When I was seven, I became, for a few weeks, every loving parent’s worst nightmare. One day I was playing on the playground with the other children, and then a few days later I lay in a hospital bed, delirious and feverish, fighting for my life, and no one knew why.
This is not a story of that illness, but instead a story of recovery. The illness ravaged my body and particularly my right leg. After a month in the hospital and two months on crutches and in physical therapy, I returned to school. I wanted desperately for things to be back to normal, and I couldn’t wait to be able to walk home from school.
The way to school was on downhill, and I made it there easily with no problem. But that changed when I had to go back up the hill. I discovered to my dismay that my right leg felt “tired” – I would later come to realize it was pain. This was 1974, well before the time of cell phones and helicopter patients, so I was on my own, with what seemed like an insurmountable problem. How was I going to make it home?
And suddenly it came to me. I don’t need to make it home, I told myself. I just need to make it to the lamppost. It’s not very far, and when I get there I can rest.
I focused all my attention on that lamppost, and when I got there, I sat down on a short retaining wall to rest. I can stay as long as I need to, I told myself. And then I looked for the next lamppost.
Those lampposts got me home that day, and many days to come. But even so many years later, the technique has helped me through many crises. I’ve been on bed rest for a month, so weak at the end of it that I became breathless walking across the house. At times, anxiety overtook me – I’m an avid walker, exerciser and dancer, and I feared I might never be able to do those things again.
So I returned to the lamppost. And I realized that if I took life one lamppost at a time, or one moment at a time, I might just be able to make it through anything.
I can’t walk around the yard today, I told myself, but I can walk around the house three times. The next day: I can’t walk around the yard three times, but I can walk around the yard once today.
There are many things I’ve had to give up along the way. For instance, I used to be a long-distance runner, but I stopped at age 23.
But the lamppost technique has focused me on what I can do. Today.
In one of my favorite childhood book series, The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, the lamppost lights the way between the fantasy world of Narnia and real-world England. In my life, the. lamppost has lit the way between where I am today and where I want to be tomorrow. And it has helped me get there one moment at a time. So it seems a fitting title for the beginning of this written exploration. If you are still with me, thank for starting the journey with me.