"Locked up in reality, freed inside."
“Some people are walking around with full use of their bodies and they're more paralyzed than I am.” - Christopher Reeve. The physical part of reality is only a microscopic part of our existence. In this belief, Rabbi Ronnie Cahana and Christopher Reeve are alike. In addition, they are both quadriplegics. At the age of just 57, Ronnie Cahana’s life was changed forever. He suffered from a severe stroke in the summer of 2011.
Kitra was devastated. She had walked into the hospital room, startled by the sight she saw. Her father was hooked up to a breathing tube. Her mother was sitting in the room, tears dripping down her face. She was half asleep, being lulled by the monotonous heart monitor’s beeps. Kitra sat down next to her sisters and mother.
“From the neck down, huh?” Kitra asked, even though she knew the grave truth.
“Yeah.” Her mom replied.
She got up and walked beside her father, through swelled eyes. She started reciting the alphabet. When she arrived at “K” her father blinked. Letter by letter, he called out, “Kitra,” and said, “My dear, don't worry this is a blessing.”
Over the months, Kitra was determined to track his condition by taking pictures and videos of her father. She had developed the ritual of sleeping next to her father. Every day she would move his joints and tell her father to visualize making the movements on his own. His room became a place where his family would transcribe sermons and he would inspire his family with positivity.
One day, Kitra was spending time with her father, like she usually did, and out of the corner of her eyes, she saw him wriggle like a worm. She knew it was involuntary, but she was ecstatic to know that his body was capable of movement. She inquired if he could feel anything, anything at all. Kitra lit up when she was told he could feel tingling under his tender skin. This was the light at the end of the tunnel that she needed to keep her positive.
As time passed, Ronnie slowly regained the ability to breathe on his own. Kitra recorded him saying: “You have to believe you're paralyzed to play the part of a quadriplegic. I don't. In my mind, and in my dreams every night I Chagall-man float over the city twirl and swirl with my toes kissing the floor. I know nothing about the statement of man without motion. Everything has motion. The heart pumps. The body heaves. The mouth moves. We never stagnate. Life triumphs up and down.” He believes that, like an astronaut, he believed he had the perspective on life that very few people ever get to see. He said he lived in the limbo between life and death. “So begins life at 57,” he says. He had the experience of relearning all things the human body learns before even being born.
Nowadays, Rabbi Ronnie Cahana improves every day. He strengthens his muscles. He moves his neck freely. He speaks often with his voice. He is able to spend time with his loving family. But, in his opinion, his work is never done. He says with great enthusiasm, "I'm living in a broken world, and there is holy work to do."
To the Cahana family for showing me it's possible to find the positive and to stay positive in even the worst of circumstances.