I watched in sadness, like fists of millions, as those blinded, oil-sodden birds struggled to survive the spill in the Gulf. My initial irritation at the breaking news turned to anger and then to grief as the breadth of the catastrophe unfolded with time. As the stories of waste and debacle spread like the oil itself, the realization was quieting and breath-taking. Sickening to the soul.
I had the news on in the background one day while I was on the Internet. They were interviewing Gulf fishermen and, one by one, they lamented their new situation.
All of a sudden I realized I was finishing their sentences.
Everything we’ve known is gone now. It’ll never be the same. We’ve done this our whole lives. How will we survive this? What will we do now when this is all we’ve every done?
I thought, Whoa! How creepy is that? I was literally giving their side of the interview, answering the questions exactly as they did.
I thought, heck, I don’t even like crab legs! I gave up fishing twenty years ago when I couldn’t bear to hurt the worms or the fish any longer. I won’t even cook fish indoors in the winter and I’ve never understood putting anchovies on a perfectly good pizza.
What the heck is going on here????
And then I realized how very similar their tragedy is to the millions like me who suffer brain injury. Though most of us didn’t get our injuries because of crude oil or near fish or on the shores or in the Gulf, we may as well have for all that it changed.
In an instant it’s all different. Your day started out like a thousand before it and, by nightfall, nothing about tomorrow will every look the same. Just like that.
As the months pass by, you watch your own caps fail while your life keeps leaking. Most of us didn’t have a Plan B, either. We scramble to pull together solutions while the remnants of our lives wash on to shore in endless waves of who we were.
You don’t know what you’re going to do when, all of a sudden, the capabilities and tools you enjoyed all your life no longer greet you in the morning like a gull’s returning song soaring over an open, calm sea.
Some people have already killed themselves over this oil spill, as have some brain injury survivors. Some simply can no longer carry the loss. They cannot sit with the fear of the unknown any longer. Every footprint in that sand is a story. It’s heart-breaking.
But I felt a warm swell of pride for all my fellow survivors who suffered their tragedy without hundreds of thousands beside them suffering the same. Without the support of real understanding by everyone around them. Without thousands of volunteers racing to their aid to walk the remnants of their lives, clearing off the globs.
You Rock, Survivors! You Rock!
I cheer those tiny bands of families and friends who help us clear the horror off of our wings. Those wings that used to soar with normality. Those wings which once sent us racing toward a sky full of dreams and hopes and potential.
Too often we feel so small and lonely as much of our extended family and friends, co-workers and communities return to their lives. I’m sure, six months later, the people of ravaged Haiti are wondering where the hell all the news crews and singing rock stars went.
But you head on. Head forward. You soar again and fall once more. You make progress. You suffer setbacks. But you keep inching farther and farther away from the spill. Away from a life that can no longer be as it was. And you find, if you can, the answer to, “What else can I be?”
There are countless shops, boat companies, fishing crews and workers down in the Gulf who will be forced to box up their lives and move to new ones. Even if they never leave their homes. They will tell of “the one that got away” just as we do. The career, that first home, the spouse who couldn’t handle it, the best friend who was too embarrassed, the favorite hobby…
But just as we have learned, they will too. Like the boy in Haiti who works clearing debris in the bucket line for five dollars a day because there is nothing else he can do right now, they will find new ways to measure grateful. New ideas of what success and progress mean. They will find out how strong they can be when they don’t have an easier choice.
I pray for those affected in the Gulf. I pray that they might meet some of the thousands I’ve had the honor of meeting. There are countless brain injury survivors that the world will never see on Nightly News. But many, many are standing ramrod straight. Even some in wheelchairs. They capped their own oil spills with all the strength they could muster in order to calm and clear their seas.
I hope you’ll give yourselves a pat on the back, brain injury mates. You continue to write to me and relay to me how you navigate some of the most challenging and stressful circumstances of life for “normal” people without, often, the full cognitive capacity to manage them. I cheer all of you changing jobs, losing jobs, filling boxes and moving, surviving divorces, raising teenagers, helping aging parents and trying to open CD packaging. 😉
I continue to believe that the challenges we face allow us the opportunity to be more compassionate to those around us. It is a gift that is ours to open, if we choose. And I know that my fellow tbi survivors out there can feel a familiar, bittersweet tug in their hearts when they watch coverage of the Gulf spill. I hope, as the people of the Gulf sadly and somberly move away from their broken nets and broken hearts, they happen to run into one of you somewhere along the way. Maybe you can share a hug and a cup of coffee.