Illinois U.S. Senator Mark Kirk is helped up the US Capitol steps by Vice President Joe Biden (2nd from right) and West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin (left), U.S. Senator Dick Durbin is at far right, as many other Senators line the Capital steps on Thursday morning January 3, 2013. | Jon Sall~Sun-Times
When Illinois' junior Sen. Mark Kirk returned to the Senate last month, it was a triumph for friend and foe alike.
On both sides of the aisle, Kirk was applauded after making his climb back up the Capitol steps to return to office - ne easy task, as Lynn Sweet reported on Jan. 4.
Now Sen. Kirk is talking about just how difficult that return was. In an op/ed column he wrote for the Washington Post, Kirk talks about the struggle it's been since his stroke - the fear he felt the day it hit, the fight to get back and how he's changed as a person and a senator as a result of being stricken.
Kirk, who writes that he was always a "glass half empty guy," before his stroke says he's become much more positive and optimistic as a result of surviving not only the stroke, but the rehabilitation:
I'm different from what I was. My left leg and left arm might never work like they once did, but my mind is sharp. I'm capable of doing the work entrusted to me by the people of Illinois, but I am forever changed.
I'm an optimist now, grateful for every blessing. Bad things happen, but life is still waiting for you to make the most of it. I want my life to count for something more than the honors I once craved. I believe it will.
My faith is stronger. My humility is deeper. I know I depend on family and friends more than I ever realized. I know, too, that the things that divide us in politics are infinitesimal compared with the dignity of our common humanity.
Kirk says he won't be the same Senator he was before the stroke - he wants to be a better one. He hasn't wasted time since his return to jump back into public policy. With Democratic Sen. Kristen Gillibrand, he's co-authored gun trafficking legislation that he's said he hopes will target straw purchasing and maybe help dry up the gun pipeline to Chicago gangs.
But, that climb up the steps on his return to Congress still resonates with him as a symbol for overcoming struggle and pushing forward, he writes in the Post.
Climbing the steps of the Capitol on Jan. 3 was one of the greatest moments of my life. It was a goal fulfilled and a message to all stroke survivors: Never, ever give up.
. . .
I was once a pessimist. I'm not that man anymore. And that change, brought about by misfortune, is the best thing that ever happened to me.