Atlanta And BeyondAmanda
Atlanta & beyondest. 2009

Tallulah Gorge | January 24

Today I want to tell you a story about myself. Two years ago today is the last day I spent with my brother. We went to Tallulah Gorge State Park to see the freshly fallen snow. Neither of us realized it that day, but we were both in serious trouble. The next day, at 1pm, he had a fatal heart attack while driving. Just a few months later, I’d spend a weekend in the hospital after experiencing severe chest pains. Also while driving.

We stood in front of this sign for a minute, wondering if we should even try it. But there was fresh snow on the ground and the boys were being so adorable. And I really wanted everyone to see the suspension bridge, so we started down.

We made it to the bridge and spent several minutes there just enjoying the scenery together. There was snow covering the bridge, and the boys enjoyed tossing chunks of icy snow down into the river. Then I did something I hadn’t done in a really long time. I got out my phone and asked them to stand together and let me take a photo. It’s odd. I don’t know when I’d gotten out of the habit of making photos of people I cared about, but I had. At some point, taking photos for a living had made it into work, and I had forgotten why I loved making photos in the first place. But on that golden afternoon with the three most important men in my world, I felt like making a photo so that there would be something that documented how perfect the day had been. 

Two years ago today, my resting heart rate was 80. I couldn’t walk up a flight of stairs without being winded. It had become harder and harder to get my camera bag into the overhead bin on a plane. I weighed more than I ever had. He wasn’t really much better off, I know now. We decided at the bridge that we wouldn’t take the 300+ extra steps to the bottom, so we turned around and trudged back up, stopping several times to catch our breath.

Today I went back to the gorge and went all the way to the bottom, pausing a few times to take photos. All 1062 steps. And then back up all 1062 steps. The entire trip took 46 minutes. My resting heart rate today is 63. I’m down twenty pounds, and I’m a regular at the gym. In fact, I worked out this morning before I went to the gorge. All my checkup stats are back in the normal range this year. The thing that keeps me going isn’t a fear of death or pain. Those things don’t frighten me at all. I’m driven by the one overwhelming fear that I had that day in the car when my chest and arm became so painful. The fear that I might be another source of heartbreak to my nephews. The one thought I had that day was, ‘No, no, no, I can’t do this to them.’ And that is what keeps me going, even when everything sucks. Today I celebrate my brother and all the things that made him amazing and that I loved about him. And I also celebrate the two amazing young men who keep his spirit alive. They are my heroes and my inspiration.

Amanda Summerlin
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