It’s rad to see that some of the most popular posts on this blog are our Stories of Hope.
I want this space to be a source of encouragement, and nothing is more encouraging than rad stories of the real life amazing overcomers; many of which I’ve had the chance to meet through the Beautifully Flawed Retreats.
Today, we want to introduce you to Reilly Hamilton. I hope you are inspired, empowered, and encouraged toward resilience as you read Reilly’s story (originally posted on Beautifully Flawed Foundation’s blog).
Miracle In Manhattan
Written by Aiko Loogman
If we already knew the end of a story, we would hardly get caught up in the narrative in the same way that we are often swept up by novels and film. If we knew the conclusion to our own lives, there’d be much less joy to be found in the journey. Mystery often allows the human spirit to express hope in the face of unknown circumstances. Though we are often struck by more hardship than we would imagine, it is resiliency that drives us forward despite the odds that we will face heartbreak greater still.
Reilly Hamilton may very likely spend the rest of her life undergoing surgeries and rehabilitation. Most recently she had a full ankle replacement and will have to do so every 10-15 years. She’s likely to have a spinal surgery in the next year and is told that she’ll need a hip replacement in about 5. Her prosthetic hand needs regular adjustments. Reilly is currently in 2-3 hours of therapy per day and with each surgery, she’ll have more.
“I’m made of hardware, basically,” she says. “But it wasn’t always like this.”
(Building picture caption) Reilly fell from her apartment building in Manhattan during a social event with friends.
A Turning Point
Reilly was a young 20-something living in the heart of New York City and she loved it. The lifestyle suited her social extroversion and she was thriving in a job that she felt was headed towards the future she had imagined. She had close friends from many dimensions of her life collected into one space and by all accounts, it was the time of her life. Her friends would describe her as carefree, adventurous. But then she found the edge – Reilly stepped backwards and fell 70 feet from the roof of her apartment building.
By all reason and logic, the story of Reilly Hamilton should have ended there. Only a miracle could explain how her friends would find her conscious and talking on the concrete below. Though her body was shattered, her life and her mind remained intact and nothing about that makes any sense at all. This is a wonder that Reilly will get to spend the rest of the story discovering the answer to the question, “why?”.
Reilly is honest that she doesn’t know the answer to that question yet. She’s honest that she finds herself daydreaming of life before the accident, wishing to go back. She’s honest that she hasn’t figured out the purpose to the intensity of her pain yet. And she’s honest that grief is as valid as joy.
In all of her honesty of where she’s at, the word that stands out is resilience.
Resilience is not a quality that we attain – the very nature of it is that it is an ever-persistent without end. Resilience doesn’t grow when we know the outcome or in the promise of a good future. Resilience is not the same as discipline, and it is not the same as willfulness. Resilience is the thing that breeds hope, but is anything but a guarantee. Resilience is taking a step forward even when that next step may be more painful than the last.
(Surfing picture caption) Reilly didn’t miss out on any of the retreat – including surfing!
When we met Reilly at the Beautifully Flawed Retreat in 2019, she had just begun to walk again. It was only 6 months post-accident and every step was an agonizing one. She’s quick to say that she wasn’t her truest self at that time and part of that is probably true – she was heavily medicated and carrying the massive weight of an identity she had never expected to know. But under that dense cloud was a light that we did see. In fact, we might say it’s the truest part of her that we’ve known so far – a woman of resilience to a capacity that most people will never be called upon to know. We watched her take step by agonizing step and show up to every event we offered during the week of the retreat. We saw her smile – like, really smile.
Who would you be without your life? Not the life that’s measured by your breath, but by the life that you measure by your own sense of self and worth. Who would you be without the perception of the future that you hold? Who would you be without your job or your ability to autonomously choose what you do? Without freedom from pain, would you take another step? Without freedom at all, would you still smile?
These are the sort of questions we rarely tend to ask ourselves. We don’t expect that we should ever have to. We don’t generally presume that the trajectory of our hard-working lives would turn out in such a way that Reilly’s did and neither did she. Reilly didn’t anticipate that at age 24, she would be reckoning this sort of narrative of her life. She didn’t expect to feel so much fear, self-consciousness and timidity at this stage, grasping for a sense of normalcy. The truth is that we really wouldn’t know the answer to those questions from this side of such a reality. You don’t know who you are until you get there.
Stepping into Discovery
Through arguably one of the greatest tragedies a human could go through, Reilly is in the process of discovering who she is. She smiles and she is persistent to express gratitude to those around her. She is resilient and realistic of what preparation she is enduring now for the future.
Just because you go through a storm doesn’t mean that nothing bad is ever going to happen to you again. Life is still going to be hard. I’m not safe from anything else bad happening, but if or when it does, I’ll be ready for it.
To Reilly, the step that sent her off the edge may in every way feel like the most tragic mistake of her life. In many ways, she might be right and the validity of that will never change. But in at least one other way, that was the step that lead her to inconceivable heights of great courage. In at least one way, that was the first step in learning to walk the path into herself even if it looked different than she had imagined. In at least one way, that was the step that set in motion the kind of resilience that inspires us now. Resilience chooses the one way to look at any circumstance that still carries hope.