Anna Lisabeth

An Opening

By Anna Lisabeth

When will it get better? It’s what I keep asking myself, over and over, a redundancy born of exhaustion and unknowns. Fourteen months ago, I stepped into the most difficult circumstance of my life: I received a long-awaited lifesaving heart-lung transplant. The surgery, and a large portion of my recovery, took place far from my Minnesota home, at Stanford Medical Center in California – so completely removed from my community and loved ones, removed from this person I have spent twenty-four years becoming. In the end, the whole ordeal happened much quicker than we expected, after a period of anticipation that seemed to extend across ages. And suddenly, wrapped in the midst of a miraculous second chance, I found myself thrown into unimaginable change, a season of grief that consisted of an eight-month hospital stay, and many more questions than answers. And here I find myself now, still waiting. Waiting for something. Most days I’m not even sure what for. Progress, or more miracles? I don’t know. But the waiting seems to be unending. When will it get better?

Looking back, I simply wasn’t prepared. And really, how could I have been? You can only hope for the best, and I was so truly invested in the thought that if I did this, if I survived this, then there would be a better life on the other side, one that would be so distinctly different from my childhood of unrelenting illness. Of course, the reality is that I didn’t have much of a choice in the matter to begin with. This was my last resort. And even knowing what I know now, I would never take any of it back, not one moment of this incredible gift. But, in the middle of a new normal, one with oxygen tanks, relentless effort, and limited endurance, where I was hoping to have renewed strength and unlimited opportunity, it has left me here wondering. Wondering, and waiting.

Of course, the truth is that it has been getting better. It has. It’s just difficult to observe beneath the microscope of day to day repetition. But if I take the time to step back, the exceptional delicacy of progress is laid before me. And oh, it is stunning. It took a long time to get here, but the victories are undeniable. Surely, I thought this second life of firsts would have some grander milestones. And yet, I am finding exceptional delight in so many small rarities - driving a car again, and spending a late night with loved ones, goodness that is strictly impossible within hospital room walls, within a body that is more dead than alive. It’s different, certainly, from the hopeful promises that walked with me into that operating room all those months ago. But it is remarkable, worth noting, in an entirely different – dare I say, better - light. Mostly, each day rings with the same unmovable truth – I am here. I am here I am here I am here. Here to grieve, here to heal, here to foster love for every moment. Tragedy cannot carve me away from this space where I stand. I will not let it. 

Perhaps it’s the turning of fall this year, a season that was present, yet entirely strange, in the midst of the unmoving California climate, but this miracle of coming back to life is settling over me heavily as leaves fall and the weather begins to change. I can’t help but feel euphoric on a day like this one, where I drive into the city, with music playing that makes me feel good, while looking at a world that somehow maintains great kindness for those who are seeking it. With an oxygen tank in tow, and my now-familiar trach settled over the collar of my sweater, it may not be normal. It may never be ‘normal’ again. But it never really was to begin with. It never is, for any of us. And that’s okay. In the end, this is the truth I have come to know well – the insistence of time will not cede to my own waiting. These expectations I have will certainly one day catch up with me. But I will not slow down in anticipation. Certainly, our liveswill always ebb and flow to the unrelenting presence of heartbreak. But isn’t it all so much bigger than that? There is life taking place right here, immediately outside of myself, in this room where I sit. There is life taking place within me. It is my own choice whether I welcome it, as I am now, as I have always been. It’s all so fragile to begin with, always on the precipice of change. How unfortunate it would be to miss even one moment. I will not water down this happiness in contrast to ‘someday’ or ‘what if’. These are the days. Right now. And they are begging to be enough. This body, this circumstance, this moment, they are all begging to be enough. And they are. Oh, they are.


"In all my work I try to tell the human truth - what it is like to be human - what makes us stumble and fumble and fall and somehow miraculously rise and go on from the darkness and into the light." - Maya Angelou

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