Not many people know this, but when I left the G.F. Strong Rehabilitation Center on July 5, 2003, I left with not only a severe amount of brain damage, but something else as well, something that has had an equally profound effect on who I am and how I think. Like the symptoms of my head injury, it has taken me the better part of eight years to be able to recognize it. It is the Sasquatch in my self portrait, an aspect of my new identity whose existence I’ve only recently confirmed.
I hesitate to try and define what this is, however, for every adjective and word picture falls embarrassingly short, and risks emasculating something that has become the very core of who I am. For lack of a better word or language, then, I will simply call it an awakening. It is a new way of seeing life, a better view, if you will. It is a gift beyond rewarding, but a real bitch to get. The only way to attain it (that I’m aware of) is through life-altering trauma, and even then it is a limited time offer, some restrictions definitely apply, and there’s certainly no guarantee. But the perks are immeasurable. The new perspective resonates so deeply that faith becomes fact. The view is so grand, it makes a double complete rainbow (sorry for the link, but I had to) look like road construction. This gift is so powerful it sucks everything into it, like a black-hole redeeming the worst we can imagine, and even the things we can’t. It is the reason I’m thankful for brain damage, and feel better off with it.
But how? We spend our lives avoiding, downplaying, and hiding our inabilities, our limitations. We play to our strengths, whatever they may be, constructing and maintaining a façade of accomplishment and ability . We think shortcomings will scare off friends, so we stack up our exploits and put them on display. But all we’ve done is build walls that keep everyone at a safe distance, just far enough so our flaws won’t be visible. We are afraid to show vulnerability because no one else is, and no one wants to be the first. As long as we can maintain an illusion of impressiveness, we will. It’s a game, and the winner is whomever appears to need the fewest people and the least help.
But I am lucky, I got out of playing that game. Brain damage says I don’t have to. Having been dead for a little while means I can sit this one out. Any illusion of self-sufficiency evaporated when I couldn’t wipe my own ass at the age of 23. Sure, I’m capable of much more now, but having been so helpless, so unable and disabled, so face-to-face with how little I was, I can’t forget that image and I won’t – that picture is much closer to the truth than the puffed up version I sought and put forth before. And even if I overshoot the truth of my place, allotting myself less than I’m due, the result is only more gratitude for where I am, and for what I am doing now, regardless of how it compares.
From this view, I have a better, high-definition image of how a small portion of this life works, and it is more complex than perhaps we would like. Our nature is to define the world around us, to find laws and rules of how things work, to sleuth out actions and the corresponding reactions in our lives. With this information we hope to pursue good outcomes and sidestep the bad ones. But we don’t know squat. This blog is a testament to that. I’m reminded of the children’s book “That’s Good, That’s Bad” where every bad incident turns out to be a good one and vice versa. Life is not that extreme or consistent, I recognize. Sometimes good things really are good things. Sometimes shitty things really are shitty. Sometimes they change, and then change back.
Even so, we assess the odds, we pick our spot, build our sandcastles atop tall mounds, and dig moats around them. We might look at the life we’ve carved out, and think we have a pretty good read on the tidal patterns, that we have taken the appropriate steps to delay, if not avoid altogether, the water’s turbulent effects. We watch as water harmlessly fills the moat far below, optimistic that our calculating and scheming will pay off. But then the rain starts, and it doesn’t stop pounding until our sandcastle is just a pathetic bump with a twig sticking out. I’m not saying all our efforts are wasted, that it’s pointless to pursue or prepare for anything. I’m saying that every castle on that beach, regardless of much work we put into it, will always be vulnerable to forces beyond our control. We are all vulnerable, whether we share it or not. For that reason, I try to not to be too quick to claim credit for the success of my efforts or plans in life, because much of it is simply not my doing.
I am not that big.