They say hope springs eternal. But when adversity pounces on it for 22 months straight, hope gets cautious. It ducks for cover, and shoots back at hardship until it’s no longer hope at all. It’s full-blown cynicism.
When we got the news that my 21-year-old nephew started talking, my husband was ecstatic. I couldn’t share his enthusiasm.
Giuliano, who was in a serious car accident almost two years ago, could now say “Hi” and “I love you,” my brother reported via text message. Babies can do that, I thought. He’s not talking; he’s repeating words.
My sister-in-law Liz shared my sentiment. Next to Giuliano, she’s suffered the most since the day a head-on collision killed her son’s ability to walk, talk and possibly think. She got to the point where she avoided the high that hope brought with it. The low its hasty departure left behind proved too hard to handle.
Instead, Liz’s focus turned to coping. Her oldest of three sons had a different life, which meant she did, too. Now to figure out how to live it.
My sister-in-law is driven by inspiring stories, thoughts and words. She chose a word to live by in 2012: “be.” Sounds simple enough, just exist. But it wasn’t simple at all.
In 2013, the word “wonder” kept coming to her. She looked up the definition in February. On March 10, nearly two weeks ago, its meaning lit a small spark in a hospital bed at her son’s care center when he said, “Hi” and “I love you.”
The next day, March 11, wonder returned, this time in the form of a brilliant beam, blinding our cynicism and reintroducing us to hope.
It was like any other day. Liz spoke to Giuliano and he looked like he wanted to say something, but didn’t. She gave him a command and he followed it. “Thank you,” she told him.
What happened next caused the heart of a mother in Salt Lake City to skip, at first with surprise and then with joy.
“You’re welcome,” he replied.
He wasn’t repeating what she said. He was answering her. Those two words were as awakening to her spirit as a bucket of cold water at 4 a.m.
“What’s your name?” she asked, holding her breath for his reply. “Giu-li-a-no,” he told her.
Talking herself out of her optimism, she remembered she tells her son his name, and explains why he’s in a care center, every morning.
“How old are you?” “Twenty-one.”
“What month were you born?” “May.”
“What’s my name?” “Liz.”
His next word wasn’t prompted. “Arm,” he said. His mom informed Giuliano the family had to decide whether to amputate or keep his left arm, which he’s had limited use of since the accident. “Would you rather have your arm or no arm?” she asked. “My arm,” he answered.
The conversation continued. For the first time in 22 months, Giuliano was communicating.
His words leave his mouth in slow motion. Sometimes he prefers to mouth them, rather than say them. But Giuliano was and is communicating. And it’s a wonder.
won-der: noun, 1 a: a cause of astonishment or admiration : MARVEL. b: MIRACLE.
That’s the Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition of Liz’s word of 2013. But the sentence it uses to convey that definition reinforces its purpose to our family: “It’s a wonder he wasn’t killed.”
Giuliano hit a corridor on the freeway the night of his accident. His car flipped around, facing oncoming traffic. A cop car struck him head-on.
As other officers arrived on the scene and tended to the cop, assuming Giuliano had died, a passer-by who witnessed the wreck checked on my nephew. He heard gurgling, indicating life, and adjusted Giuliano’s head to get an airway.
If it weren’t for that stranger and his quick thinking, we might not have him with us today. The accident killed, for a time, my nephew’s ability to walk, talk and think. It also briefly killed his family’s hope. But it did not kill Giuliano. If his family needed reminding of that, the past two weeks have delivered the message loud and clear.
Wonder is indeed a powerful word. Even more powerful when it can leave the lips of someone who hasn’t spoken for 22 months.
We’re hopeful Giuliano will one day tell people all about the accident and his comeback. We’re also happy to be hopeful again.
More on Giuliano’s recovery next week.
Contact Xazmin Garza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0477. Follow her on Twitter @startswithanx.