Friday, 19 October 2018

When All Else Fails

by Mary Ellen Gambutti

I waver, sometimes stumble on snags. I encounter hurdles I’m powerless to overcome. When I falter, my frailty is plain to all. Since I’m human, I can recover my footing with love, magic, and even grace.


My lifelong passion is to work in life-affirming nature with flowers and green plants that imbue my spirit, strengthen my fiber, inspire creativity, and help me through dark times. I rejoined my center within a good marriage. I embraced the study of horticulture. Strong and able, I happily ran a solo gardening business for fifteen years. Although not perfect, life had purpose among the plants that thrived in varied gardens.


A brain hemorrhage struck me one June day of my 57th year. I woke in a West Virginia intensive care unit to absence of feeling and strength on my right side. Dread filled my core, recalling the dire moment I changed into jeans in a tour bus rest room, while stopped at a picnic pavilion as a storm gathered.

The inconceivable weight of my right hand and arm on a crisp white sheet—not asleep: dead. Testing my will, I couldn’t move my right leg, foot, toes. Stroke killed my speech, disrupted clear thought, and blurred my vision. Months of therapies loomed.

I could hold nothing with my dominant hand. No pruning or clipping. No pinching new growth for a fuller plant. No lopping branches for form and shape. There’d be no gardening. No kneeling in friable soil. No bending for a weed. No reaching for a fragrant rose. No staking floppy asters. No planting, hauling, or mulching. No striding, no hiking to summer borders beyond the trees where I’d found joy.

I’d miss the scent and feel of dried grasses, brittle in the fall breezes. The aged, crisped stems, the turgor gone. Or ones that never strengthened— too much shade, not enough wind to batter, sun to nourish, or weeping rain.

I knew I’d either stretch or move—there was no choice—to reach, try to find the strength I’d always had inside, but didn’t always know. I could have acquiesced to tempting, constant, healing sleep. Unless I once again aspired, I would only lie in bed and try to feel, or think I felt. I’d lie and dream I might once again stand, or take a stand, or move my hand. Try, try, and toes might move. And did. Then my foot! I worked, and my therapists and my husband coaxed, “You can do it. You must do it!” Start now, or lose the chance.

My spirit broken, crumbled, fragile and frail, I cried and struggled, even fought myself in anger and wounded pride. Self-pity for what I had become. I could be bitter. Why should I be weak? How could this be?

I turned away when asked, “How do you feel about the weakness?” You can’t possibly understand! You can’t know what it’s like to have nothing. And when the crying ceased, I remembered my toes told their truth of determination. A small thing, but there it was. I learned I could become again. I would find my strength within my soul. Courage. Determination. Not perfect, but able. I hoped and prayed to overcome this trial. I tried, and that made a difference. I would not be a dainty, flimsy flower. Frailty is not this woman. I’m a survivor.

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"When All Else Fails" was first published in The Remembered Arts Journal – Frailty Theme (Oct. 7, 2017)

Mary Ellen Gambutti's work is published or forthcoming in Gravel Magazine, Wildflower Muse, Remembered Arts Journal, Vignette Review, Modern Creative Life, Thousand and One Stories, Halcyon Days, NatureWriting, PostCard Shorts, Memoir Magazine, Haibun Today, CarpeArte, Borrowed Solace, Winter Street Writers, Amethyst Review, StoryLand, mac(ro)mic, SoftCartel, Drabble, FewerThan500, BellaMused and Contemporary Haibun Online. Her book is Stroke Story, My Journey There and Back. She and her husband reside in Sarasota, FL.

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