the right choice, and head down the path to a bright future.
I tell people that Grace's disease has given me both one of life's greatest gifts and biggest challenges all in the same package, the opportunity to remember the importance of living in each day. Not a single one of us is promised a tomorrow. Genetics says that Grace may have less of a chance to be a teenager than some. So, while it's hard not to envision her going to Prom or driving a car, or even walking across that stage at graduation, I see her smile at me every morning when she wakes up, and I know it's going to be a great day.
Remember to dream big, but also remember how important it is to make each and every day of your journey count. Smile at others, be kind, do the right thing, even if you think no one is watching. And above all, find the way to choose happiness. Because no matter where your journey takes you, you'll be glad that you did.