Kara Swanson's Brain Injury Blog

January 31, 2017

THAT’S when my brain was messed up…

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 4:10 pm

Today is the 21st anniversary of my brain injury and, as the years have gathered and clustered and bumped into one another, I have gained so much insight into what I’m celebrating and what the reality of my life was and is.

Most of us, I imagine, come from a place where we measure when we were well against that date we were hurt.  That date when our brains got messed up…

But I look back now and I was 31 and so successful and Society smiled upon me and told me I was thriving and climbing and I had this and that to hold up as evidence.   Nice house, nice car, nice suits, good money…

But, as I sit here today and look out upon that January snow coming down and I recall that day so many years ago now, I am more convinced than ever…

I don’t lament that time.  I don’t covet it.  I don’t long for it.  I realize now that-

THAT’S when my brain was messed up!

Oh my.

I was told when I was young that working those 80 to a hundred hours a week meant I was driven and successful and accomplished and goal-oriented.  Executing on four hours a sleep so many nights and changing in my car so I could go from catering director to coach and then back again.

I didn’t have time to even look at life.  To look at myself.  To realize how unbalanced and dysfunctional I was.   Here I was in a town I had moved to where I didn’t know anyone, far away from friends because I had left an abusive relationship.   I worked so much that I barely even decorated that new house.  When my mom started having her strokes, I didn’t take time off.  Instead I got up and went to the hospital at 6 in the morning, off to work at seven, sneak to the hospital after lunch events were done, back for dinner events, off to the hospital once more before heading back to set up for the next day’s events.  Walking in at three in the morning…

Everyone told me I was such a success when really I was just living a life of pretty chaos.

It didn’t take this brain injury to make my life fall apart.  It took this brain injury to get my head on straight and to start putting together a real life that I took the time to actually want.

Please don’t waste this opportunity!  Brain injury comes at us like the Boogey Man and it throws all sorts of horrific distractions in our way.  It makes us feel like it is the worst thing that could ever have happened to us.

In reality, these injuries of ours are crossroads.  Intersections.  Pivot points.  Yes, I get that, for so many, the devastation is beyond repair….But, for so many of us, it is our opportunity to walk away from what almost killed us and to actually, finally, start living.

I pray you are as fortunate as I am this day.  To know that it was that damned injury I have to thank for now 21 years of real success in things that actually matter to me.   Something of lasting value.  Something worth living for.  Love, peace, joy, doing things I love, being with people I love, appreciating life…

Happy Birthday to me.  To all of us.  To be born is to be given the gift of life and we have each received this now twice.  What are you going to do with yours?

January 28, 2017

They Just Play The Music

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 9:48 am

My friend Linda has been teaching piano for over forty years now.  Over all those decades, with literally hundreds of students, she has developed many tools to reach and teach people of every age and learning ability.  To give them the robust gift of music.

I had always wanted to play but, even before my brain injury, I had never learned to read music.  To me it was like Statistics in college….like some foreign, frustrating language that everyone seemed to be able to speak except me.

I had taught myself to play some over the years.  With a handful of guitar chords that I practiced over and over and with some easy chord books and song selections that included just the few chords I knew, I was able to strum a little guitar here and there.  Never anything great but enough to enjoy it and actually recognize the few songs I was trying to play.

Linda knew I had always wanted to play piano and the idea kept returning to me when I was recovering.  I kept coming across evidence and testimony of music as a useful tool to help unlock cognitive potential in recovery.

I think she, too, was curious about the challenges a TBI survivor might face when trying to encourage the brain to execute the many simultaneous demands in order to play.  You have to be able to read the notes, process them and apply them to fingers which are attempting to find corresponding keys.  You have to read two sets of notes in order to play the right hand and the left hand and have all of those things happen together, over and over, throughout a song and within the confines of time measurements.

For someone like me who cannot, some days, manage to pair two simple things together and execute them at the same time for even a moment, the idea of stringing those skills together over the course of an entire song felt almost impossible, really.  I didn’t imagine it would be much fun if I couldn’t keep up with the processing speeds and one simple song would take ten minutes to play.

Didn’t sound like too much fun.

Linda knew, too, that, when I used to play guitar, I would come across a tough chord that I hadn’t mastered and just play a G.  I told her, “Yep, just play a G anytime you don’t know a chord….”  For an award-winning, classically-trained professional, I’m sure she was aghast.  Laughing here.

We decided to give it a try and just see.

Linda searched the myriad strategies that had served her so well in helping the countless students she had taught.  She realized that, when we hit roadblocks that TBI had made so frustratingly distinct to my potential, she threw out the playbook and literally rewrote the language of music in a way that my brain could actually recognize, organize and process quickly enough to stay in a song.  We stuck to songs I knew so that the familiarity might add to the processing speeds.  We drew pictures in the margins of the sheet music and found ways around the demands that I simply could not execute.

And I played the piano.

The other day Linda was telling me about her new piano students.  Two of them are just six and seven and she reported how well they are doing and how quickly they are picking it up.  I told her I was a little embarrassed by how hard it was for me, even before my brain injury, and she said something interesting that made a light go on for me.

She said, “Kids just play the music.  Adults have a lot going on in their heads.  They bring a lot of baggage.  Kids don’t ask why.  They don’t second-guess the music.  They trust the music and they just play.”

As soon as I heard that, I thanked her for my new blog subject.

In any life I think we all get caught up tripping over the baggage.  In our own heads, we complicate the simplest of notions, of gestures, of evidence.  We deplete ample.  We muddy. We can take a beautiful ice sculpture of an eagle and keep chipping at it and finding flaws and seeking perfection until all we’re left with is one big honkin’ ice cube.

Admittedly, with a brain injury, we may have to rewrite the music a little.  There might be drawings in the margins and notes and skips and end-arounds in order to allow ourselves the gift.  But the gift is the music.

We gotta just play it.  We just gotta hold tight to the simple truth that it is a good thing to play it.

Giving ourselves the most extraordinary gifts of life:  love, music, compassion, forgiveness, wellness, inclusion, support, peace….is worth every note in the margin.   For those of us with TBI in our lives, those gifts are worth every strategy, counsel, learning, medication, and compensatory tool to get us there.

I cried that first time I played Silent Night with two hands, chords and all.  I cried.  It was a little slow and admittedly a simple version, but it was Silent Night, nonetheless.

Thank you, Linda.  Thank you to all of you out there willing to help us enjoy life’s most beautiful gifts.

I played Silent Night.  And into that Silent Night, I poured music.  Into the dark still where sometimes hope flickers and falters, I poured hope.   And flames of tomorrow’s possibilities sparked tall and bright, crazy into the night.

Just play the music.

January 1, 2017

The Pine Needles Hurt

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 11:22 am

Growing up, my family adhered to ages-old traditions of celebrating Swedish Christmas from December 13th through January 13th.  I never questioned it.  That’s who we were and that’s how it was.  We celebrated life and love and loved ones around those trees.  My Mom carefully placed the hundred-year-old ornaments from Sweden near the top where the kids and enthusiastic cats “hunting in the wild” of our tree branches couldn’t reach.  There were more than a few birthdays of mine on the 15th of January that included a Christmas tree.

As you can imagine, though, by that second week in January, our poor tree was dropping its needles and long-suffering after a month of standing tall and strong in a house with the furnace on and a fire going.

By the time we managed to drag that poor tree out each year, it was so painful to touch those branches and, oh, how they scratched!  The needles fell like rain and we were still getting poked by the occasional rogue needle, stubborn in the carpet, long into Spring.

My parents are gone now and, when I moved into my condo, friends gifted me a lovely lit tree that I pull out each Christmas and plug in and enjoy just the same.

It doesn’t hurt.

I still honor my parents and our heritage in personal ways, in my heart, from the beginning of Swedish Christmas until the last but it is so apparent to me that…

When we drag the past on for too long and into a future it was not meant for, it hides and it waits and it pokes and it hurts.

This New Year’s morning is mild.  Right smack dab in the middle of winter, we here in Michigan are enjoying beautiful sunshine and are looking forward to temps near 50 tomorrow.

It is a new year.  A new year!!!

I am giddy with this extraordinary gift given again-a new empty slate upon which I will create the next year of my life.

As we get older, it becomes so glaringly clear how precious time is.  Time.  Sweet time.

Some, I imagine, like George Michael and Carrie Fisher, thought there was so much more of it left.  Others, stricken with illness or dire prognoses, understand how it is now counted with a different perspective or in smaller measures of years, or in months, or even in breaths.

Time.

We are so often careless with this treasure.  We waste time.  We lose time.  We kill time.  We fill it with people we don’t love and in jobs we can’t stand and we note that years fly by unremarkably.  Sometimes without an earmark.  Without a difference.

Without extraordinary.

My wish for everyone this new year is always the same:  good health.  With good health, we are free and able to mold and shape and fill and celebrate our time.  Our particular time.

This go around, maybe we can figure out the parts of our lives that are like those poking pine needles and stop dragging them into a new year again and again when they are best left to the past:  relationships that worked better back then, traditions that fit better then, perspectives and beliefs and opinions that thrived in a world we don’t see outside our windows now.

Maybe it’s time to plug in and light up better solutions and better strategies so that we actually enjoy this gift we’ve given.  Our time.

It’s a new year.  It’s a clean calendar.  It’s a blank slate.  Most of us will return again a year from now and we will know if we chose to spend more of our precious time with people, in jobs and doing things we simply don’t like, love or want anymore.  If we chose to simply keep slogging, keep complaining, keep hating, keep dreading, keep dragging dead trees behind us…

Or did we choose, finally, to really hold that time up precious and close this year?  Did we choose, at every turn, to share it with people we love and enjoy?  Did we give parts of it to fun-seeking adventures, new learning opportunities, great relationship and neighborhood and planet and people-saving projects, and sweet moments of love and of healing and of grace?

Did we make time and find time and give time so that we actually enjoy our lives?

Let’s choose that.  :)))))

November 11, 2016

It’s Been a Tough Week

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 9:37 pm

It is Election Week.  It may as well have been Election Month or Election Year.   The last three days have felt like one unending news cycle.  We are exhausted.

Never before, in my lifetime, has a Presidential Election swept our country up into such an overwhelming, frenzied storm.  All of our best traits that come with living in a free society that gifts hope through each election cycle.  And, too, all of our worst traits when both sides allow competition, fear, anxiety and disappointment to show their darker symptoms.

For those of us with brain injury, it was likely a difficult stretch.  I know it was for me.  Long nights watching from pre to post-election coverage.  Lots of stress.  Lots of opinions and information and crowds and noise.   I know that Wednesday, after so little sleep and all the cognitive wasting, I was twirling around in the parking lot with no bra on and different colored socks.

With each election, the United States is basically split down the middle.  Each cycle, one half of our country is euphoric while the other is wrought with dismay.  It has always been.

I thought about my fellow survivors a lot these last couple of weeks.  Too often, when we are disabled, there seems to be a shadow upon us and we are often cast into the back of the picture.  But the country could learn from us.  These past few weeks, especially, I’ve seen you all just shine.

Like the people who lost the election eight years ago and like the people who lost Tuesday night, each side has gone on and felt left behind by the opposition party.  Too many lament and blame their way through an entire administration, content to cast their disappointments upon whatever party they didn’t vote for.  They don’t change to improve.  They just bitch.

For us, we don’t get to see our fortunes rise and fall with each election cycle when it comes to our injuries.  They survive through each party and each change in power.

But so do we.

We have long-learned how important it is to adapt.  To look at the situation and what has been lost and to start figuring out ways around and over it.  In order to be successful, we have to go on with less than we had every single day and we can’t just wait it out for another election to bring us justice or relief or promise or good fortune.

If we are to enjoy those things, we know we have to make them for ourselves.  Regardless of politicians.  Regardless of policy.  Regardless of fair or unjust.

We have to go get them.  Us.  We.

I have listened to countless healthy, blessed people bitch and moan and complain for most of my adult life time now.  Both sides and both parties.

Makes me respect you guys even more.  Makes me admire you and salute you.

There is no waiting to seek happiness.  There is no waiting to seek success.  Not for another election.  Not for another candidate.  Not for another day.

Life is short.  Let’s promise ourselves to keep pressing on through the haze of today and hold fast to the truth that happiness cannot be dependent on any politician or policy.  It is closer than that.  It is with people we can actually touch.

We do have the power to make our lives and our homes and our families and our relationships better and more loving and more peaceful.  When we all succeed there, we don’t bring near as much hate out into our world each morning.

PS  Hey, thanks to so many of you who wrote to me about my new book, “I’ll Carry the Fork!  The 20th Anniversary Chapter”.   So many of you told me that it is a tool to initiate awkward and difficult conversations between those with TBI and those we live with and love.  I cannot tell you how much that moves me and inspires me.  Thank you so much.  If we can just start those conversations about intimacy and recovery and new goals and new challenges…start them without blame or shame….then we are all headed in a direction that looks more like better and I so wish all of you that.  Many many times over.  xo  Kara

October 10, 2016

Exciting News To Share

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 7:53 am

I haven’t written a new blog entry in a couple of months.  I couldn’t wait to share the news of what I’ve been doing lately…

Over all these years, people have continued to write to me to ask that I have Fork reprinted and to release new material.  After my publisher sold her business, I never seemed to have the money to reprint Fork and I was content with my blog interactions with all of you and with how I was moving my life away from my injury.

This year is the twentieth anniversary of the car crash that caused my brain injury.  With congratulations came another new round of requests that I re-release Fork and, for the first time in many years, I decided to take a peek.

I thought it might be cool to re-release it with a new chapter celebrating these last twenty years.  I’ve learned so much from my own journey and from what you have shared from yours.

I started to type a little and was moved at how warm it felt to return and how excited I felt to share it all with you.

You and me.  Me and you.  We have been on this journey together, many for a long time.  For all the blog comments stating that they were so grateful to have found this place, I was always just as grateful to welcome another person who, more often times than not, taught me just as much.

Because I cannot seem to stop writing once I get going, that anniversary chapter ended up being almost book-length and we decided to allow it to stand on its own.

Fork has had a baby.  :))))

I wrote it, not just with you in mind, but with you in it.  Every page is inspired by, not just my journey but all of ours.  Our struggles and triumphs and all the issues we have raised and shared and vented about here.

I hope you’ll check it out.  I didn’t write it because I am extraordinary.  I wrote it because you are.  Because I have found such remarkable people in this community who continue to brave odds and beat odds and soar every day.

I’m going to try and paste the link below.  If it doesn’t connect, you can find it on Amazon.  We made the font large and the borders big enough for notes (people asked for that).  We took out all the frills so we could keep the price modest and deliver a clean read.  I’m really excited to share it with you and I hope you will find your wonderful place inside.

This is not just to you from me.  This is to us from us.  This is twenty years of all of us and how we battle this injury every day.

I love you guys and I have appreciated your voices, your sharing courage and your stories of every success and adversity.  I’m excited to introduce Fork’s new baby.  :)))))))))

I thought you might be interested in this page from Amazon.
I’ll Carry the Fork! The 20th Anniversary Chapter
by Kara L. Swanson
  Learn more  

July 11, 2016

Getting Back To The Basics

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 9:01 pm

I’ve realized that, even twenty years into this brain injury, some of the things I first recognized as helpful still apply.  None more so, maybe, than creating a good routine.

I always thought routine was boring.  I thought it made a person kind of nerdy or some old curmudgeon stuck in their ways.  We all know of or have heard tell of those who have to do things a certain way each time.  They have to go to certain places on certain days and they have to eat this or that.

That might be bordering on an issue best left for another blog.  LOL.

Routine, for those of us who are brain injured, often ends up a dear friend.  A loyal, consistent ally.

A dependable good.

I have long relied on routine to reign in the more troublesome of my challenges.  Here and there, the failure to filter, the distractibility, the getting stuck on one thing…

When routine is thoughtfully crafted, it provides us a great sense of peace and confidence.  Even when our memories fail us, we can often feel sure that our routines kept the ship sailing in the right direction.

For many of us with TBI, summer creates a huge change in our routines.  Those of us with kids have to deal with a change in morning schedules.  Those of us taking vacation have to handle packing and travel plans and booking hotels and rental cars.

It can really throw us off our game.

I know that, for me, just the fact that the 4th of July holiday ended up on a Monday really sent me sideways.  Monday felt like Sunday.  Monday also felt like the 1st of the month so some bills didn’t get paid.  Tuesday was Monday.  I took off Thursday so Friday was Monday, too.

My co-workers were amused to see me show up for work with my clothes on backwards…

Truth!

Stressed out and frustrated partners and caregivers write to me all the time about how their TBI survivor does nothing all day.  They often find them where they left them and nothing seems to have changed after nine hours of the day.

That doesn’t surprise me.

Many of us have a hard time figuring out what the heck to do first or next.  Some of us have a problem with initiating and some with a problem of having to pick from the thousands of options of what we could possibly do.

An established routine based on, mostly, when we are at our cognitive best each day helps everyone on both sides of the coin.  Everyone can ease down and feel a little more relaxed when we all have an idea of what to expect next.

Routine doesn’t have to be a prison sentence.  It is not some anchor we should be forced to lug around.  It is a tool and a good one.  It’s a way to help us be efficient and productive during the best parts of our days.

As summer passes the midway point and soon kids will take the turn toward heading back to school, many parents will begin to re-establish routines to ease their kids back into school mode.  Maybe they’ll start to get them out of bed earlier and into bed sooner.  Maybe they’ll begin to get them thinking again during the day and engaging their brains so they can start off the year on a good note.

Because we are a funny lot, we often stop our diets when we lose a few pounds or quit our antibiotics after a few days because we start feeling better.  But it doesn’t matter how long we have been injured, it never hurts to get back to the basics when we feel things spinning a little out of control.

We don’t have to quit what works.  It doesn’t make us “still worse”.  And we don’t have to feel badly about returning to our tried and true help when we find ourselves bumped somewhere off the beaten path.

Routine is a good thing.  It’s a nice tool in the box.  It helps us to feel accomplished and peaceful that will always be the goal of any good day.

Happy Summer, everyone!!!!

 

 

May 21, 2016

May I Please Speak With Mr. Swanson?

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 10:00 am

I can remember it near and close, still, not like it was forty+ years ago.  Our kitchen phone, the only one in the house, wasn’t on the wall.  It didn’t have that long, long cord like so many homes did.

Ours was an awful color.  Some pinkish tank color.  It had an oval base and sat close to the plug.  You could sit at the kitchen table and speak on it, but that was about it.

My Dad was a very talented commercial artist at a small firm.  When they decided it was time for me to learn proper phone etiquette, I was given instructions on what to say and how to say it.  Several afternoons that summer I called my Dad at work:

“May I please speak with Mr. Swanson?”

I still do that today.

I can remember when I was barely driving and I thought it a good idea to bring home an entire litter of kittens.  They squirmed out of the box and they were jumping all over the car.  Soon underfoot and collecting near the gas pedal, I could not brake in time before bumping into the car in front of me.  Unfortunately, it was an older gentleman driving his prized, lifelong dream car.  Egad.

My parents took me to the Police Station and, as I was answering questions by the officer, my Dad was very sharp with me in a way I hadn’t experienced before.  I answered, “Yeah” and my Dad shot me a glare, “Yes, sir!”

“Yes, sir.”

My parents were adamant about please and thank-you.  They were diligent and relentless about impeccable manners and they installed and instilled kind waves and nice nods and gentlemanly ways of conduct.

Our neighbors were part of a vast conspiracy which collectively held all of us kids to a common ideal when it came to telling the truth and sharing food and toys and clothes.  I can remember an uncle teaching me how a young, classy lady should demurely shake a hand.  I can remember my basketball coach, Jan Sander, teaching me how a strong, confident woman does it.

I can remember being in New York with my friends in the 80s and, at every turn, saying “Please” and “Thank you” to food servers and taxi drivers.  Slow, Midwestern Kara there in the Big Apple with the millions rushing and bumping by me as I barely made my way.  “Excuse me.”  “Pardon me.”

My friends laughed and rolled their eyes.

Yesterday, when I was coming home, I sat waiting to turn on three separate occasions as young people sauntered across busy roads, bringing the afternoon progress to a screeching halt.  They didn’t hustle to cross when the cars started backing up.  They didn’t offer a wave of appreciation.  Nothing.

I was in line at a drive-thru window and there was someone blasting their horn behind me.  As I slowly passed the car in front of me, I leaned out to tell her it wasn’t me blasting.  She just looked at me and flipped me off.

I can remember fondly, decades ago, when it was commonplace to connect with the driver coming towards you.  The two of you would help each other get through whatever crowded sidestreet or obstacle you were commonly facing.  Helpful waves.  Smiles.  Nods.

We used to help each other.

I can’t remember the last time someone waved back when I cast them out a friendly hello.  A smile and a nod.  Letting them go first.  Helping them get by.

When I announce sporting events at my old high school, I’m constantly observing young people who refuse to remove their caps during the National Anthem.  I’ve seen kids talking and laughing all during our Anthem, even with their parents who are standing right there with them.  There I am after the anthem, stumbling over bleachers to remind these kids what it means to stand with respect for the National Anthem.  They look at me like I’m an alien.

As I approach each young person through the course of an event, I’ll look them in the eye and smile and offer up a greeting.  Some days I am lucky if, out of ten, I may get one hello and two inaudible grunts.  When a young person looks me back in the eye and actually smiles and returns a true greeting, I just want to grab up that kid and give them a hug.  LOL.

Standing in line near any store counter or seated in earshot in most restaurants, I overhear, “Gimme this, gimme that….”   I don’t hear, “May I please” much of anything.

A little after Mother’s Day.  A few weekends before Father’s Day.  I’m heading out today to go see my parents’ grave site.   I’m sure the gold foil on their name plate continues to fade.  I’ll bring scissors to trim the grass growing all willy nilly around the edges.  I’ll wash off the plate and leave my Mom some flowers.  Bring my Dad a small American flag to honor his WW2 service in the Navy.

I’ll tell them about their grandkids, Charlie and Samantha.  I’ll tell them how my brother, Craig and his wife, Sue, have taught them an etiquette that they would be proud of.  When I see the kids, they say “Please” and “thank you.”

They have no idea what a positive difference they make.  A light in this world.  I look in those young faces with their bright eyes and brilliant teeth and healthy skin and bodies running all over playgrounds and ball fields and I feel…

Hope.  Gratitude.

I pray that, one day, they will look back at these seemingly small lessons with grateful hearts.

Thank you, Mom and Dad.  Thank you, Craig and Sue.  Thank you, Charlie and Samantha.  People say, all the time, how this next generation is doomed to snarky, selfish, even criminal behavior.

I’m not going to buy it.   Not with the wonderful hope seeds growing all around me.

Happy Mother’s Day and Happy Father’s Day to all the great people out there working so hard to bring up responsible, peaceful, polite young people.   If nice or polite make me hopelessly passe, I’ll live with that.

Hang in there.  You rock!  You keep doing what you’re doing, great parents.  We need more and more light to chase away a growing darkness.  I’m not convinced that the answer is simply teaching “please” and “thank you” and a respectful decorum during the National Anthem but I will always believe that’s a road sign on a positive path.

Cheering and saluting all the terrific parents out there.  Happy Spring, Happy Every Little Thing.

 

 

 

 

April 3, 2016

What Time Is It?

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 8:14 am

I had a handsome clock on my living room wall.  Loved that clock.  But my front door has a broken spring and so, if I forget to tell visitors (which is normally), they’ll let that door close and BANG! and the clock falls down.

So far the pieces chipped have managed to be small enough to not really notice if you just glance at it.  This last time, however, bigger pieces came off and there’s just no saving the clock.

I considered not replacing it because, really, we have clocks everywhere.  Time is screaming in neon display from the cable box and the computer and the microwave and the coffee pot and my phone and tablet.  It’s not like I have no idea what time it is.

Yet still, each morning, I am racing around and I glance on that empty wall five times or more, trying to see if I’m late or do I have time for one more Facebook game before work.

It occurred to me that not knowing the time is the culprit in many of our life’s clashes and problems, heart breaks and disappointments.

It’s all about the time.

We get ourselves into trouble again and again when we don’t know the time.  When we deny it.  When we refuse its heed.  When we race ahead to a time we are not ready for.  When we live in a time that has already passed.

What time is it for you?

I’ve seen 19 and 20-year-olds arrested for burglary because they didn’t accept that it was time to get a job.  Heartbroken spouses hiding black eyes behind sun glasses or wearing long sleeves in the summer to cover up bruises because they couldn’t gather their strength when it was time to leave the relationship.  People on the news in horrific mug shots after they drunkenly killed someone because they didn’t realize it was time to get help for their drinking problem.   Headlines of politicians in high places now arrested for fraud or bribery or stealing because they didn’t recognize it was time to just be grateful.  A family out on the street and living in their car or throwing themselves at the mercy of some friend or family member because they didn’t admit, in time, that they couldn’t afford their house payments.  A young teen girl wants to jump ahead in time so she dresses like she’s in her twenties and gets involved with already-men who leave her pregnant in her sophomore year of high school.  So many who leave ruins to today because they simply cannot accept that someone left them in the past, that something changed, that something happened.  Years go by and no one comes and no one stays and nothing changes and nothing happens…

What time is it?

Is it time to get help?  Is it time to step in?  Is it time to let go?  Is it time to get out?  Is it time to finally hear?  Is it time to finally forgive?  Is it time to reach out?  Is it time to choose differently?  Is it time to try again?

What does your clock say?

There are always symptoms that our clocks are broken.  It might be as glaring as our blood pressure numbers creeping up to tell us we are eating too much salt.  It might be as obvious as our orange jumpsuit when we land in jail because we didn’t realize it was time to get a job instead of steal, to let her go instead of kill her, to accept his choices instead of stalking him….

But sometimes it’s not as glaring as my chipped and cracked clock on the floor of my living room….

Sometimes it’s just realizing that, out of the 100 things you do in a day, you don’t really love any of them.  Or that person you love and have given everything to?  They are nice and kind and generous and thoughtful to everyone…except you.  Or maybe it’s that hidden, nagging jealousy when you see someone with more freedom to do as they choose.  Free time in their lives while you still have seventeen more things to do and eleven more stops to make before you collapse tonight.

Maybe it’s just realizing that your bestie just rolled her eyes because you are, for the thousandth time, complaining about the same thing.  Maybe you finally hear your spouse or partner saying they want to have some fun or they need to change things up.

There may be symptoms in the people you think you are giving everything to and yet are missing something important.  Your 12 year-old daughter is wearing way-too-sexy clothes and texting late at night.  Your husband, all of a sudden, has to travel for work and stay late at the office four nights a week.  You realize that all you do is bitch and complain at every turn.  You dread going to work every morning.  You put off your doctor’s annual exam because you never did join the gym for New Year’s.

I know, in my own life, I hear the ticking of things I need to do.  Things I need to change.  Things that are uncomfortable.  Things I’d rather not.

I’ve decided to start installing the phrase, “It’s time to….” in my every day.  I know, right off the bat, it’s time to stop eating like I’m 23 years old and 120 pounds of energy and calorie-burning muscle.  It’s time to stop working three jobs and make a road to return to my dream of being a writer, full-time.  It’s time to sort through all the boxes I brought here when we sold my parents’ house and our farm and everything just got thrown into a dozen boxes and stored on a shelf now years ago.

It’s time.  And time, in all her glory, keeps moving on.  Our lives keep moving on.  Moving towards their ends.

We can choose to do nothing about our dreams or about the things we want or no longer want.  There will be more than enough reasons and rationalizations and everyone will get it.  Everyone is busy.  No one seems to have enough time in their days.

But it’s up to us.  At the end of our time, what do we want our life stories to read like?  What do we want them to say?  To reflect back about our choices?

Only we can decide our time.  Only we can decide how we fill it.  We may make decisions or choose not to on behalf of people we love or people who come and go.  We may lament that this or that is taking up so much.  We may have built-in reasons for this choice or that.   But, in the end, our life story will be the one that we wrote.  Each year, each month, each week, each day.  There won’t be anyone else to blame if our time was wasted.  If it was frittered away.  If it was disregarded or disrespected.  If it was given to people or jobs that gave nothing good in return.

We can jump ahead in time.  We can stay in the past of time.  But our biggest life problems are so often the failure to realize what time it actually is and to honor that particular time.  Each segment of time has its place, its noteworthy presence.  It is hungry for our attention.  It tugs at our shirt tails.

We can pull a cake out of the oven too soon.  We can leave the lettuce in the fridge too long.  We can forget to use that coupon before it expires.  We can race to the bank to find it closed an hour earlier.

What time is it?

Our lives are spotted and splashed with remnants and reminders of instances when we had the wrong timing.  People we loved, people we hurt, choices we made, chances we missed.

I went onto Amazon and ordered a new clock.  It will get here this week.   I want to know what time it is.

Do you?

 

 

 

March 27, 2016

The Thing About Easter Is…

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 10:31 am

I was a girl still.  This was maybe thirty-five years ago or so.  Our modest Lutheran Church decided to celebrate a sun rise service out on the front lawn of our church.  There, in the dew drop coolness of a gorgeous Easter morning, we gathered.  In our Easter finest, with great joy and humility in our hearts, we broke the silent morning with a sweet and true celebration of the day.

And then a car sped past honking, flipping us off and yelling, “Fu**ing A%%holes”

Makes me laugh even now.

The thing about Easter is that it is the greatest decision in the history of religion.  In the history of faith.  In the history of history.

And it is ours, each, to make.

What do you believe?

There is evidence that a man was born and his parents named him Jesus.  There is evidence he lived during a tumultuous time when power and religion battled.  There is evidence he grew up and began to speak of life and of living, both on this Earth and in another, greater place.  There is evidence he gained both beloved followers and suspicious opposition.  There is evidence that political figures during that time were aware of him and struggled to balance his positive impact with a growing roar of fear and discontent.  There is evidence he was ultimately crucified as a threat to the rule and religion of the day.

And then comes Easter.

And then comes you.  And then comes me.

I am sitting here on a glorious Easter morning.  The sun has skirted the morning in hopeful glory and temperatures are promised near seventy.  Birds are flitting and singing outside my window.   I am enjoying recalling yesterday with my family.   Grateful for these people, great and small.  Huge and gentle hearts are theirs.  Smiling at all the beautiful colors of the day, the wonderful food, the blessings in my life too many to count.

It is a morning for everyone.  For some it will be church, for some it will be bunnies and colored eggs.  For some it will be just a regular Sunday off.  For others, a day at work, a day on the campaign trail, on the battlefield, measuring loss or gain, love and hatred, how much and how little, how better and how worse.

The decision we make on a day of great decisions, is ours and ours alone.  It is up to us, what we ultimately believe.  Broken down, it is like much of life.  We take what we know…we take what evidence there is….and then it is up to us what we do next.

Faith.

Do you, today, take the evidence you have been given, and choose to decide, in your heart of hearts, that the man they crucified that day rose from the dead three days later?  Do you choose to believe that, amidst all the preachers and teachers of that day and all the poor souls who were crucified in such barbaric manner for whatever perceived sins they committed, this man was the Son of God?

The power to decide is extraordinary.  It is yours.  It is ours.  And it is a glorious reminder that we are not victims of anything.  We wield mighty swords.  The shiny blades of choice.

In any of life’s moments….In any of our situations…Whatever we face…

How great the simple and grand power to choose.

If we have options, choices, possibilities…If there are multiple roads out…If there is even one…

Then we have every reason to celebrate.  Each day.  Each glorious morning or hope and of possibility.

If there is time, then there is time.  We’ve seen buzzer-beaters from beyond half-court.  We’ve seen people recover after dire doctors’ prognosis.  We’ve seen improbable comebacks and unbelievable finishes.

There is evidence of this.

What, then, do you believe?

In one lifetime, in one relationship, in one situation, in one disease, in one condition, in one problem, in one moment….

Let’s celebrate that it is ours to make.  Ours to seize.  Ours to grab.  Ours to chase.

On a quiet, sunny, Easter Sunday, we will choose, each, whether we believe that a crucified man was really the Son of God.  Beyond that, in each corner and crevice of our lives, we will choose.  Again and again.  Even not choosing is a choice in itself.

Believe whatever you want today.  But believe it is your choice.  Believe that you, alone, have the power and, with great power comes sometimes great change.

Are you willing?

Not many people, by all accounts, watched Jesus being crucified.  They stayed away out of fear, out of shame, out of hopelessness, out of handfuls of emotions we all sift through and suffer.

Are you going to take a leap of faith?  Are you going to summon up all the crazy courage and jitter bug dancing fire to blast through that door?

What are you going to believe?  That you can cure that bastard cancer?  That you can leave that lousy relationship?  That you can make that dream a reality, the one no one believes you can?  That you can come from the homeless car you sleep in and graduate from Yale?  That you, with your missing legs, can cross the finish line of that marathon?  That you can recover from whatever loss and rebound and soar?

What are you going to believe this day?

Are you going to turn a deaf ear to the naysayers?  A blind eye to the screaming gaps of odds in your favor?  Are you going to stand there in the morning sun and believe, even when those people are speeding by and honking and calling you an asshole?

It is your choice.  And mine.

Me?  I’m going to go for it.

Are you?

 

 

 

February 28, 2016

Let’s All Be Cats

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 11:56 am

I drove down a road near my old family house the other day and, instinctively, I looked down a particular side street like I’ve done for forty-some years.  Same road.  Same side street.

Forty+ years ago I was in the backseat of a car driven by my dad and I looked down that side street and, amazingly, I saw a young girl riding a grey horse.  Right down the street.  Now, mind you, I am not 100 years old.  This was not before cars.  We didn’t live out in the country.  For a young girl who asked for a horse every Christmas, this was stupendiforous.  This was over the moon.  It was proof that girls like me got to ride horses in the middle of suburbia.

It was hope.

I have glanced down that street every passing since.  Hundreds of times over decades.  Always looking for that horse.

What does that have to do with us being cats?

Some might argue that, with all the weight I’ve gained since my injury and all the nice afternoon naps I’ve taken in the sun, I’ve already adopted being a cat for a long time now….

My point about the horse on that side street four decades ago is that it didn’t occur to me back then that THAT wasn’t the norm.   That maybe that young girl rode down that street once in her lifetime.  The rest was just a story I made up.

Lately I’ve heard from a bunch of TBI survivors who, after this year and that, continue to struggle with what once was.  With all that is missed and all that was lost.  Hard to move forward.  Hard to embrace forward.

They keep looking down that side street, too.  Only their glances are in the rear-view mirror…

We’ve all heard the saying about a cat having nine lives and, when one escapes a particularly dangerous event or situation, someone will say s/he has used up one of its lives.

Maybe our old lives are that horse on the side street.

If today’s medicines and Kale and all the Internet vitamins and healthy body plans are going to get us all to ninety, then I submit, just for today, that we have nine lives, too.

If each of our nine lives, the cats that we are, lasts a decade, then it only makes sense that each life be new and different.

I read somewhere once that we should change our hairstyles every five years.   That, in today’s world, the average person will hold fourteen jobs in their lifetime.  That fifty percent of people get divorced.

Lives are meant to change.  All nine of ours.

Look at what we were meant to learn and do in elementary school, in our pre-teen years, as teenagers, in our twenties…

Each decade, each one of our cat lives, served to guide us, enhance us, compliment us, humble us, steer us, wake us up, save us, send us…

And then we go get our hair cut.

We can look at our decades and they have school.  Odd jobs, maybe.  This partner.  That spouse.  This apartment, that starter house.  Kids.   That one hamster and those two dogs.  Those favorite neighbors.  That great backyard.  That terrific boss.  That terrible mustache.  That fabulous car.  That lousy break-up.  Left that house.  Left that relationship.  Shaved the mustache.  Grew a goatee.  Sent the kids to college.  Down-sized to a condo.  Hook-up with an old flame that one night.  Company moved you out of state.  Dyed the hair red.  Got rid of that black lacquer bedroom set.  Adopted a cat.  Lost everything when the economy crashed.  Back to school.  Doctor said to lose weight.  Wife’s parents’ died.  Your parents moved in with you.   Kids moved back in with you.  Daughter pregnant.

And yes, brain injury.

In a hundred ways, for a thousand days, our lives have changed.  Everything does.

Each decade of our lives is different.  It’s supposed to be.

We take the good, when it’s ours to take.  Ours to choose.  It hurts the most when we wanted something or someone to stay.

Yet still time keeps on ticking.

That grey horse was not how everything was.  It was a special moment.  A gift, maybe.  A delight along the way.

How many of those nine lives do I have left?  Do you?

We have to look forward.  The grey horse is long gone and one day I promise myself I will drive that road and not look down that side street.

What life are you on?  Do you need a new hair style?  Do you need to take the great memory of that horse but realize it’s not going to be there again?

There’s no sense looking down that side street for something I know is never going to be there again.  It takes my eyes off the road when I am in the driver’s seat now.

Look ahead.  Keep forward.  Remember that horse and smile as you pass on by.  We are cats, remember.  We have many miles to run.

And maybe a perfect nap awaits in the afternoon sunshine.

 

 

 

 

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