In my TBI life, I find that my opinions have no currency. Nobody takes what I say seriously, at least not as seriously as I do. The only person who doubts what I’m saying more than anyone else is me—unless we’re talking about living with a Traumatic Brain Injury. Then I’m the expert. Then I can speak without fear of contradiction.
No one would, or should, care about what I have to say about the meaning of life unless I tack brain injury on to it. Like I have done with the title to this piece. I’m okay with that. I can speak to finding the meaning of life after brain injury.
I don’t think the meaning of life is really any different without a brain injury, except it may be more clear after TBI. It is clearer because it is less clouded by alternatives. Life with a brain injury certainly can’t be about making money. In fact, being able to support oneself after a brain injury is more a matter of luck than anything a person could take credit for. It can’t be about benefitting society either. Again, I am lucky if I am not too much of a burden.
Many believe it comes from a higher power. God bless them, but I do not possess the gift of faith.
What can the meaning of life be for me, as a person living with a severe brain injury?
Life is all about building nurturing relationships. All this, and nothing more.
When I came out of my coma, when nothing I had before was mine any longer—my intellect, my physical abilities, my career, my whole identity, all I had left were the people in my life.
All I had left that was me were the people in my life. I treasured that. I was grateful for that. They had busy lives. Lives that did not easily accommodate spending time with me. All I could do was be grateful that they came at all.
My life didn’t begin until they walked into my room. My face would light up. I was glad to see them. Who doesn’t feel good when they light up the face of a person they’re coming to see? It’s magic, it’s visceral, it’s real.
Nietzsche wrote, “It is not sympathy in sorrow, but fellowship in joy, that makes true friends.” In other words, any decent person will cry with you, but your friends will smile with you. These are words that apply even to people without brain injuries.
To labor alone, to create that which is seen by and appreciated by no one else, is a supremely selfish act. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with living that way, but it often leads to one asking, “What is the meaning of life?” Whereas, if you can go about your day, surrounded by people who know you and enjoy your good company, you cannot but conclude that you are living a good life.