A few days before Christmas, I received a call almost a decade in the making: “Katia, this is it. I have a stopover in Denver. Can you pick me up from the airport at 11pm?” Although a winter weather advisory had just taken effect, I didn’t hesitate. James’ moment, the day he had toiled for since the beginning of his horrendous struggle with an auto-immune disease, had finally arrived.
James’ Posada Navideña had begun.
When I finished high school, my wanderlust was so intense that I didn’t even to apply to any higher education within a five hour range of my childhood home. I ended up beginning my education at a large state university in the heart of the plains, overlooking the Missouri River. While the great majority of humanity could not understand why the heck I would leave ski country for the Midwest, I couldn’t have been happier discovering an entire new realm amongst the corn fields.
During my sophomore year of college, nothing short of destiny happened: I met two of the very few people on this planet who can communicate with me without words, James and Steven. It started when Steven, my neighbor in the so-called nerd fraternities and his professor, knocked on my door one October night. They told me a visiting student from Peru with spina bifida could not make it to classes without several people carrying her and her wheelchair up several steep hills several times a day. The next day, the professor introduced Steven and I to James and to Elena, the visiting scholar from Peru. That night, a lifelong mission and a sibling-like connection between the James, Steven and I was born.
Although the three of us came from extremely different backgrounds—read: small town Kansas Boy, Italian-American city kid, and an Irican Girl from out west—our sabor (taste) for life, dry humor, learning in and outside of the classroom, and our own very personal struggles with our health joined us together in a steel-like bond.
We learned from each other, from our environment, and from the trials we faced. Realizing our campus had no accessible buses or ways to move across it for people who use wheelchairs, we wrote out our dream of a Disability Student Union on several napkins one night. With some work and an immense amount of guidance, not only did we make our dream reality, but we managed to filibuster for new disability and environmentally-friendly buses.
After graduation, our quarter-life crisis hit us like the buses we lobbied for. As with most millennials, we all realized our ideal careers weren’t well… so ideal. Unfulfilled in the Midwest, James headed to the West Coast with two suitcases courtesy of cardboard, less than 1,000 bucks, and his girlfriend waiting for him. Although the entire following year, he was blessed with love, a steady job and a city full of life, like countless other young people with chronic illnesses, predictability is not in his vocabulary. As his beloved headed back to her home country, he found himself on an epic journey of self-discovery, self-care, self-discipline and setting long term goals while not losing sight of the joy of the moment.
Much like Holy Family, his quest to find the right spot for himself was not understood by all. In fact, the vast majority of people were much more likely to dispense with negativity than mentorship. However, James always found a way to continue to lead a full and positive life in the moment while he quietly worked away at his end goal. He never was willing to settle for less than an extraordinarily full and at the same time, an extraordinarily common life.
Chronic illness or not, we all have our Joe Cocker moments when we need a little help from our friends. However, as James began his four year journey to his destination, as with most young adults with chronic illnesses, many good friends helped him along the way. Much like the journey of the Holy Family, those he encountered among the way, although low in material resources, gave whatever else they had to give to encourage James along the way.
When I left James at the airport, a gut-wrenching mixture of exhilaration and grief hit me. One of the people who I have ridden the chronic illness roll coaster with for almost ten years was moving to the other side of the world. Through much determination, soul-searching and passion, James had finally found his posada.
Later that week, I opened my mail to find various items I had left with him on the West Coast and a piece of paper that I now have on my fridge.
Never give up on your dreams. Set goals, plan accordingly, do leg work adjust accordingly and follow through to the end. Your friendship is a real gift I treasure. I know we will stay in touch for years to come. James
Finally, after his long posada, James has found a place at the inn.
¡Felices Fiestas y Feliz año nuevo a todos! (Happy Holiday and Happy New Year to all!)