A Sigh of Gratitude After November’s Golden Yawn

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by Katie Napiwocki |

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SMA caregivers | SMA News Today | Main graphic for column titled "A Wildflower in the Wheelderness," by Katie Napiwocki

They congregated on a beach in the mild November air.

More than 50 of them stood there, wondering if they dare dip their feet into the water or remain lounging on soft sand. Not a mask in sight; not an inkling of social distancing.

I suppose when you’re a goose, such matters are trivial.

On any other day, I still would’ve noticed them. But they’re such an unassuming staple of nature’s backdrop, I don’t look twice at them. The luster of something distinctive and stunning is easily disguised by mundane familiarity.

I was hiking an accessible trail at a local state park. I couldn’t recall a past November that gifted more beautiful weather. Usually, I don’t get out for long stretches of hiking during this time of year. When puffs of hot breath dance and dissipate before my eyes, I interpret the smoke signal as a call for hibernation. November days are earmarked for the onslaught of winter garb.

This November day, I found myself in a far-seeing place where the golden yawn of the season stretched far and wide. I could see the decoupage of forest floor — acorns awaiting transformation into mighty oaks; fallen feathers of the wise owl. I could see beyond the pines, between the birch, and around the maples in a way I seldom appreciate during the wild cascade of summer’s lush foliage.

I listened to trees surrender to the wind, their branches clamoring together in earthen high-fives and pats on the back. The sound soothed me. I liked it, and I couldn’t quite figure out why. It was like an old song whose words I couldn’t decipher, but I loved how the beat made me feel free.

The geese made their presence known again, vocal honks ringing out like the cry of the people. On an unordinary afternoon, I contemplated gratitude for ordinary things I tend to overlook.

Canadian geese enjoy our habitat. They share in our comfort of nature escapism. They like our lake shores, our river walks, and our sunny-day parks because they’re social animals, too.

During migration, geese fly in a “V” formation to uphold a sense of cohesion in their journey together. Not only is this feathered choreography favorable for their energy level, it allows consistent visual contact with one another, prompting open communication and flock unity. When each goose wing flaps, the current uplifts the goose behind it.

Geese abound, I felt grateful to be outside with my partner, Andy.

I’ve been feeling my body gravitate toward autopilot for the season. Everything seems harder this time of year.

With darkness creeping in early each day, I sometimes mistake my surroundings for a lunar landscape. My body moves with all the ease of wading through molasses. But, I yearn to stay in motion. I know the importance of keeping my mind and body in transit as I strive to slow the natural progression of my SMA.

In the same way I move at my own content pace, a woolly bear caterpillar crossed my path.

The meaning of a woolly bear’s midsection color band isn’t well understood or agreed upon. What was once thought to illustrate a foreboding tale of winter’s harshness more likely reflects the severity of a previous season in the woolly bear’s life.

I inspected the furry locomotive and thought its story similar to the scars of my own body. I felt grateful for a creature that bore its courage on its sleeve, unashamed of what it has endured.

This year, I’m grateful for the emergence of self-acceptance I’ve been awakened to. I’m grateful for the ways I’ve embraced my SMA. I’m not there, yet. And because the destination is unknown to me, I’m not sure I’ll ever arrive. I’m learning to find peace in that.

Instead, I take a look around. I find strength in the people around me who love without an agenda. I find comfort in community. I find resilience in listening to how others solve problems.

If ever there comes a time when I cannot identify a cornucopia of elements for which I’m thankful in my life, I will know I’ve done something wrong along the way. I will need to retrace my trail of breadcrumbs back to the fork in the road and try an alternate route.

Expressing gratitude for what we love in our life does not mean we must abandon a desire for things to be different, nor does it mean we should bury difficult emotions about what ails our soul. Practicing gratitude strengthens our understanding of what brings us happiness and what triggers a sense of unrest.

When we grow from our scars, we appreciate the arrival of every new season.

When we are happy with ourselves, it is easier to spread our wings and lift those who are traveling behind us.


Note: SMA News Today 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 other 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 SMA News Today, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.

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