Acknowledging the Shadows of My Past and Focusing on a Hopeful Future

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by Ari Anderson |

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sma technology | SMA News Today | Main graphic for "Soaring With Hope," a column by Ari Anderson

Have you ever looked back on the person you used to be and thought, “That was a lifetime ago!”

When I think this way, I look at it from two different perspectives. On one hand, yes, my past self seems light-years away. On the other hand, that other me seems to always be trailing right behind my wheelchair. He always follows me like a shadow.

At times, this shadow of mine is crucial to who I am today. We will call him “Ari of Yesteryear.” When Ari of Yesteryear whispers in my ear the echoes of past experiences, he sometimes guides me in the present. I wouldn’t be the heartfelt writer or the passionate Medicaid advocate I am today without my past.

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So, what exactly does this other Ari talk about when he whispers next to me? A large chunk of what he has to say pertains to the lessons I learned during my 19-year academic career from 1988 to 2007. No, I’m not talking about book lessons, I’m talking about life lessons.

First, my academic career encompassed grades K-12, my five years in college, and two years in graduate school. Please don’t think I’m saying, “Hey, look at me and all the education I have.” I’m saying that with all my medical challenges, consider all the disadvantages I had working against me when I was trying to earn an education:

  • My lungs would be borderline hyperventilating as freezing rain drenched my face for an eternity. This eternity was actually a long 20 minutes as my van lift slowly delivered me from my vehicle. I had to quickly put aside these early morning traumas when starting the school day. (By the way, the rear-entry van lift I have now gets me in and out immediately.)
  • My mind would be focused on an upcoming test as I drove my chair up to the school, when suddenly, a hard, cold wind would take my breath away. As a result, my nurse would sometimes have to put me on the ventilator until I could catch my breath. Then, after a few minutes, I would go about my school day like nothing happened.
  • My hands would get so cold that I would be unable to drive myself to the next class at the end of a period. My nurse would have to quickly rub my hand for 30 seconds to warm it while people stared, wondering why I couldn’t move. I would have to put that awkward embarrassment behind me so I could focus on the next lesson.

I am not complaining. I’m just saying how these experiences, and many more, taught me about perseverance while adding depth to my soul. In other words, it gave shape to Ari of Yesteryear. True, I don’t go to school anymore, or hardly anywhere else, because of COVID-19. Yet, these experiences taught me how to mentally deal with emergencies and then quickly put them behind me so I can focus on the task at hand. Those are the things my shadow whispers to me.

As if life weren’t complicated enough, I also need to say that you don’t want to get too close to your shadow. After all, it would be a tragedy to live solely in the past. My hope and faith in the future lies with my trust in God. As long as I take to heart the lessons I’ve learned from my past, the Lord can shine many happy blessings in my path. Psalm 119:105 illustrates what I mean: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.”

Again, this doesn’t mean I shouldn’t use any means at my disposal to keep myself healthy. There is a whole other part to life, though. As fellow SMA News Today columnist Katie Napiwocki explains, there is a point when she feels “bigger than the obstacles outside of me and around me.” For me, this is where my faith in the future comes in. This brings me much more joy than anything Ari of Yesteryear has to say.

So, by all means, keep your past an integral part of your life. Just make sure your shadow stays behind you instead of leading you from the front. Let’s stay on this path of a hopeful future together and cheer each other forward!


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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