By Erika Webb
Anita Skocz had just emerged from a coma and discovered she would never walk again when she heard the one word that would deliver her from self-pity before she even settled.
"I was the athlete, the total physical person, and that was taken away from me in an instant," Ms. Skocz said in a recent interview in her Orange City home.
A diving accident left her in a wheelchair, unable to use most of her body.
It was the athlete who responded to the tall minister walking through the hospital issuing fire and brimstone portents.
"That's not my kinda thing but he walked into the room and said, 'I see you have quite a challenge.' That word, challenge - as an athlete - perked me up," Ms. Skocz said.
And that one word has kept the author and spiritual seeker perked up for 34 years.
"I always wanted a challenge. Grace was an unexpected gift," she said. "I've not only felt that grace, I've seen it."
Asked to describe the physical characteristics of grace she struggled for only a millisecond before hitting her writer's mark.
"It's not gold. It's yellow, like sparkling pollen! You can see it going through the air, and it's there for everyone. It's not reserved for a select few," she said. "I believe if you invoke it for yourself or anyone it'll be there in an instant."
But what does one have to do to actually see something like that?
"I think anyone can see it," she said. "When you take yourself completely into the present moment, the stillness of now, that creates the space for it to manifest. I invoke God's gift and let everything else go."
But Ms. Skocz has not exactly been lollygagging around for more than three decades waiting for pollen season. She's been way too busy unearthing her purpose on this planet and following the directives that accompany such spiritual excavating.
Since her diving accident in 1978, Ms. Skocz has written two children's books, "Crystal Star Angel" and "Kite Tale," both of which were inspired by the loving relationships between her father and his grandsons, her nephews. She spends 12 hours a day on Twitter, trying to build enough social networking relationships to effectively promote "Kite Tale."
"I'm hoping 'Kite Tale' will help our children get excited about learning about different cultures and traditions so their journeys can be enriched," she said.
During a meditation at one of actress, author and spiritual seeker Shirley MacLaine's seminars, Ms. Skocz's creative center was launched into orbit.
"I slept the whole day after the seminar. The following afternoon I sat at a word processor and wrote "Crystal Star Angel" in a matter of hours," she said.
The book, about a boy who reunites a neighborhood of bickering adults at Christmastime, was published in 1995 by Paulist Press, New York.
"Kite Tale" was published in 2011 by Balboa Press, but these days, authors are expected to market their own products, which Ms. Skocz said is rather difficult to do from bed.
Her bed is a veritable communication command center, next to which sits an angled table with a laptop. Around her wrist and fingers is a Velcro brace with a pencil attached for typing. A Kindall Trackball PC game controller enables her to manipulate the cursor and navigate cyberspace.
"I knew the keyboard before, so searching for the letters poses no problem," she said. "But, yep, I still consider myself a pecker."
"Kite Tale" is the story of a boy and his grandfather constructing a kite for a contest. Throughout the process the doubting boy learns life-altering lessons from his grandfather, and his diverse group of friends. He discovers what it takes to build something strong, whether internally or at the end of a string in the sky, something strong enough to not just endure, but soar, in the surrounding winds.
"The grandson learns everyone has a gift, a talent to share. In society now there seems to be an effort to divide us by our differences rather than respect and learn from them. This nation is a melting pot, and our globe is even a bigger pot," Ms. Skocz said. "Let's get our children excited about learning about different cultures and traditions. Their journey will be enriched when they walk it with those of many traditions, and we all have something to contribute, when asked to exercise our uniqueness."
She said she wants to offer free, signed copies of her book to any teacher who would like to use it in the classroom. It isn't money or glory she's seeking. It's something much larger.
The former travel agent was driving around Lake Mary Jane in southeast Orlando, headed home, the day before her accident. Halted by the magnificence of the setting sun, it became clear to her that change was also on the horizon. Life was more than sports, travel and accumulating things. Something was missing. She began to cry.
The next day she dove into the lake behind her home, not for the first time. This time she broke her neck and began the journey toward mending her soul and discovering the riches therein.
Ms. Skocz attended a meditation class to discover her life's purpose. It was revealed that hers was to smile. That's it? she wondered.
Two weeks later she sat in her wheelchair under a tree in front of her home, reading a book, something she did frequently. As usual she smiled and waved at passing neighbors.
"This fellow came by with flowers. He had cancer and I didn't know it," Ms. Skocz said. "He said he wanted me to know how much my smile meant to him so he brought me flowers."
Soon after, an elderly woman, afflicted with MS, stopped and told Ms. Skocz that seeing her out there, smiling, as the woman went to and from her grueling physical therapy sessions gave her the strength to go and restored her expended strength on the way back.
"Seven people stopped that day to tell me that my smile had helped them in some way," Ms. Skocz said. "When it's part of who you are, when you're living your gift, you really don't know you're doing it. You're born with some innate quality and purpose and maybe some will never have it revealed to them but that day it was revealed to me."
During the time she was comatose, Ms. Skocz said, she had a near death experience, saw the white light and, when queried, opted for the next life.
As it turned out, the next life just happened to be here.
Ms. Skocz said prior to her accident she didn't know the difference between religion and spirituality. She called herself a bare Catholic, "barely there".
"I was connected to the outdoors, to the earth and God. I always loved people. I didn't know that all of those things were under the gauze of spirituality," she said.
Her greatest gift, she said, is helping people one on one, leading them to a sense of self-worth. It's the theme of each of her books, a reason to sit in the front yard, the subject of her tweets and the purpose of a voyage made in stillness.
Ms. Skocz is working on a new book, "From Where I Sit, A Collection of My Soulful Thoughts and Stories." The book is a compilation of her weekly blogs, which may be viewed at http://anita-skocz.com/. Teachers interested in obtaining free copies of "Kite Tale" may contact her at email@example.com while supplies last.