Posted on January 7, 2016
DAY 24 for #24: WHAT I'VE LEARNED ALONG THE WAY....
Dear Friends & Family,
John Michael Night has changed my life. Over the course of 24 days, the Saints’ number 24 has driven home lessons I think we could all benefit from. While I am profoundly sad, I am also profoundly grateful for what I’ve learned as I’ve been by JM’s side.
I want to share with you a few of those lessons today in the hopes that they will not only help you put your own life in perspective, but that you may always keep John Michael in mind.
For those of you who don’t know, on Monday December 14th 2015, John Michael Night, only 17 years old, suffered a devastating brain stem stroke leaving him in what is medically referred to as Locked-In Syndrome. With Locked-In Syndrome the patient is fully aware with no mental impairment, but sadly cannot move or communicate verbally due to complete paralysis of nearly all voluntary muscles in the body, save the eyes. Just two weeks before his stroke, he signed a athletic and academic scholarship to play D1 lacrosse at Mercer University. This was the moment he always dreamed of and a real highlight of his life… the reward for years of dedication and hard work on and off the field.
But in the blink of an eye, life changes. It can sound trite until you’ve watched it happen. I did.
Imagine yourself a young athlete in peak physical condition, and you’ve just signed to play lacrosse in college. Now imagine blinking your eyes to discover your body has suddenly become your prison. You’re shut off from the world. You are exactly who you are, but the very body that helped you excel in sports and life, simply no longer responds. The smallest gestures, so much that was once second nature, now impossible. It is almost too much to even imagine, but it is John Michael’s reality.
If there is one mercy in Locked-In Syndrome, it may be that it spares the eyes. Because in all the hours I have spent by John Michael’s side, I can see that the young man we know and love is still right there. His humor. His curiosity. His determination. His fight. In fact, in the midst of this crisis and all of the emotional pain and panic it brings, John Michael’s eyes have provided me with a sense of calm. I’ve wondered: How is it the patient, the one in the greatest need, is the one who also provides so much assurance? I have found myself feeling fortunate to be in the eye of the storm.
I have also felt rage. Primal pain. Furious indignation. How is it the worst can befall the best? No one deserves this turn, but what are we supposed to think about a universe which deals someone so good something so devastating?
You may believe in a larger plan and you may not, but what has astonished me is how willing John Michael has been to confront the hardest questions about his future. How he has been ready to come to this field of unjust misfortune ready to bring his A-game as he always does in life. I feel some degree of comfort knowing he will turn this into an opportunity for growth and teaching.
The game has changed, but John Michael Michael Night is still an athlete in my mind!
So here are some things I’ve learned over the past 24 days, from #24:
1) You’re stronger than you think you are. Through John Michael I have come to believe we’re never given more weight than we can bear.
2) Sometimes your whole life is training for a moment you can’t imagine. I have spent years running multiple businesses, responding to crises, learning to be agile and persistent, and while I may have believed it was all about building a base of prosperity for friends and family, it could be that it was all preparation to step in and help the Night family at this moment in their lives. The ways in which you are challenged may be adversity towards a greater purpose, and that’s perfectly o.k. Never underestimate that it may all be practice to play a crucial position in the future, and in someone else’s life.
3) It’s worth facing crisis head-on. Ask the hard questions, give the hard answers. False hope in the midst of injustice is cruel. I have seen John Michael handle the truth of the path before him. There’s no need to smoke the “hopium.” It will only bring disappointment. Be real. Be Honest.
4) Patience is essential. John Michael will need patience as he works to rehabilitate his body to the best of his and its ability. We will need patience as we support him. We must all take today on today’s terms, and understand that the timeline is unpredictable.
5) Be in the game, or be out. The initial outpouring of support for John Michael has been extraordinary, but my greatest fear for him is that those who have stepped up to support him and his family now may fade in the future. Please do not forget John Michael. His road is long, and he will need you all. Early on, one of John Michael’s doctors told a group of his friends that if they were in, they needed to be in for the distance, and if they were going to disappear down the line, it would be better to walk out right now, from the start. Be in, or be out.
So there it is, at least as I see it. You are strong. Your life has prepared you for this. You can handle the truth. You can do more than you think. Have patience.
We all love John Michael. Remain open to his struggle and open your heart to the lessons we can learn from him along the way.
Pay it forward when given the chance!