When you live with a body that doesn’t function the way most people’s bodies do, you are invited to develop a special kind of strength.

I was listening to an interview between Marie Forleo and Katie Sturino, blogger and entrepreneur. They were discussing their workout routines during the pandemic. After mention of an online yoga teacher, I thought “I should check that out.” Then I remembered that I am quadriplegic. No yoga for me. I am used, by now, to the shock of remembering, pang of grief, and mental/emotional reorganizing that is my life. Feel the riot of emotions. Notice my breath. Return my attention to the present moment.

What is the word for this skill/strength combination? Endurance? That has a joyless sound to it that I resist.

I have it easy because I’m not fighting for my life. My illness moves slowly. Friends who deal with more dramatic diagnoses like cancer go to more medical appointments, submit themselves to uncomfortable treatments, live more completely at the edge of life and death. Endurance seems like a puny word for what they experience. Courage, perhaps? That word has a nice roundness to it.

Neither “endurance” nor “courage” have any sparkle to them. Recently, I read this quote:

“Life [exists] only because of a myriad of synchronicities that bring us to this particular place at this particular moment. In return for such a gift, the only sane response is to glitter in reply.” – Robin Wall Kimmerer

She was writing about a species of moss which grows luminescent in dark caves.

Chronic illness is a kind of cave. Big Emotions cling like moisture to cave walls. It’s dark and the path twists and includes sharp rocks that may trip travelers. It’s good to have guidelines and traveling partners to keep spelunkers safe. Still, glittering? That takes enormous strength.

By definition, glittering is an on-and-off thing. It gives cave dwellers permission to fall apart every now and then. That’s necessary, in my experience. There are days when I have a hard time believing that life is worth celebrating. When I hang on through those times, I find that – eventually – the weight lifts. The world regains its loveliness.

What makes that shift? Some graceful brew of neurochemicals that bring me to the surface like a bat escaping the cave’s crevices. I can’t claim responsibility. (Though my ego wants credit for mind training efforts.)  I can only lean into gratitude.

The strength of chronic illness is to continue continuing until the end, which is just living. Maybe that’s the word that combines the persistence of endurance with the feel-the-fear-and-do-it-anyway of courage, along with the splash of light that is glittering: living.

May you find strength in your journey ~