Ten years and a lifetime ago, I was a college student studying vocal performance. I loved learning about and performing arias, art songs, jazz standards, and musical theater numbers. The stage was home to me. My voice was the constant companion I took for granted.
And then one day my world stopped.
I was 19, enjoying my summer break; working and hanging out with friends and seeing my boyfriend every chance I could get. Driving with the windows down and singing at the top of my lungs. And then a shallow dive in a backyard pool went horribly wrong, and my voice was silenced. My neck was broken, my body following suit.
The months following that day are so heavily intertwined with grief and sorrow and anger and confusion, it is hard to remember without feeling like I’m being pulled under a particularly strong wave in that ocean of roiling emotions. But above it all, my purpose and joy – my voice – was gone. Trached and on a ventilator, I literally could not speak.
In the intervening years between then and now, I have worked and fought and overcome. I have felt anger and despair at my situation, at the way people with disabilities are treated, at the ten million extra steps and obstacles I have to overcome to live my life in a society that isn’t built for me or people like me.
But through the struggle I have also become aware of my power. Of using my voice to speak out and speak up for myself, and eventually others. I have learned to love more deeply and more authentically. And I have learned to take joy and gratitude from each breath I draw, each word I utter. Because nothing is promised.
And in this last year where nothing seems certain, I’ve learned to let go of hoping to be what I was, and embracing who I am right now. I’ve realized I’m still a singer. It is not the same as it was, but as I practice and relearn these two tiny miraculous cords that hold so much joy and power, I am embracing my own sense of self again. I am acknowledging who I was, who I am, and every version of myself I’ve been to get here.
And they’re all beautiful.