Holy Cow: Cubs Win the World Series and Our Hearts

This is a story of resilience, of hope rewarded, of an underdog rising to greatness. It’s a story of generations, of love passed down through DNA, of unifying triumph, of a storybook “happily ever after” and banished curses.

It’s a moment in history that’s been over a century in the making, and everyone wants a part in it. Five million people filled the streets of Chicago on Friday in the seventh-largest human gathering of all time–and the largest ever in our country–to watch the Chicago Cubs’ victory parade. “Thank you for your patience,” the lauded World Series Champions of 2016 said, giving as much praise to their fans’ perseverance as their own. The Chicago Cubs had had the longest drought of any professional sports team in the history of the USA: 108 years without a championship.

#FlytheW–the Cubs won the World Series! Photo courtesy of my friend Arnaud Buttin, who attended the rally.

That number, 108, keeps popping up in uncanny ways, signs of destiny that 2016 really was our year–according to Inside Edition, the list includes:

  • The building that broadcasts Cubs games: 108 stories high
  • Stitches on a baseball: 108
  • Original address of baseball manufacturer, Spalding: 108 Madison St., Chicago
  • Run time of movies Back to the Future 2 and Taking Care of Business, who predicted future Cubs World Series wins: 108 minutes

Here is the Inside Edition video, published 10/25, predicting the win:

Also, another that came forward, necessarily after that video: Joe Maddon, the manager of the Cubs, presented the championship trophy to the rally in Grant Park at 1:08 p.m. on Friday.

This feeling of destiny is a heavy weight lifted off the shoulders of so many who have inherited this love of the Cubs from others. At first, I thought the story I shared last week about our family Cubs tradition was unique, but over this past week, I’ve read many other touching stories of people rejoicing more on behalf of their loved ones than themselves.

One man drove all day to Greenwood Cemetery, Indiana, to keep a promise to his dad–that they would listen to the World Series together. He set up a radio and a lawn chair, and they did just that.

In my own family, my dad kept an unspoken promise to his mother, who raised him to be the Cubs fan he is today. She wasn’t far away during that epic game 7 of the World Series. Her mass card sports St. Anthony of Padua, who she always loved as the patron saint of lost things–and lost causes, she added. My dad kept her mass card and the lucky marble he’d shared with her on the table we surrounded while we bit our nails, jumped up and down, hyperventilated, and nearly collapsed during that game.

St. Anthony of Padua on my grandmother’s mass card, and the lucky marble my dad shared with her

The next day, he looked everywhere for a newspaper to take to her grave–an acknowledgement, a celebration, of the moment they’d been waiting for for many decades. And while she didn’t get to see it while she was here with us, she had the ultimate view from Heaven.

The newspapers were sold out at four different stores my dad went to, but he randomly found a pristine copy of two in the wrong spot by the coffee at Jewel. Even the cashier shared her shock he’d found one, but he smiled, knowing it was a special delivery.

Special Delivery: Victory Newspapers

We figured out later that our grandma was definitely watching the game from Heaven, when we realized the three final winning games had significant dates for her: her death anniversary, All Saint’s Day, and All Soul’s Day.

The game went on forever, in a good but completely nerve-shattering way. After jumping at a leaf the next day, my mom announced her nerves were shot. Several of our friends had to turn off the game at one point because they were about to be physically ill. As for me, my heart was racing for the entire game, but I determined to make it through, no matter what! After all, if these underdogs were about to change history, I didn’t want to miss it. As a bonus, I discovered I actually can hold my breath for 4.5 hours.

The game was as epic as a Lord of the Rings movie–and this, coming from an LOTR superfan–but it was like the climax lasted the entire duration. Movie producers would dismiss a script like that because it would be too unbelievable. When the game went into an extra 10th inning because of a tie, and then when there was a rain delay–even nature was adding to the drama–that was the breaking point for some people. For the Cubs, though, it was the moment of truth–Jason Heyward, outstanding outfielder for the team this year, gave a rallying speech to the Cubs that they could break the tie, break the curses, that not all was lost.

Speaking of Lord of the Rings, it reminded me of another rallying speech:

Image result for aragorn speech gif       Image result for aragorn speech courage of men

Indeed, after that rain delay, the Cubs pulled it together to achieve a final score of 8-7. To say the crowds went WILD is an understatement. It’s no wonder that the celebration is still going strong–“Go Cubs!” has replaced “Hello” around here, and “Go, Cubs, Go,” is the anthem of every place music might be played, from my own band’s performance to our hospital’s black-tie fundraising gala. Fans–of the Cubs, of Chicago, of the underdog story–want to acknowledge this moment of unity, perseverance, and reward of faith invested, breaths held for over a century. Our fandom only increases as we learn how the players are using their fame to give back to fans, including Anthony Rizzo’s foundation for cancer research he started after beating it himself. These aren’t just good players; they’re good people. These are heroes for America’s kids that we can be proud of. That goes for the Cleveland Indians, too–I was really impressed with the civility and kindness between the opposing teams. Now that’s a lesson we could carry with us!

Thank you, Cubs, for bringing us such a happy moment in history–something we could really use right now, especially in Chicago. Here’s to hoping we can carry this optimism and camaraderie with us beyond baseball. And even though 108 might be my new favorite number, here’s to hoping for another thrilling win in 2017.

 

Drawing by my very talented sister

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Miracle Day: Eight Years After My Traumatic Brain Injury

I’ve put off writing this post until this moment, because I wanted to make sure I enjoyed every. Single. Second. of Miracle Day.

“Miracle Day” is what I’ve decided to call November 21, 2005. It was the day I almost died–but I didn’t. Last summer, Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare asked me to tell my story for their annual report. Please watch this short video to learn about my journey (mobile users, click here):

I feel bad for the video editors, who had to cut down 2+ hours of my speaking about my experience into two minutes. ūüėČ I think they did a great job, though.¬†There‚Äôs so much I have to say about all of this; as you may recall, I’m working on my memoir of this experience now.

Words are my gift, my tool, and I had to fight hard to get them back. Initially, I couldn’t speak, except through the American Sign Language alphabet that Jennifer and I had taught each other (half-correctly) at ages 5 and 7. Even after I was no longer intubated, my throat was damaged and my words were sludgy in my mind. With the help of some amazing therapists and the encouragement of my family and friends, along with a lot of hard (rewarding) work, I was able to make a tremendous recovery. It was this experience that taught me just how crucial communication is, and that my gift with words might be a gift indeed. It gave me the courage to be a writer, because I finally saw a way to make a difference through my writing. And I’ve never stopped.

I feel like God gave me back my life for a reason, and I have a huge sense of destiny and duty to give back and help other people. I never feel like I can do enough, and sometimes I worry I‚Äôm not working hard enough or being good enough. I know that my memoir is part of that destiny, and that‚Äôs part of what intimidates me–but also excites me–about it.

Although I only had <5% chance of surviving that injury, and even less chance of recovering to any great extent, I did. I am incredibly grateful to God and every person who helped me to come back. Each day since then has been a gift, even the bad ones, because they are days I almost didn’t have. I don’t feel like I’m living on borrowed time, but rather gifted time. My loved ones are a huge part of that gift, and I’m going to love them as hard as I can (and tell them so) to thank them for making my life so worthwhile and for all they do to keep me alive–not just when I was in the hospital bed, but also in the way they nourish my spirit and give my life purpose.

Today, Jennifer voted to wrap me in a comforter and hold me in a rocking chair by the fireplace. While I appreciated the loving thought, we deemed this too sweaty and bulky an option. Kidding aside, I feel overwhelmed by the love, congratulations, and protectiveness that surge forth on this day from loved ones. I was surprised I actually managed to convince my dad to go shopping with me today–not the shopping itself (he has always gone shopping with us and has personally found many of our best pieces), but the leaving the house on the day. But, we did have a miracle to celebrate, after all.

In retrospect, a day that might have seemed mundane was actually quite symbolic–almost eerily so. This morning, my dad picked up a collared shirt for me from Wal-Mart for my country-themed birthday celebration coming up. Eight years ago, he also picked up a couple of collared shirts for me from Wal-Mart to wear during therapy at Marianjoy. When he got back today, we left to buy a ball gown I’ve been pining over for two years, which I plan to wear (spoiler alert!) to the next Marianjoy gala. It was a far cry from the hospital gowns I was wearing as a Marianjoy¬†patient eight years ago. To go with those hospital gowns, eight years ago,¬†my dad had to buy me high-top gym shoes to wear in the hospital so my feet stayed upright while I slept/the muscles didn’t pronate. Today, we went shopping for shoes for my job at that hospital. We even took a picture today in our nearby downtown area, with all the Christmas lights in the background wrapped around trees and poles–pretty different than pole lights and X-rays in my hospital room. Then we ended the night with¬†pizza, which was my #1 requested food item at Marianjoy, which they were so sweet to accommodate. So maybe I’m just reading too much YA literature, or maybe I’m just trying to justify making my dad go shopping with me, but I thought the day was awesomely symbolic.

I never feel more grateful, blessed, or awe-struck than this day, each year. It’s a nice feeling to have–it makes me feel simultaneously small in the universe and hugely impactful, predestined but powerful, loved and loving. Thank you to my family, friends, doctors, nurses, therapists, and firemen who rescued me not just from death, but from a darkness I might have entered, too. And thank you to you, my dear readers, for following my journey. ‚̧