I Hear the Universe Singing

Lara Hayhurst
26 min readOct 27, 2020


Do you remember the Walt Whitman poem “I Hear America Singing?” (I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear/Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else/Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.)

I remember singing a 10-part choral arrangement of Walt’s ditty in high school choir circa 2002 and analyzing the text as a personal anthem for doing one’s best at all times, actively contributing to both personal success and the success of our nation.

These days I think we’d refer to this sentiment as “living your best life.”

We’re all constantly encouraged to have a plan and stick to it, to maximize every minute, to exercise willpower, be our best selves, and make all that hard work appear effortless, especially on social media.

But what happens when you focus so intently on YOUR voice, YOUR plans, YOUR ideas. “Him and her and no one else.” What happens when you start to miss the beauty of the journey, of the unexpected, of the things meant for you that you couldn’t even dream up if you tried? These are the things the universe sings, and I’m not sure Walt took them into account. Or took into account what can happen when you completely stop listening, like I did.

I spent the first six months of 2017 on a hyper-planned, selfishly directed war path for personal maintenance and success, and ended up ignoring some road blocks along the way that ultimately led to me at the mercy of New York’s most talented surgeons, hoping to regain feeling and function in my lower body.

I’ve always tried to live by the motto “don’t shout until it’s time to shout. Then SHOUT.” And that’s exactly what the universe served me.

So here, in three parts, is how six months of putting my cosmic headphones and horse blinders on ended with me in the hospital having emergency spine surgery.

Part 1: She whispers

In January 2016, something bad happened to me. And that’s ok. Bad things happen to people every day. While I chose not to discuss this particular thing in public forums, what DID happen compelled me to change. It made me realize that there were things about my life that I was unhappy with. And I decided to change them.

This started with taking a long, hard look at my ever-present food compulsions, my physical activity, and general health. I had long been ignoring the fact that I was addicted to sugar, an emotional eater, and hadn’t really committed to giving my body the kind of physical release it needed to go to sleep tired and wake up refreshed.

I was having residual knee pain from an onstage injury, a bout of plantar fasciitis, and felt unable to compete in my industry as well as I wanted to as far as dancing and auditioning went.

I started using a food and activity tracker, working out regularly, and watching what I ate for the first time in a long time. I began falling in love with barre workouts, along with my usual running and cardio routine. The trauma of what I went through also motivated me, gave me something I could control. I had a purpose, focus.

Then, while on a contract in Sacramento that summer, I was introduced to Tim Ferris’s Slow Carb Diet by a castmate. I did my research and realized that this was a potential solution to truly kick my sugar addiction to the curb. I adopted the plan and its principles on June 26th and REALLY enjoyed the way I felt on the program.

It was the first time (of a million tries) that I felt excited to feed myself. I was excited about the food I was putting in my body. I wasn’t deprived. I won’t delve into the plan much more than that, but it was the longest I’ve ever stuck to a lifestyle change. It felt simple and right.

Everything seemed to be heading in the right direction. Then I had an out of town gig in Texas that led right into a holiday show in my hometown, and I inevitably put on a few pounds of barbecue and festive treat weight.

The panic set in. I decided to fully recommit to my fitness as soon as the holidays were over, which coincided with me beginning a contract in Rhode Island. I had my own apartment, a structured schedule, and figured it was the perfect way to get back on track.

I was playing the lead in Born Yesterday, a political comedy that resonated deeply with me and gave me the opportunity to live on my own and embody a character who truly gave me joy and glee every day.

Billie Dawn: Blonde Badass

During rehearsals and performances, I was incredibly nervous and incredibly fulfilled all at the same time. It had been a long time since I’d been in a straight play, let alone a lead character in one. I displaced that pressure into maintaining an incredibly strict diet and workout regimen. That I could control.

So now I was following my slow-carb diet, but not eating enough. I was portion controlling and meal planning with fervor, along with working out two hours every day. I would do an hour of barre in my living room, then drive to the YMCA and run for an hour on the treadmill, memorizing lines as I ran. Then I’d bundle up and head into a full day of rehearsal while consuming around 800 calories a day.

I was also over-planning my days and activities rather than giving myself any rest or room for spontaneity. My trusty day planner looked like a presidential agenda; endless errands and to-do’s and workouts and things that truly didn’t need to occupy as much brain space as they did.

Then came my first warning. It should come as no surprise that during the second to last week of our run, I got sick. And I never get sick.

It’s a special skill that I’m proud of; I get sick once every few years and never for long. I attribute it to being a chronic nail/cuticle biter- I’m constantly ingesting tiny bits of bacteria and city slime, so my body has built up a remarkable resistance to illness. Makes sense, right?

In any case, my other castmates had been sick and I finally caught it with a vengeance. I lost my voice, in an incredibly vocal show with no microphones, and I was weak, snotty, feverish, and sore all over.

Nevertheless, I persisted. But in a bad way. I loaded myself up with drugs; steroids, Zicam, Dayquil, Mucinex, ibuprofen, the works. I limped through my last few days of shows, kept working out, kept driving into New York for auditions, and kept battling the winter weather in the name of perseverance.

Trey came to visit me while I was sick and I had our perfect day off planned to the hilt (of course), but Mother Nature had other plans and pummeled the northeast with a huge snowstorm.

I should have taken that as a sign to FINALLY slow down and enjoy being snowed in with my honey. But even sick, on a day off, with my husband snuggled in my bed and the snowstorm looming, I got up at 6am to get my prerequisite workouts in before the gym was shut down at 9am for the blizzard.

When my show closed, I drove back to the city that night, in another blizzard, and dove straight back into NY actor life with three auditions the next day. I went and went and went, loving the social reunions with my friends and working out without fail.

It took a long, long time to feel physically healthy again. Like 2 months. It made my auditions subpar and I felt lucky to have booked any summer work at all. But taking time off wasn’t an option.

The workouts had become a coping mechanism, the meal planning therapeutic. The Yelping, the seeking, the planning all helped me feel control in my life; control that I felt I’d lost with my trauma, and control I grasped for in our rejection-prone and unstable industry.

You may be sitting back and asking, “But what’s the end game here? Where’s the finish line?” Well, I had one.

Trey and I had a long-planned trip to England and France set for April 10–21, 2017, over our wedding anniversary. A true pot of gold I was pushing towards.

This is a bad habit of mine. I always find myself setting finish lines to get me through times of stress or discomfort. Which was all the time at this point. “If I can just get to opening night…“ “When we get back from Texas it’ll be better…“ “Just get me through March…” Just another example of plowing through the present in the name of some grand finale that usually wasn’t so grand at all.

But I made it to the end of my audition season rainbow, and with bags under my eyes and under the seats of our 777, we took off for London. I had a guidebook in hand and a highly curated, Yelp-approved itinerary that would make your head spin.

It was a week later in Paris, most romantic city of them all, that the universe spoke a little louder to me via a most unromantic courier; ISIS.

Part 2: She speaks (or, ISIS does)

I took this picture. Can you even.

I stayed on this rigorous carousel of daily workouts, audition after audition, work, and dedicated/necessary social time all the way up to Trey and my’s departure for Europe in mid-April. We left on April 10th and spent 6 days with family in the southern part of England, where I continued to run every day along craggy beaches and cobblestone streets. Then we set off for London and Paris solo.

I micromanaged our way through the cities, walking 15–20 miles and collapsing in a heap at the end of long, beautiful, packed days. I don’t regret the way we spent our time, I only wish we had more of it.

Trey and I spent our last day in France (also our anniversary) at the Palace of Versailles, a true bucket-list destination for me. He practically had to drag me off the grounds. I could have spent eight more hours exploring and appreciating the opulent, curated beauty.

We took the train back to our hotel and gussied up for our final dinner, which was to be a meal for the ages. We had eaten sparingly throughout the day at Versailles and we were HUNGRY.

I had purchased a shirt from H&M on the Champs Elysees the day prior that I wanted to return, and that evening was our only chance to do so with an early flight back to JFK the next morning. It was in the general direction of our restaurant, so we decided to make a pit stop along the way and then continue to dinner, with a long, luxurious walk home from the Latin Quarter to follow. Off we went.

We were strolling in the golden hour sunshine, snapping photos along the way, crossing the Champs at Rue de Bassano and turning right towards the H&M. If you’ve never been, the Champs Elysees is like if Times Square and Fifth Avenue had a baby; bright, shiny, opulent, tree-lined, sidewalked commerce.

We were just about to cross Rue de Berri when we heard a loud popping noise behind us. Being jaded New Yorkers, loud noises don’t really faze us. We’re immune to the sounds of trucks running over water bottles and construction hub-bub. It wasn’t until 10–12 pops followed in the distinct pattern of an automatic weapon that our hackles went up.

The following happened in approximately 20 seconds, but in my memory it retains an almost “underwater” type feel.

Trey and I looked at each other and immediately said the same word; “Run.” We didn’t even take the time to turn around and see the origins of the gunfire. If we had, we would have seen a man shooting at police officers not more than 30 feet away from us, killing one and injuring others, including two civilians.

We took off running at the sound of the gunfire and our instinct was to flee and get low. We ran into the nearest building, a four-story Zara clothing store, and started running down, down, down the levels.

Confused shoppers on the lower floors wondered why a stream of people were flooding in, screaming. We hit an escalator where a man, woman, and small child were meandering. I remember Trey yelling, “pick him up and RUN.”

We made it to the bottom level of the store and paced around, looking for shelter like feral cats. At this point we didn’t know that the sound was only gunfire, or how many gunman there were. We wondered, was there a bomb? Were there people entering the stores with weapons in hand?

A salesgirl finally opened a supply closet on the bottom floor and about 20 of us piled in, barricading the door with a clothing rack. We hushed a crying baby and Trey calmed another salesgirl who was having a full-on panic attack.

It felt like the closet was vibrating with the sound of pounding hearts. Having survived a terrible bombing incident only five months prior, it was clear that the native Parisians were incredibly on edge and devastated.

After about 20 minutes, the door opened and another Zara employee indicated that we could leave the closet. We were so far underground that none of us had service on our cellphones. We cautiously slunk out of the closet in search of information.

Paris had revealed itself to be a mostly bilingual city. We had done our due diligence and learned a dozen or so useful French phrases (“I’m sorry, we don’t speak French. Where is the bathroom? Red wine, please. No, we didn’t vote for him.”). We always initiated conversations in French, but most of the time our accents gave us away and we were responded to in very kind, courteous English.

That was surprisingly not the case in Zara, where we found ourselves among no other Americans or bilingual tourists. There were a few locals who spoke incredibly broken English, so the next hour on the ground floor became a bizarre game of telephone.

The police would shout something into the store, the manager would shout something to the employees, the employees would descend the stairs and address the crowd, gathered scared and signal-less on the bottom floor, and we would ask someone to translate. By the time we got the fractured information it might as well have been a recipe for crème brulee.

Around hour two we felt courageous enough to head up one flight of stairs in hope of getting some cell signal. By that point CNN had started reporting on the incident and we learned there was only one gunman, who was now dead, and that police had closed down the whole Avenue and were searching each and every building for accomplices and explosive devices.

We had my cellphone connected to international data, and were able to text our parents and put a brief post on Facebook. The Zara employees were amazing; bringing us drinks and making sure the children and elderly were tended to. Between their actions and those of the police officers we encountered, we felt safe and taken care of. They were truly kind, respectful, and efficient in the midst of it all.

Sleeping on the floor of Zara

The hours ticked by and we slowly moved upward, finally to the ground floor. It was dark now, but the street was aglow with police cars, vans, lights, and activity.

A SWAT team in full body armor swarmed around the building to our right. We were able to see just how close we had been to the shooting, with the first yellow evidence flag mere feet from the door.

We had long given up on the idea of making it to our dinner, so we passed the time napping on the floor and mindlessly browsing through the racks of clothes.

We were a very diverse group of captives. We shared cellphone chargers and even sang “Happy Birthday” over the loudspeaker to one of the employees who was missing her big night out.

Around hour five, a very important looking group of police officers and detectives came through the revolving doors and asked anyone who had actually seen the shooting to come forward for questioning. The rest of us would finally be released.

Burning with hunger and fatigue, we were lead out the storeroom entrance into a back alley. At this point it was almost two in the morning, and the Champs was still locked down.

Our hotel was on the other side of the street and we weren’t allowed to cross. Our only choice was to walk an avenue east and then continue north, around the circumference of the Arc de Triomphe, then continue down the other side to our hotel. It’d be like having to walk from Times Square East up 7th Avenue and around Columbus Circle to walk back down 9th Avenue to 42nd street on the western side.

We scoured the streets for any open cafes or restaurants, but unlike New York, Paris on a weeknight is definitely a city that sleeps. Everything was closed.

Even bodega food is glam in Paris

Near our hotel we found ONE small bodega that was closing up for the night, and the shop owner let us dash in and grab some cheap wine, packaged cheese, bread, and sliced salami before he shut the door.

We finally made it back to our hotel around 3am and warily ate our anniversary bodega feast, showered, and packed our bags. We had to leave for the airport in a few hours.

We took a cab to Charles de Gaulle, still in a daze, and spent the last of our Euros in Duty-Free on snacks and gifts. We landed in JFK shortly after.

One of the hardest parts for me was because of the way our final night unfolded, I never really got to say goodbye to the vacation that I had so aggressively/lovingly planned and looked forward to. We were whisked up in the momentum of the shooting, raced to the airport, and then rather unceremoniously ejected back onto the streets of New York.

I spent the next few days pondering that, as well as the rush of emotions I felt when we first ran away from the gunfire. I know there are so many people who have experienced much more traumatizing incidents, who have seen things that can’t be unseen, but it was the first time in my genuinely sheltered and privileged life that I had looked down the barrel of my own mortality.

As we were running down the escalator and pacing the bottom floor of Zara, I was truly thinking, “Is this how I go? Is this where it ends?” I felt the enormous realization that I didn’t want it to. This could not be the end of my story.

The next few weeks I was on edge. Now I jumped if a truck ran over a bottle. I tensed up when children ran towards me on the street. Even during a mild scene of terrorism in Groundhog Day the Musical my heart started pounding and my ears flushed red.

As a gal with a generally Pollyanna-like outlook on life, it was the first time the world had really fallen off its pedestal in my eyes. As someone used to walking through the streets of New York like an exclamation point, this was the first time I can remember walking the streets with wary caution. Like a question mark?

The feelings faded with time and therapy. You would think having gone through the event with my loved one, intact and together, I would have finally seen the signs to slow down. I should have appreciated that not only was Trey an absolute stalwart in the face of adversity, but that we were lucky to have each other and live in the relative safety of our Manhattan bubble.

We got to hop on a plane and fly away from the attack, but what about the families of those who were killed and injured? What about the city of Paris, which welcomed us with its beauty and kindness?

The horror of it all is that as I wrote this there have been so many other incidents of terrorism that ours is a distant news factoid.

I was contacted for interviews by a few news stations the day after the shooting- the day we returned to New York. When I asked if I could be interviewed the following day, we had just landed for Pete's sake, they inferred that by tomorrow our story would be moot. Onto the next. That’s what breaks my heart.

In any case, I continued on with everyday life, planning and working out, ignoring a new and growing pain in my body. I was obsessed with losing the three pounds I had put on in Europe. I ignored the universe’s cues to open my eyes, to express gratitude, to realize that everything can be taken in an instant.

So then she decided the only course of action was to quite literally knock my legs out from under me.

Part 3: She Shouts

So by this point I’ve ignored whispers (illness in February) and a stern talking to (terrorist attack). The universe was left with no other option than to shout. It was time to yell me off my hamster wheel.

I suppose there was a secret part of my heart that wanted something to sideline me; to break the activity/planning/pushing cycle without me having to actively make that choice. To not have to DECIDE to ease up on my workouts, my pace of life, my hyper-planning. And I must have had that intention humming through my veins because BOY did she devise a cease and desist I never could have dreamed of.

I had been battling lower back pain on and off since the previous October. I figured it was from incorrect posture in barre workouts, housework, or a myriad of other things. I’m a person who uses their body for recreation and profession, and most actors and dancers simply live with an undercurrent of pain somewhere. It’s a fact of life. We take ibuprofen and we move on.

It came in waves. The back pain would flare, I’d take some ibuprofen, maybe see the chiropractor, maybe get a massage, never skipping a workout. Eventually it would fade and I’d move on.

This ebb and flow continued, and I was unconcerned. My temporary goals and daily commitments were much more important than the idea of something being physically wrong with me.

When I was briefly put on steroids during Born Yesterday to get my voice back, I remember noticing how amazing my back felt when I ran, and now I know that the steroids were aiding whatever inflammation was occurring, or whatever beginnings of disc herniation were afoot.

On vacation with Trey in Europe I ran every morning and walked all day without incident, thanks to ibuprofen. As soon as we returned home, the pain got worse.

I started feeling the pain in my left leg as well as my back, which was new. I forced through it, looking ahead to the Pittsburgh Marathon Relay I had roped Trey, my Gusband Mike, and his partner Craig into that May.

The first week back from Europe was nagging and frustrating, but I powered through. May 1st was the last time I was able to workout, because after that the pain stopped me from moving. A truly gripping sensation would wrack me from hip to heel.

Bending over was a thing of the past. Getting up and sitting down were clumsy, painful affairs. I kept trying to do barre workouts, but could barely touch my knee, let alone my toes. I’m usually a pretty flexible gal, but I was unable to do even the simplest of movements.

The second week after Europe I put myself on the best version of bed rest I could muster, which meant I still walked as far as I could without hunching over and crying, and THEN I’d get in a cab.

I went to the chiropractor three times, acupuncture twice, and got a trigger point massage. No one was really able to diagnose me without an MRI, which I couldn’t afford to get because I was in between coverage periods on my union health insurance.

If you’re unfamiliar, insurance in our actor’s union is granted based on weeks worked. It’s categorically hard to get, but wonderful coverage if/when you have it. And I didn’t have it. I had a job beginning in late May at the Flat Rock Playhouse in North Carolina that would give me enough weeks to reinstate my coverage.

Still attending opening nights, cane in hand

Even as I was doing my best to rest and living my life in 300 ft. increments, I just assumed a miracle would occur. It was all going to go away.

I was composing the Facebook status in my head proudly stating that I had HEALED myself and was able to run that marathon relay after all. I pictured my team and I, medals in hand, beers in belly, relishing our experience.

When it became painfully clear that running 11 miles was not in the cards for me, telling the boys and backing out of the marathon was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I felt like such a woos, such a failure. They were incredibly understanding, of course. But I still felt like I had let them all down.

It was at the end of week two post-vacation that the numbness began. It was a creeping, tingling, sometimes searing sensation on my left pelvis, hip, hamstring, and down to my foot. Then it began interfering with my bowel function.

I would get up to go to the bathroom and be peeing down my leg by the time I made it to the toilet. I had no ability to bear down when it was time to poop. I would just sit on the toilet and wait for something to happen. If you know me at all you know how critical pooping is to my general mood and happiness, so it was only THEN that I was persuaded to go to the emergency room. Remember, I’m uninsured. I’m assuming no matter what occurs I’ll be saddled with a five-figure bill.

I’ll spare you a long retelling of my hospital stay, but the short version is that the staff, doctors, nurses, and surgeons at NYU Langone gave me an incredible level of care. I hobbled in sobbing at about 10am, was immediately brought back to the emergency unit, and clawed my way into an MRI 30 minutes later.

The surgeons were prepping an operating room by the time I left the MRI. I was shown photos and told I had a fully and dangerously herniated disc in between my L5 and S1 vertebrae that had completely compressed my nerves, causing something called Cauda Equina syndrome. Google that shit. It’s scary.

I was on an operating table just a few hours later. I walked out of the ER, smelly and beaming, 26 hours after I hobbled in.

The hospital food was decent. Trey was a godsend. I cried a lot. I was up and walking pain-free an hour after my surgery. I didn’t sleep a wink. My surgeon was super attractive, and I left his Sharpie signature on my back (done for identity and safety reasons) as long as I could. Total neurosurgery fangirl.

The best part of my hospital stay was undoubtedly when Roxie, a social worker, paid me a visit before my discharge. She was there to talk to me about my alcohol habits.

Don’t let the man on the right answer personal questions for you. Unless you like rehab.

The night before, right before bed and HIGH as a kite on steroids and pain meds, a nurse had appeared in my room and asked me hundreds of personal questions about my lifestyle and living situation. I let Richard Rockage answer most of them for me, which was my first mistake.

When asked how many drinks I usually consumed a week, I believe I answered “around four.” Nothing to scoff at, yes? And let’s be real; under times of vacation or duress, you might as well triple that number.

Apparently, New York (BRUNCH CAPITAL OF THE WORLD. COCKTAIL KING. SWEET LADY OF WINE.) considers anything more than two drinks a week a red flag for women my age. I kindly reminded Roxie that I was in the entertainment industry, had friends who worked in bars, and was on a low carb diet. What else did she want from me? She got the message and skittered through my curtain.

So now I was home, head-spinning, dealing with the idea of being an incredibly mobile person with incredibly restricted mobility. McDreamy had given me the sentence of six weeks no bending, twisting, reaching, or lifting more than 10lbs. I was to do nothing that would elevate my heart rate or irritate my incision. So basically I could walk, lay, and eat. And not shave my legs. That was a fun part of recovery.

After six weeks and his blessing I could begin physical therapy, resume all activities (Damn. back to shaving), and finish healing. He cautiously cleared me to keep my commitment to Flat Rock Playhouse and perform in Annie, only after I made it clear how important it was to go so I could get my health insurance back. I promised to adhere to his rules and take it slow.

Doesn’t it say so much about our country that I had to force myself to work and potentially injure myself more in order to simply procure health insurance to pay for continuing care?

Two days after surgery I warily packed my bags (Trey packed my bags while I pointed at things) and drove to Boston to observe the Annie national tour. I picked up Macy, who played Sandy, and Mel, who was her handler on tour, and on Sunday night around 10pm we started the long journey from Boston to North Carolina.

Mel had graciously agreed to stay on with me for my first week at Flat Rock to ease me into the rehearsal process and do the mental and physical heavy lifting as far as dog handling was concerned, so I could focus on getting my physical bearings and my actor track under control.

Those first long travel days, full of pain and uncertainty, strange new things, and a HUGE question mark about what the rehearsal process was going to be like, what my body was going to be able to do, and where I was actually heading, were scary.

Once we arrived in Flat Rock I was surrounded by a crew of artists and administrators that soothed my fears and made every effort to help Macy, Mel, and I settle in. Life got better and better each day.

The best advice I received about dealing with a sudden lack of mobility is to GIVE IN TO IT. As challenging as it is, simply allowing guilt-free inactivity so that the body can do its job and heal is the best course of action. EASIER SAID THAN DONE.

I watched every season of Drag Race, laid on my back for hours, listened to conversations, people-watched, snuggled my cat, and read lots of People magazines (thanks, Mom). Small events like walking to lunch were a treat. I strolled to rehearsal slowly and luxuriously, savoring every step. I did more Facebook stalking than you can imagine. I am watching ALL OF YOU.

But what a gift for someone like me to release those negative feelings of inactivity, at least for a while. As far as my body is concerned, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t worry about how my sudden lack of activity would affect me. But I didn’t want it to send me into a spiral of food obsession.

Pre-surgery, when I was in agonizing pain, I made a lot of bargains with myself. I promised I would never body shame myself again if the pain would go away. I told myself I would be grateful to merely walk, or run ONCE a week, rather than every day.

Now I had to make good on those promises. My care was too good, my recovery too swift, my support system too great for anything else.

I’ve been trying my best to truly LISTEN, for the first time, to my sweet, strong, healing little body. I’m trying to feed it when it’s hungry and stop when it’s not, without a measured meal or structured weekly plan. It’s hard. But if she’s hollering for a bite of chocolate or a second glass of wine (DON’T TELL ROXIE), I’m letting her have it. Because she deserves it.

And yes, I lost muscle mass. I’m a little softer. I’m trying not to freak out about it. But this experience was the first time I was really able to have an out of body experience and feel the need to CARE FOR and PROTECT my physical being in the way one might care for a little sister, or a pet, or a best friend.

In the hospital and in my recovery, I truly felt sorry for my body. Now I want to take care of her. I want to do right by her so she can get better, and can keep showing me this perfectly imperfect world and surprise me with her abilities.

I had been distancing myself from the people I loved and the present moment in the name of curating perfection and controlling my life, rather than letting go and loving them back and living in the moment, regardless of what the next one was.

Healing is like giving a baby an Etch-A-Sketch. The course you follow is varied, unpredictable, and without reason. My pain would be a three one day, a seven the next. I fainted in the shower. I’d walk a mile and cry, then walk a foot and laugh. Use the cane, ditch the cane. Wine is a frequent friend.

I’m an open, pulsing wound right now, so I ask for your patience. It’s hard for us type-A’s to ask for help, us ducks with our heads held proud and stoic but our legs moving a million miles a minute just under the water.

It’s super humbling when your husband has to wash you, your mom buy your groceries, your friend carry your purse. I like to do my grunt work in the shadows, so that everything looks effortless. Once you can’t put on your own underwear, all of that kind of goes out the window. Actually underwear just kind of went out the window. What is it good for?

Side note: I had so many generous, kind people ask me what they could do for me in the hospital and beyond, and I didn’t really have the faculties to know or answer. Now that I’m removed, here are some great ideas.

If someone you love has had surgery, a baby, or is laid up, just bring ’em something! It doesn’t really matter what. I got everything from Vitamin Water to an ice cream machine to flowers to a fountain soda. It was all AWESOME.

Even better, get them a Groupon for HOUSE CLEANING (not being able to clean my floors KILLED me), ask what menial errands you can complete, order in some surprise dinner delivery, or have a masseuse or manicurist come to their house for a BIG treat.

For me, feeling feminine and pretty post-surgery was important after days of feeling smelly and helpless. I hated looking at my scraggly nails and roots in that hospital gown under fluorescent lights. As soon as I could I got a manicure, a touch up, and slapped on a (loosely fitted) dress.

And as for now? Come take a walk with me! Let’s have some coffee (wine). Talk to me if you’re struggling with anything and want to share. Inactivity makes you a REALLY good listener. This is a side effect that I hope sticks around. I like hearing and talking about stuff other than my injury. Nothing scares me, nothing shocks me.

I also found myself loving books, movies, and live theater in a way I had kind of suppressed this year in the silly name of being “too busy to invest.” I saw a few Broadway shows while I was laid up and was not only super jealous of those beautiful people, my people, effortlessly moving their bodies and telling their stories, but I fell back in love with the idea of escapism. Because for the first time in a long time I REALLY needed to escape.

Incision three weeks post surgery

So although a lingering illness, a terrorist attack, and spine surgery were not the end of my story, I’m left with a truly fuzzy script for what will be. My mobility is improving every day post-surgery, and the leg and back pain come and go. The pain has never come close to what it was before my operation, though.

I truly gulp gratitude as I walk through my day, able to get where I need to go, do what I need to do, even if at the moment it’s with a little limp and a sparkly cane. (My castmate Tim named him Michael. Michael Cane.)

That said, I’m not quite through processing the immense gratitude I have for my friends, family, and HUSBAND who really stepped up and got me through this ordeal.

I treasure every call, every text, every ounce of advocacy, not to mention the kindness of my employers at Flat Rock and the community of artists that surround me.

I heard the shout, I paid the price, and I feel I am being rewarded with an oasis of support like none other. This is a reminder that those who love you are here for you in health and happiness, so why wait for times of strife to express your love and gratitude?

I’m compelled to share what I feel God, the universe, and my beating heart SHOUTED in my ear over the course of the past six months:

Don’t worry about controlling your story. The stuff we think we’re writing is never as good as the pen that lives within our hearts.

Direction is good, inspiration is good, a simple plan is good. Dedication is important, willpower is important, and fortitude is important. Self-preservation is necessary, rest is necessary, spontaneity is necessary. Love is crucial, your relationships are crucial, kindness is crucial.

Listen to her when she whispers, when she sings. Remember: “Singing with open mouths their strong melodious song.”

Whatever or whoever you hear singing, it’s so much more beautiful than the shouting.