pensive impulse

"Between stimulus and response there is space.
In that space is our power to choose our response.
In our response lies our growth and our freedom."
-Viktor E. Frankl

Commentary by Heather Bibby

Biker's Wave

Born from my journey with chronic pain, I’m drawn to our stories that grow us. How our narratives inspire change within us and around us - strengthening, lengthening the cords of connection among us. There’s a place inside ourselves, a basin of contemplation through retrospection, where our spirit derives our stories. We have to be brave enough to be vulnerable, to look for them. Such examination can change us at our core. Who we are. Who we want to be. 

Pensive Impulse is my watershed, one place I sift and distill and discover our stories.

We all have a story. 


I'm reminded of the voice of a figure from my childhood. Decades into his already popular program and years before my global awareness cognitively spanned past the raised orange and yellow brick flowerbeds bookending my driveway; his familiarity filled the living room, the car, the air around me, tuned in by my dad. Open drawers of the card catalog age, prior to Google and Wikipedia fielding all the answers, his soothing cadence spun the fibers of connection - history, events, people - that threaded random pieces of time and place and action adding patches to the ever-long tapestry of humanity. With words through wavelengths, he shared stories. 

His voice now faded, stacked behind other memories, the ones we don't usually think about or access until jogged by some association. I recently viewed pictures of one of my childhood homes. The one with the orange and yellow brick flowerbeds. Ten years I occupied that space. Twenty years that town.

How did Paul Harvey wrap up each anecdotal, neatly packaged story-bite, surely making someone is the room utter, "Ohhh, I didn't know that!"? Through his smile-felt inflection as he exclaimed, "Now you know...the rest of the story."  

I don't remember any of his stories. I could google them I suppose. The point is not going back to remember those stories, not exactly. But to remember how they made me feel. Connected to something bigger than just my square lawn world. 

Our stories are a strange weather, unable to be tracked on linear graphs of plotted time. Seasons stack, overlap, intersect. Some never seem to end. Some we don't want to ever end. Some can't end fast enough. 

A fact we can all agree - we don't know the rest of our stories. We're still writing them. 

A season in my story is a storm experienced by many. I know this because out of the seven-plus billion folk I share this ball with, statistics tells me so. Turns out at least over 100 million Americans (can you image worldwide?) share this stormy story. The protagonist can often be misunderstood, discounted, even stigmatized. The antagonist, chronic pain, is a pounding thunder, often only heard by ourselves. Do you remember how Olaf got his own personal flurry? Living with chronic pain is like having hail and lightning strike in unrelenting assault from an invisible cloud hovering above just us. It's hard to understand a storm that can't be seen.  

The one in three Americans I mentioned before, that doesn't include pain from other conditions or illnesses such as diabetes, cancer and unfortunately, much more. In reality, the number of folks dealing with pain, short-lived or permanent, emotional and/or physical, is astounding. It's a ton of people. 

For years I drove a motorcycle. When my husband proposed, I accepted on two conditions. The first being, "get your motorcycle license." My bearded man came through in the nick of time, securing it one week before we were joined in holy matrimony. Pretty sure I would have married him anyway, guess we'll never know. 

If you're a biker, or have had the pleasure of being a passenger on a bike, what is one thing you notice? The biker wave. You're somewhere between yellow and white lines and suddenly, you see the approaching form of a doorless rider on the horizon. Speed crops the distance and as you both pass, you each stick out a low pause of your hand to acknowledge your fellow spirit animal, the wild soul of the open road. 

Years ago, I began to live with what, over time, I referred to as my beautiful pain, and the progression of worsening degrees of misery and restriction that spanned years of undiagnosed, high-decibel, incessant pain that truly had all but ended me. I doubt most folk with chronic pain would refer to it as beautiful but, and I can't stress how s-l-0-w-l-y this occurred, I came to realize it was inducing me to learn and seek how to truly live, not only exist. Through that stormy process, I discovered more about who I was and who I wanted to be than any other season or challenge or success or failure or undertaking in my previous three decades. My beautiful pain. 

Recent surgery has substantially alleviated my pain and the resulted restrictions. The last five years remain the most challenging I've lived through. But they've been the most growth-filled and life-changing. Chronic pain, over a long period of abrasion and rebuild, taught me how to stand still, assess and ultimately, how to live by responding to the passions and purpose that pulse through my soul. Through enduring my lot, I pursued way to manage, paths I would never have ventured onto had there not been pressing cause. 

I found myself wishing for a way to identify others in chronic pain. We tend to endure in silence, trying to navigate a world that doesn't readily acknowledge us unless we're wearing a cast. We need some signal of support. Of instant understanding without a word shared, a detail exchanged. Our version of the biker's wave. As we try to stand in line at the grocery or pass one another on the street or in office and church hallways or at some other Anywhere. A way to recognize and remember more often, because we really need to, that we are not alone. We're not. I remember that feeling of total isolation, how little those around me got it. Over one in three is countless people we pass by every single day. We're seeing each other without seeing each other. 

I've been thinking a lot about the rest of my story. Six months ago, I made a commitment to myself. It was the six-month mark of my latest surgery and a significant turning point in regaining my abilities that I hadn't expected, that I had come to stop hoping for. I was still slow to move, but I could, for the first time in a decade, see a ray of a hope that I had long forgotten existed. So I made a promise, I would say Yes. Yes to new things. Yes to doing things. Unless saying yes put me in harms way or violated a self-defined boundary or messed with my Bug's schedules, I would say Yes. 

Five years ago marked the beginning of a raging storm inside of an already raging storm. Darker clouds forming at that point, I wasn't yet aware of the severe depression brewing. But I was shrinking and would eventually break under the piling weight of lowering expectations. Of terrible, constant pain. I cut myself off from the world. The world off from me. I remained under the radar for much of my journey. In coming up for gasps of air, here and there, I would emerge to find a sky that did not match my own. My eyes unable to adjust to the light seeming too bright. 

Today though, I'm still saying yes. Yes to leaving my house. Yes to bookclub. Yes to tai chi. Yes to piano lessons. Yes to friends. Yes to listening to my body. Yes to outside my introverted comfort zone. Yes to dreams. Yes to writing days. Yes to working on projects that make my house more of a home. Yes to a new church. Yes to the possibility of new connections and yes to the hope of renewing old ones. 

Five years ago was also when Pensive Impulse was conceived. Seven years into this journey and exhausted of the process of living with something no one could see, so most couldn't understand, I began to envision a way to connect with folks who could relate. A way to share stories. It wasn't until after my last surgery that I actually created this site and started to hone my vision. Pensive Impulse is a seedling. I am saying yes to nurturing care and time. To give myself permission to be brave and vulnerable. Permission to grow and make mistakes and learn and keep growing and keep growing. I'm saying yes to possibility. 

As I reemerge through healing, from terrible to tolerable pain, from a byproduct-depression, I find a surety that I didn't hold before. Could never hold before. My workaholic, hurtling self of old-me no longer exists. There are some losses I'll miss (goodbye my motorcycle, doctor's orders) but she is not one of them. The oft rushed over, diminished phrases of self-grace, good enough and flawed beauty fill my days and my ways. To that end, I am worried less about the pace and more about the purpose. Less about the masses and more about that one. Emily Dickinson has captivated me for as long as I can remember. A soul-connection through time. One of the first poems I ever memorized was to become my life's mantra:

"If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching, or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain."

Our Stories. Our Responsibilities. Our Lives. Our Choice. 

Pensive Impulse is one of those ways I am responding to my life, spinning fibers that connect. Over a decade on this voyage, I wholly understand how it wears us down, erodes our fight and how so many just don't get it.  

I get it. 

Pensive Impulse is about excavating that marrow of spirit we each hold deep inside, that tenacity thing, demanding we never give up, keep going, onward-ho. It's about our shared navigation of the human condition and the ultimate driver in all of our stories - acceptance. 

Self-acceptance. Other-acceptance. There is only one that truly matters.

If you see me and are enduring your own storm - give me a little biker's wave and we'll both know this isn't the rest of your story. 


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