In 1989, on my way home from work, a semi-truck hit me. I suffered a severe brain injury and spent eight days in a coma. I spent the next ten years focusing on myself and becoming the best I could be with what I had left. After ten years I still worked on myself, but the next steps of that process involved writing it all down and reflecting on what I had discovered. These notes to myself I share with others.
Sorrow is the path to wisdom. By turning sorrow into wisdom, I can see a point to my pain. If I do not try to learn from my situation, then I must admit my sorrow holds no meaning.
I don't view things as good or bad. Those are loaded terms that mean different things to process different people. I view things as boring or interesting. One of my first thoughts that I can distinctly remember after coming out of my coma and learning what had happened to me was, "This is interesting." It wasn't "good" interesting or "bad" interesting, it was just interesting. As the Wizard Gandalf said in Fellowship of the Ring, "Even the very wise cannot see all ends." I have lived through my share of hardships, overcome a few hurdles, and fallen over a few others. I am glad to have made the trip. A thing is worth what you are willing to pay for it. That which I have paid for highly, on a personal level, I now prize highly. Real wisdom is never obtained easily.
Wisdom, like perfection, is not a goal to reach, but a point to move towards. There is not a clear lesson to be learned from any tragedy, and besides, the lesson will be different for each individual. Richard Bach wrote that "there is no such thing as a problem without a gift for you in its hands...You seek problems because you need their gifts."
You may be saying, "Whoa, wait a minute Mike, I didn't seek a brain injury." That may be true, but fixing blame on anyone but oneself is the path of a victim. It does not matter whose fault it is; it is your responsibility to heal and grow. I find it empowering to take responsibility for my accident. It gives me a feeling of control and independence. Those are two things that are often in short supply after a brain injury.
I must make one further comment on wisdom. Wisdom is not cynicism. A cynic views all things in the worst possible light: i.e. Murphy's Law. Cynicism is false wisdom; it destroys possibilities and abandons reason. Things are not always bad. Reality is often a self-fulfilling prophecy, so you had better choose your realities carefully.
Sorrow is part of a full life. I often hear survivors talking in positive terms, and I wonder if it comes from having accepted their sorrow, or having denied it. It is okay to be sad and angry after brain injury; it is even necessary. Let the emotion wash over you, fill you, even become you, and then watch it fade away. Eventually, you do just get tired of being sad and angry, and that is the time to say goodbye to your sorrow and move on. Move on before your sorrow becomes your identity. You want to be able to say, "That was me being sorrowful, this is me having moved on."
About the author
Mike Strand was hit by a semi-truck on his way home from work in 1989. He suffered a severe brain injury and spent eight days in a coma. Ten years after his accident he began writing essays on brain injury. Since then he has written hundreds of essays as well as writing a column titled "Here and Now" in the Brain Injury Alliance of Minnesota's newsletter "Mind Matters" for over 15 years. In addition to appearing in numerous publications, he has also had essays appearing in several editions of "Chicken Soup for the Soul." His two books are available through Lash Publishing.