It’s Been Rock n’ Roll, Sister. Rock n’ Roll.

Compassionate Love: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness   (c)2015  Nancy Virden

photo-25063706-wheelchair-at-hospitalThis was not expected. None of it was really, but especially this.

He rolled into my unsuspecting day and rolled out leaving behind a star-struck and humbled woman. I had cheerily greeted him intending to boost his morale. Immediately at his response, the needy and the giver exchanged places. 

From his wheelchair he spoke of freedom to walk. Despite his struggle with three strokes he talked of strong faith. With a paralyzed left side he expressed expectation for recovery. His eyes grew wet at the mention of his mother because he is unaware whether she is still living. He laughed, and his dark tired eyes better resembled what must have once been a fiery and impetuous younger man.

He blamed drug and alcohol abuse as a teenager for his strokes at mid-life. For years he has lived in physical rehabilitation centers, most commonly known as nursing homes. One might expect him to be bitter at his fate as he wheels among elderly residents lost in dementia. Bitterness was not present. It failed to show up between his wide smiles and intense passion for life.

I was there to visit someone else. My friend sat patiently nearby as this man shared his life story with me. Lost love and poor judgment punctuated a past that had left him alone and lonely. Yet he was here, beside me, sharing a piece of wisdom that rocked my world.

“When I was [first] in the hospital, a doctor came by to talk to me,” he said. “I told him I wasn’t sure if I’d ever walk again, and he said, ‘One day at a time.’ I’d never heard that before. I didn’t know what that was…one day at a time.”

He grew still for just a moment, reflecting on the profound memory. “Those were professional words from a professional man, and I listened.”

The simplicity of the doctor’s remark had turned the life of his patient around. The first-time stroke victim had poured himself into daily workouts and therapies. For weeks, then months he pushed himself to the limit, repeating ‘One day at a time’ as his mantra. Two years later, he walked out of the hospital, a new man.

Then he had a second stroke. And a third.

Since he moved into rehabilitation center, a few years ago, his old friends do not come by, his remaining family will have nothing to do with an ex-drunk, and he wonders and worries about his mom.

“It’s been rock ‘n roll, sister. Rock ‘n roll,” he said. His left foot dangling helplessly over the wheelchair’s foot rest, he burrowed his gaze into mine. “One day at a time. The doc told me one day at a time, and that’s how I do it.”

One morning, one step, one day at a time, we can experience a meaningful life.


NOTE: I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I speak only from personal experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.

If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help is yours.

*pictures from

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