As the oldest of three kids, born to a preacher and stay-at-home mom, Becky Galli was raised with every aspect of her life planned. Sit-down breakfasts, six o’clock Southern dinners at the table, Friday was date night, Saturday was reserved for the family, Sunday was church, and every summer was a two-week trip to Myrtle Beach. While packing for their summer vacation, Becky and her siblings would cheer, “What’s planned is possible!”
Becky’s parents instilled a lifestyle of setting goals, focusing, and achieving them. However, between the title of the memoir, Rethinking Possible, and that of the first chapter, The Accident, I knew there would be trouble.
It’s the type of accident one only hears about in the news or in a movie, and it took the life of Becky’s 17-year-old brother.
Still finding her way through grief, Becky started dating her best friend Joe after they graduated from UNC Chapel Hill. They married and landed jobs with IBM (her) and Black and Decker (him), and encouraged each other while they climbed their corporate career ladders with rapid success.
After several promotions, they found themselves located in Baltimore, still living by the motto “what’s planned is possible.” Their goals for Joe to finish his MBA and Becky to be pregnant by the time they were thirty were reached. But life was about to remind Becky that not all dreams come true. Over the next years, they struggled with multiple miscarriages, the birth of two special-needs children and other challenges. These difficulties drove them apart.
Nine days after the divorce was finalized, Becky found herself battling what she thought was an aggressive form of the flu. It wasn’t until she could no longer move her legs and an ambulance brought her to the hospital that she was diagnosed with transverse myelitis – an inflammation of the myelin sheath across the spinal cord. She was now a paraplegic.
At this point, I was only halfway through the memoir, just as Becky was only halfway through dealing with the tragedies that would continue to strike her family. This truly is a memoir of resilience. Every time I put down the book, I found myself lost in a daze, wondering what I would have done in the same situation. I must admit, I’m not sure I could do it with the amount of positivity that Becky radiates. While reading, I jotted down dozens of notes and was lucky enough to connect with Becky for an interview.
Congratulations! You just wrote a book! Were you always a writer?
Writing was NEVER part of my life plan. However, my home life presented a different challenge, where goals were hard to set, much less hit. As I dealt with Matthew’s seizures, I found comfort in journaling. My father, a columnist as well as a pastor, encouraged me to write about my feelings. The thoughts that kept me up at night quieted a bit once I captured them on my yellow legal pad. Then, I journaled through Madison’s autism diagnosis, Pete’s fragile first weeks of life, my separation, and then through my divorce.
When did you turn journaling into a full-length memoir?
Months after my paralysis, I discovered email and heard from a long-lost friend. His thoughtful questions set off a flurry of email exchanges as I recounted my life to him. Those exchanges led to my columns which led to a book idea.
How has writing helped you to deal with so much adversity?
My slice-of-life newspaper columns kept me thinking, coping and, more importantly, connecting to folks and building relationships, something that is much harder to do now that I’m in a wheelchair. My Thoughtful Thursday column shares what’s inspired me to stay positive for the week. It gives me a way to capture my life and share it, restoring connections that paralysis threatened to take from me forever. Life can be good, no matter what. Each week I try to find the evidence.
What topics do you cover in your weekly column?
I look for quotes, photos, or stories, that have helped me stay positive and inspired. Living with paralysis often presents challenging issues as do parenting an adult daughter severely impacted by autism, adjusting to the empty nest, grandparenting from the wheelchair, midlife, aging, keeping in touch with my far-flung family and friends, and, of course, my bouts with the strange companion of grief, who still finds a way back into my life from time to time.
Rethinking Possible was released June 13 – what reactions have you received?
I had my first book signing, and it was unexpectedly emotional—seeing friends who’d known me thirty years, only a few months, and some “unmet” friends who had just started receiving my Thoughtful Thursdays. The biggest jolt was seeing my book on the bookshelf at Barnes and Noble, in Biography, under “G.” I cried.
In the memoir, you highlight some of the day-to-day difficulties you face — but what do “abled” people most need to know about paraplegics? What do we most get wrong?
In my experience, one of the hardest adjustments has been figuring out how to mingle. As a sales gal with IBM, I knew how to work the room, moving from person to person. It’s much harder from the wheelchair. I often “park” in one area of the room to be out of the way. More than once, I’ve had someone back into my legs and almost land on my lap. If I have a “wing man” for the event, I’ll often ask them to bring someone to me or at least get a card or email address so I can email them later. Pet peeves? Don’t park in the hash marks of accessible parking places. My ramp comes down in those hash marks so I can get out and back in. Also, bless your hearts, I’m not a coat rack. Don’t put your jacket or purse on my wheelchair push handles. Or at least ask me first.
Ever receive any off-hand comments?
“What happened to you?” “That looks like fun,” or “I need to get one of those.” It used to make me bristle a little bit. But now, I mostly understand they are innocent reactions. Maybe they are even trying to connect to me. I’ve learned to smile and nod a lot.
You’ve been living in Baltimore for many years now – how has the community embraced you and your family?
Warmly, completely, and often! With no family in the area, I relied on friends, neighbors, and my work and church families for help. My kids were 3, 4, 6, and 9 at the time of my paralysis. Meals came nightly for over two months. The Center Club even delivered my favorite meal, grilled salmon and vegetables, to my door, some twenty miles away, at the time. Helping hands swarmed in, carpooling my kids, taking me to doctor appointments, and reconfiguring my home to make it accessible. I will always be grateful.
Rebecca Smith Galli will have a meet and greet session at Greetings & Readings in Hunt Valley on July 15 at 4:00 p.m.