BOEC in the News

The Life of a Summer Intern

Posted June 1, 2011 by BOEC

by Elizabeth McKee, 2010 BOEC Intern

Watching the sun set on the mountains around the Upper Arkansas River Valley on the way home from a road trip to the Sand Dunes National Park, I almost forget just how crammed I am in the backseat of a Corolla with three other people. (I say “almost” because getting my camera out of my bag to capture the moment requires all of us to move at least four body parts.) Sitting in silence, it’s one of those rare instances I have experienced in my life when I have felt like there is absolutely nowhere I would rather be and nothing else I would rather be doing. I am in the moment, taking it all in, thinking to myself how much I am enjoying my life. The typical stresses and worries that creep to the forefront of my mind in daily life to negate this feeling for even a self-proclaimed optimist are nowhere in sight.

It dawns on me how seemingly random but then again not so random it is that this is where I am in my life. Less than three months ago, I never would have imagined I could have a “job” that doesn’t feel like a “job.” I never imagined I would be “working” for 37 cents an hour and loving every second of it. Six weeks ago, I never would have imagined that I would be able to call the other five people in the car, essentially strangers, my friends. Before coming to the BOEC, I was not able to even imagine the gravity of what I was getting myself into.

It all started last summer when I was working as an occupational therapist at a hospital in my hometown in Wichita, KS. Whether it was that I found myself living at home again as a 26-year-old when I had sworn that would never even be an option or that I was feeling physically and emotionally burnt out from working a job that requires constantly “being on,” I knew I was ready for a change. Don’t get me wrong, I love my family and my job, but I knew I was not as happy as I could be given my current life situation. Having had some luck just jumping into new life experiences (ie just “trying” OT as a major or moving to Montana sight unseen on a whim), I applied to the BOEC. After all, I have heard someone say life was 10% what happens to us and 90% how we react to it. What was the worst that could happen? I would have to hang out in Colorado for five months and come home broke afterwards?  

Thinking back over my past six weeks as in intern here at the BOEC, I am realizing that’s just the way it had to be. I had to come here. I have an overwhelming premonition that this will be the pivotal time in my life, the point of reference I will make in X number of years as I trace what has lead me to where I am. I feel confident it is the first step on my path to finding my treasure, the intrinsic happiness that accompanies doing something you truly love. I do not know how or when or what that may be yet, but I am undoubtedly convinced the universe has conspired to put me where I need to be to figure that out. Specifically, I have managed to surround myself with people who will help me on my journey, whether they ever realize it or not.

Really thinking about the people I have met and the experiences I have had on courses has been a daunting task; it has turned out to be much more difficult and cathartic that I ever imagined. My experience with both staff and participants at the BOEC has left me with palpable emotions I have been almost unwilling to acknowledge until now,  having suspected their true strength and wanting to be prepared to be able to understand and incorporate them into my life. I knew the magnitude of my experiences here thus far comes with great responsibility, as being lucky enough to have had them requires a “pay it forward” toll in such a keenly karmic universe. I have been forced to look inward, to challenge my perspective and life as I knew it as an admittedly selfish 26-year-old…the life I knew before coming to the BOEC.

I must ask myself daily if I would have the courage I have seen in so many participants. It is more than courage to do the Ropes Course or go rafting, although in many ways these parallel the bravery the individuals who come here must have simply to get through each day in their own personal life. It was the courage I saw in a participant with ALS to let go of the anger he felt over being “surprised” with a terminal illness, to seek advice on how to stay upbeat and positive. It was the courage of spouses of these participants with ALS to provide care and emotional support 24 hours a day when they are really the ones who will have the longest and hardest road ahead on their own. It is the courage the participants exhibit daily to not let their “disability” interfere with life, regardless of physical and emotional obstacles…to carry on even if you need someone to help you get dressed or go to the bathroom…those little things we all take for granted.

I have had to ask myself how much do I appreciate all that I value in my life? How would I react if it was all suddenly taken away from me and I was forced to change my values and priorities? The first time I met Dave during the ALS course, his smile lit up the entire room. Having lost all ability to swallow, he told us the towel in his mouth was “just for looks, girls” as he winked. Typing out messages on his iPhone as his only means of communication, he said he stays upbeat by “just appreciating what I do have that works,” even if it is only his right hand. His motto in life is “No matter how bad things get, seems you always have a choice of ham, bacon or sausage.” Would I be able to say that?  How much do I worry about such comparatively trivial matters on a daily basis?

The ability to “adapt and overcome” as taught by the BOEC is most exemplified in our participants, although the motto in theory may have been designed to guide a fledgling intern trying to figure out how to “make it work” if you screw something up. Meeting a 38-year-old man whose brain injury cost him his marriage, family and use of his right side who says he is “extremely grateful” for his accident because of the knowledge and faith it has brought to him is epitome of the real life application of this concept.

To have participants with such challenges in their own life thanking me of all people for the experience they had while here at the BOEC has been the most overwhelming aspect during courses. If they only knew how thankful I was to be able to spend time with them! Each participant I have met has been such an inspiration, not only by their willingness to trust in us and try something new, but to see glimpses of what daily life back at home is like and their ability to maintain optimism. They have no idea that their acceptance, happiness, gratitude, and strength to overcome adversity offer invaluable insight into what it really means to be live a life worth living that truly incorporates all these qualities.

What they also do not know is that my motives during each course have been entirely selfish, as I can’t stop thinking about what I can take home from each experience. Each person I have met has offered me some tool to use to become the person I want to be when I “grow up.” I am reminded of a line from my favorite book, Paulo Cuehlo’s “The Alchemist”: “Remember that wherever your heart is, there you will find your treasure. You’ve got to find the treasure, so that everything you have learned along the way can make sense.”

I can say undoubtedly that the people I have met and the experiences I have had in this short time as a BOEC intern are bringing me a step closer to finding my treasure in life. And one day I will be able to make sense of it all, but for now I am content just to know I am a passenger in the backseat on the way to my next big adventure. I am headed in the right direction, and I surprisingly feel fortunate to be so crammed next to “strangers” who I know are essential to my journey. I can look out at the sun on the mountains and be in the moment, as I think to myself how much I enjoy and appreciate my life as a BOEC intern.

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