During my four years in Catholic school, I developed close relationships with my peers, teachers and the school’s faculty.
Since I went to Catholic school, I had the opportunity to interact with nuns, which was a pretty delightful experience.
Over the course of high school I had the same interaction with one particular sister.
I would greet her and ask her how she was, and she would always respond the same: “I’m blessed and grateful, and you?”
It was very sweet to hear this every time we talked — to hear the optimism and joy this woman carried with her.
We would go through this song and dance even when I wasn’t feeling particularly “blessed and grateful”.
When I was 17 years old, my brother and I went skiing for the first time in a few years. In order to get re-acclimated, we decided to take a lesson with a ski instructor before we hit the slopes for a day filled with pizza slices and french fries, as the two skiing positions are nicknamed.
After we concluded our lesson, we decided it was time to ski down the slopes that the mountain had to offer.
It was early March in Upstate New York so there was a surplus of artificial snow, and it was a bit stiff. Needless to say, the combination of the snow’s texture and my rusty skiing ability created what became a treacherous affair.
As time passed on the mountain, my confidence started to slowly build. My daredevil instincts were tingling and something told me it was time to impulsively do something daring — something that would surprise people in the future.
On one of my runs down the mountain, my eyes happened upon a small terrain park, complete with ramps to do ski jumps.
I decided to give it a go, despite having never done a ski jump before.
I slid myself onto the ramp, landed firmly, and then proceeded to make my way to the ski lifts again.
Following what felt like a lengthy ascent to the top of the mountain, I skied toward the bottom of the slope.
I did not reach the bottom before being drawn to the terrain park yet again.
I succumbed to my adventurous instincts and decided to try the ski jumps again, fairly certain I would find the same success as I had during my first foray into ski jumping.
My certainty would prove to be incorrect.
I encroached myself onto the ramp yet again, only this time my body seemed to be travelling closer to the stratosphere than it was to the Earth’s core.
That is, until the concept of time came rushing back to me, and my back met the ground with a overwhelmingly impacted thud.
My eyes pooled with the saltiest of ocean water tears, as I tried to understand what had just happened and as I painstakingly ran through ideas of what to do next.
I shakily unzipped my coat’s pocket and fished around for my phone, called my mother and relayed the events that had just occurred, only to later find out she had witnessed everything from the ski lodge located several hundred feet away from the terrain park.
As I fought the two-streamed flood escaping my eyes, and endured the severe pain creeping up my legs to my hips, I slowly pulled myself up to stand.
I attempted to make my way down to a place I would be safer, but the pain I was experiencing made this task much too difficult.
I struggled a bit more and eventually received assistance from a kind ski patrol member, who allowed me to ride the rest of the way down to the ski patrol station where I would be examined.
After I was examined in the ski resort, I spent approximately nine hours between two hospitals in the capital region of Upstate New York, and eventually found I had fractured two spinal vertebrae.
After I was equipped with a rather bulky back brace, I returned to my home in New Jersey to begin a painful recovery process.
I was understandably unhappy and not very present during this time, as the people in my life would observe. The physical pain that I was experiencing had started to severely impact my mental health. I faked smiles, and I walked through life stiff as a board, all thanks to the back brace that had seemingly become an extra limb.
I continued to talk to my school community, trying to find some kind of hope in some place. And I began to repeat the sister’s mantra of “blessed and grateful,” in the hopes that it would become my own and perhaps offer me solace.
Three years later, I can safely say I did find comfort in these words.
Sure, life wasn’t the best it could be at that time, but I still retained my ability to walk, and my spine is fully healed.
I decided to put my trust in my school community and loved ones and got support in return.
I learned that even when life isn’t kind and deals bad cards, there are still some things to be blessed and grateful for.