Today is Oct. 9, the anniversary of the accident that forever changed my life. You’ll notice that I didn’t say that in a negative tone. I didn’t say it was the day that forever ruined my life or any other focus on a negative facet of the change. The reason is that I love the life I have and if I hadn’t had that accident, so much of my life as I know it wouldn’t exist. Nearly all the good things that I know in my life today have come about as a result of the changes brought by that fateful day.
It is a day I call my rebirth day. It is the day when my life changed and allowed me to start all over again, considering education and career options, much like I did when I first graduated high school.
I’m not going to blow my own horn and list my accomplishments. While those are meaningful, they are almost exclusively so to my family and myself. No, those aren’t what I’m talking about as good things. Instead, what I’m talking about is the life I live today is a result of what happened 13 years ago. I have my lovely wife, my wonderful son, and so many friends that I have made because of the path my life took when I flipped that car.
Yes, if that car had not flipped, I might have kept the career I cherished and ultimately reached the lofty career goals I had set, but there is more to life than accomplishing success at work.
So, aside from work, what other yardstick can one use to measure success in life?
For me, personal happiness is a big one. I love my life, doing what I do, even if that means that I’m not working right now. Without a work identity, I’m very much at peace with myself. I work hard, but at things other than my vocation. I work hard at being a good man, a good husband, good father, and a good friend.
As for material things, I don’t want for anything. I don’t mean to sound spoiled, but I have what I want. That makes it hard for those who want to get me a gift for my birthday or Christmas, but I think this is a good problem to have. I can think of so many that have many needs.
There was a time that I lived paycheck to paycheck, counting down the dollars in my checking account to make sure I had enough money until the next payday, and I’m not talking about the candy bar. I lived fast and loose at that time, but really had an empty life outside of work and a few friendships. This meant that my bank account and happiness accounts were equally low. No, this wasn’t when I was just out on my own at age 18. I’m talking about that last year that I had sight, that year leading up to my accident.
I’ll gladly take what I have today over what I had back then. And, that’s really saying a lot, as anybody who knows what my career with the prison system meant to me. However, like I have been saying, life is a lot more than the job one has. It took me giving it up to realize that.
When I took disability retirement, that was one of the most difficult decisions of my life. It meant letting go of the one thing I knew I could do and do well. However, it was letting it go that freed me to pursue interests outside of working for TDCJ.
I was listening to a broadcast a few days ago that discussed people’s adjustment to blindness and the host said for two to three years after he went blind, he didn’t do much, trying to figure out what he could do. Hearing that made me think back to the difficulty I had accepting that I was blind. I didn’t want to accept it, refused to accept it, and finally conned myself into accepting it for today, if not forever. At that time, still in the first six months of being blind and out of the hospital, I was clinging to the hope that there was a miracle surgery just around the corner that could restore my sight.
When I came to the realization that the fix wasn’t going to happen overnight, I still clung to the hope that this was going to be resolved in a short while. I had been seeing an ophthalmologist in Austin who added to those hopes by telling me about all this research he knew about. I’m not knocking him, because his enthusiastic support was something I think I needed to get my head where it needed to go. I really bought into his talk and figured that within five years, I would be able to have a surgical procedure that would restore my vision. He said that the technology would evolve in about five years. While I allowed that far off dream to linger, I was also thinking about how far off five years seemed like it was going to be.
Well, it has now been thirteen years and I’m still as blind today as I was the day I awoke in the UMC hospital in Lubbock. That five-year timeline passed a lot quicker than I thought it would when the doctor first told me about it. It came and went without me really marking that date on any calendar. By the time that date finally came around, I was more in tune to the acceptance that I was functioning in high gear and wasn’t longing for that surgery.
Its not that I’ve given up hope for seeing again. I’d truly love that to happen so I can see the many beautiful things in my life. What I’ve done mentally, though, is shift that to a prospect that I plan on eventually occurring, not setting it as a priority. That change was a critical one for me to move on with the adjustment process. As long as I was putting my life on hold and pinning all my dreams on the hopes for restoring sight, I was unable to move on with the rest of my life. I did that for the first few months of the time I was blind. It was that shift in priorities that let me move on and embrace life.
Thirteen years of being blind. That was something I perceived as unfathomable during those early months of being blind. However, that time now makes the time I’ve been away from the prison system equal to the time I worked there. That’s a strange thing for me to consider. I have such a big part of my identity tied to that career. I still have dreams about that period of my life. Just the other morning, I woke up having a dream about one of my Wardens giving me my performance evaluation to sign. I was in the REM stage, dreaming really well when that alarm went off. That means I could vividly recall what was going on in that dream, so I know exactly what it was.
Still, that time in my life is just where it needs to be, in the past. It was a great experience, one where I learned a lot, but it was a chapter of my life I had to move on from. And, I think I’ve done so very well, if I do say so myself.
Happy rebirth day to me. The same goes for you too, Marcus!
(That link is for Marcus' home page; for more insight to who Marcus Engel is, check out Engel's Ensights.)