Watch CBS News

Sen. Tammy Duckworth reflects on the hardships that have defined her: "You will re-emerge"

Note to Self: Sen. Tammy Duckworth
Note to Self: Sen. Tammy Duckworth 06:33

Sen. Tammy Duckworth became the first U.S. senator to give birth while in office with the arrival of Maile Pearl Bowlsbey, her second child, on Monday. But before she gave birth to Maile, the 50-year-old double amputee and junior senator from Illinois reflected on some of her life's milestones, in a note to her younger self.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth  CBS News

Dear Tammy, 

I know you're busy focusing on acing that test or winning that next track medal, but I want you to take a step back. You'll achieve more than you ever imagined-and succeed beyond your wildest dreams-but it won't be because you were smarter, stronger or faster than anyone else. 

No matter how hard you try -- and you will tear yourself up inside trying --you never will achieve that 4.0 GPA and you'll never be that high school track star that you and your parents wanted you to be. But you'll learn that perfection isn't what matters. It's how you respond to hardship and failure that defines you.

You'll see it in your daddy's eyes when his failure to prepare, make tough decisions or set his ego aside leads to years of struggle for your family. You'll be hungry, relying on food stamps to feed yourselves. You'll be nearly homeless, having lost almost everything that's important to you. But you'll see how your family works to recover. Your family will work harder than you've ever had to before and harder than you will ever have to again. You'll come out tougher, but also more humble. You'll learn that gratitude is essential, and you'll learn how to survive a tough time -- which is good, because you're going to need that skill again.

You'll join the Army, and you will have two very different lives. Your first will be on a path towards a happy life and happy family, with achievements in the military and a chance to travel and see the world. But that wonderful life will end so abruptly it'll feel like a death and it will put all the rest of your plans -- for your family, for your career -- on life support.

You will almost die, but you'll make it -- just barely. Your survival won't have anything to do with your own abilities. You'll make it out alive completely because of the grit, sacrifice and outright heroism of others. You haven't done anything to be worthy of their sacrifices, but these heroes will give you a second chance at life anyway.

Your second life begins when you wake up a few days later in agony. Non-stop, unrelenting, seemingly-endless agony.

The pain is so all-consuming that you'll even tell the love of your life that you're going to shut down and be gone for a while to, quote, "circle the wagons." He'll be terrified because he thinks you're saying goodbye forever.

But you'll reemerge.

Sure, you'll be angry, vengeful and scared, but most of all, you'll dig into the deepest part of you and find a way to survive it. You'll realize how much you owe those around you and come out determined to never let them down and to live every day to repay them.

You'll be so grateful and proud not just of your husband who becomes your champion, but all those who sacrificed to keep you alive. You'll have to learn to walk, eat, bathe, and do everything again by falling, crawling, pulling yourself back up.

You'll remember that you are a Soldier and that you will never give up, never abandon the mission and as an officer, it is your responsibility to take care of your troops. Because of that mission, you'll meet a powerful man, Senator Dick Durbin, who, instead of seeing someone pitiful and broken in a wheelchair, sees you as someone who can help make your nation better.

He'll challenge you to once again serve your nation, but this time by running for Congress. You will be apprehensive, but you'll say yes and work as hard as you can to succeed.

And you will fail. But this time, instead of just a personal failure like a bad grade or a swing and a strike, the world will know that you'd failed. But somehow, it won't be as devastating as it would have been in your first life.

You'll pick yourself up again, because anything else would be to betray those who sacrificed to save you on that dusty field in Iraq. You'll reach, once again, into that well of gratitude to find a new way forward as an advocate for your fellow veterans.

And just a few years later, you'll find yourself in the best position you've ever been in to repay those who sacrificed to save you. You'll be a United States Senator. People will start recognizing you. Strangers will stop you to say hello and to thank you for your work. You'll see the difference that you can make in people's lives. Your achievements now can actually make your nation a more perfect union.

And you'll be proud of it all, but as happy as you are to be able to help people, the best part of your second life will be you finally getting to have the family you've always wanted.

Senator Tammy Duckworth

You'll be able to read many letters we've featured in our Note to Self series in our new book, "Note to Self: Inspiring Words from Inspiring People." The book, published by Simon & Schuster, a division of CBS, will be available in May. 

As we prepare to launch our book, we want to hear about the moments that have defined your lives and the lessons you've learned from them. We will select one submission, and the "CBS This Morning" team will then shoot and produce the feature to be broadcast on televisionMore details about our call for submissions.

Watch more from our Note to Self series.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.