Floored by the beauty of life

RENEE ANTONELLI VALENTE: I found my week ending in the absolute worst place I ever thought it could: falling and then sobbing into the arms of a stranger on the floor of a hospital. Looking back on it, though, it was the absolute best place I could be.

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

It all began two days after Christmas.  I had just begun organizing my receipts and other documents to prepare for the year’s end when my mother called. She fell at work and broke her hip. She was in the emergency room.

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I’m an only child. My mother lives a fair distance away, alone.  So naturally I locked into crisis mode and headed out.

What followed was a chaotic blur. 

I rammed into roadblock after roadblock, with incompetent individuals incapable of shoveling manure, let alone working in human resources, law, and insurance.

I endured such insensitivity and callousness — in, of all places, the HEALTH CARE field —  that I’m surprised I didn’t fatten a few lips.

And in preparing a safe environment for mom to return home to, I discovered years’ worth of hoarding that required nearly every waking moment to sanitize and organize, all the while feeling like I was playing in a sandbox that was the subject of some creepy science experiment.

So, of course, falling in the hallway of her rehab facility the morning of my mother’s discharge was all I needed.

Before we left, I returned to the patient area to say goodbye to a new mom who was also going home that day.  She had contracted encephalitis after a bout of vertigo.  Both her body and eyes now move continuously. She wasn’t ready to go home, but based on insurance she had to.

I’m a professional photographer, and the one gift I could offer was a collection of family portraits once she is healed. I was touched by her spirit and determination to be well for her baby boy. As a mother myself, I thought she could use some nice memories with her family after all she’s faced down.

I was on my way out of her room when I slipped and went down. My ankle was soon throbbing.

Hearing the commotion, the woman wheeled herself into the hallway. She immediately put her arms around me.

That’s when I began sobbing, telling her of the nightmare I’d just experienced with my mom.

Then she started crying herself. Despite her circumstances, this woman was empathizing with me.

I felt embarrassed. How could I complain in comparison to her ordeal?

At that moment, she lifted my chin and said, “Don’t feel sorry for me. It was a blessing this happened to me.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

“I was always hurried and short with people and too busy to appreciate my life,” she said. “This has shown me that I was wrong. Life is to be appreciated.”

She was right.

“Look around you,” she said.  “There is beauty here.”

And there was. The determination of the mind, body and spirit was all around, in those who were trying to help others and in people like this remarkable woman. At a time when I literally cursed all of mankind, beauty rushed to my side, showing me what it truly means to be human, to be alive.  

It was a moment.

I respect life more now. There no longer is a place for “woe is me” when things don’t go exactly as planned.

No matter what cards we’re dealt, we can’t ever fold. To hold our chins high, or to allow others to hold them for us, reminds us that every day is a blessing.

Even if you just hit the deck.

Renee Antonelli Valente owns and operates Captured By Renee photography, a North Jersey-based, on-location photography company specializing in family, child, portrait and event photography. “Turning every moment into a memory and every memory into art,” Renee creates images to treasure forever. She also contributes to CLIFFVIEW PILOT. You can reach her at: Captured By Renee or visit her Facebook page

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