Kara Swanson's Brain Injury Blog

November 23, 2010

The Eighteenth Blessing

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 7:01 pm

Auntie Celia was this top-drawer woman who was always a class act.  She’d show up to our holidays with her hair done, her mink wrap, her coordinated jewelry, high heels and gorgeous outfit.  She looked so glamorous.  She smelled so good.  She was kind.  She bent down to look me in the eye when I was talking.  She made me feel like whatever I was saying was important. 

Auntie Celia was very religious but not in a preachy way.  She never used hate in the name of a loving God.  She never ostracized or judged, using religion as a ticket to strike anyone down.  Her religious lifestyle was more of a “love everybody” kind of mantra.  Just a fine woman.  One of the best I’ve ever known.

I was nine or ten when, crowded around our dining room table with the table extensions inserted and the card table attached, Auntie Celia suggested that this particular Thanksgiving we should go around the table and each offer up something we were thankful for.


There were probably seventeen people besides me, all crammed in our tiny kitchen.  Each took their turn, stealing all the possible things I could think of to be thankful for.   Family, food, friends, health…People were really reaching by the tenth, eleventh one.  Curses!  Someone stole the one about nice neighbors.  Dammit!!!!

Total Panic Now!!!!  What am I going to say!!!!??????

As we got closer, my brother said U of M football.  That was back when we actually went to Rose Bowls so I can see where that fit back then.

Closer, closer…I’m not even listening now.  I’m praying.  Please, God, give me something to say so I don’t look like a total idiot.

When it finally came to my turn, we had now thanked God for basically everything I had ever known or could possibly conjure.  Surely I was going to be the only dumb dumb who couldn’t come up with anything to be thankful for.   But, at the last second, I shouted, “Socrates!”  Socrates was my hamster.   No one else was thankful for Socrates and thank God for that.   Auntie Celia winked at me.  She smiled.  I had passed.  Whew!

Today, as I was driving home, I put on the station that is already playing Christmas music nonstop.  Usually I am adamant not to put on that station until early December because it makes me feel like I’m already behind in Christmas planning by Halloween.  But when I heard, “Cuz we need a little Christmas, right this very minute….”  I was hooked.  I sang it as loudly as I could, bopping my head.  It made me laugh at myself.

Seems we do need a little Christmas, right this very minute.  Every day my local paper emails me the day’s headlines.  Most days they read like a horror movie.   “Teens stab couple to death in family home.”  “Woman bilks mother out of more than $350,000.”  “Bullied teen ends life jumping off of bridge.”  “Twins shoot each other in suicide pact.”  “Warehouse for poor and homeless looted.”  “Pastor murdered in church parking lot.”

We need a little Christmas now….

When I first started writing this blog a couple of years ago, I was wildly wrong about two very significant beliefs I held.   The first was:  Everyone who has  survived a near-fatal injury, one which has left them alive and enjoying a second life,  are most grateful for that gift and appreciating every single day they get to see.  That was mistaken.  The second belief was:  Those who  have NOT suffered a near fatal injury, or condition or catastrophe, are all most grateful for that gift and appreciating every single day they get to see.  That was mistaken too.

What I’ve found, instead, is such a mind-boggling amount of people who aren’t grateful at all.   Whether they suffer a garish sense of entitlement, a lack of perspective, a shameless  loss of priority or just a dismal forfeiture of hope, it seems like too many are coming to the incredulous conclusion that homicide, suicide, assault, bullying, hatred, rape, or prejudice is the best option they can come up with.

Maybe we should just skip Thanksgiving altogether. 

Or maybe we need it now more than ever. 

How many of us will go around the table and get to the 18th blessing or gift and still have a contribution they are thankful for this Thursday?  Do you have 18?

Too often we mindlessly race through grace before dinner, just to get it over with so we can hurry up and get to the stuffing.  We recite the lines we’ve recited a thousand times.  Often we don’t even hear ourselves think.

I truly believe that, in an economy so stressed and buckling, there is no better time than now to be thankful, grateful, humble.  For a hot meal in a warm house shared with people you love.  My God, you have that, you have everything. 

We need to get it so that our kids get it.   We need to express it, highlight it, share it, mention it, teach it…so that our kids and theirs don’t ever feel like there is nothing worth staying for.  Nothing worth battling for.  No one worth battling with.   

Seems maybe we’ve been defining ourselves by all the wrong things. 

When we define ourselves by our successful job, our impressive title, our handsome spouse, an enviable talent, our perfect kids, our gobs of money, our fancy cars….we then are defined by something that can be lost, stolen, taken.  We go up and down and are blown sideways because we’ve staked our claims on things that cannot last.   And, once gone, often quickly so, we recognize nothing for which to live a grateful life.  We are all about the job and, in this economy, the job gets cut.   We’re all about our ability to play football and then we blow out the knee.  We’re all about that hottie of a babe wife and then she runs off with your son’s English teacher.   We’re all about how much money we have and then the stock market tanks and the job gets lost. 

What’s left?

Seems to me we have to define ourselves, instead,  by something that will hold us through the loss of all the others.  Something unshakeable.  An unshakeable truth.  An unyielding spirit. 

For that there can be nothing but gratitude.  Thanks.  Humility.  Appreciation.

I wish, for all of you, that unshakeable truth.  That anchor or strength which holds you still in the wicked  firestorm of life.  Through the losses, all the losses.   May your exclamation of blessings go round and round the table until your food gets cold this Thanksgiving. 

And may you know you will be counted as one of mine.


  1. Thank you, Kara. I am in tears (in a good way).

    Comment by Nicole — November 24, 2010 @ 9:17 am | Reply

  2. Me too, Nicole. 🙂

    Comment by karaswanson — November 24, 2010 @ 10:27 am | Reply

  3. Hi Sweet Girl,
    What a wonderful reminder. As always.
    Sending HUGS your way my dear!

    Comment by Barb G — November 24, 2010 @ 10:32 am | Reply

  4. I have just discovered you and your blog from the ‘Brainline.org’ website. Your story and this Thanksgiving post are amazing. My boyfriend had a near-fatal accident 2 years ago, which has completely altered his life. I would like to ask you a few questions, if you have time to write. You are an amazing woman. Sincerely, Ejan

    Comment by Ejan Elizabeth — November 29, 2010 @ 7:11 pm | Reply

    • Hey Ejan with the cool name….Check your personal email. I’ve sent you a note there.

      Comment by karaswanson — November 30, 2010 @ 1:04 am | Reply

  5. Kara, I have just found you! Having had a second brain injury in a whiplash accident in the UK three months ago, I found your book online then your blog here and having sunk into a bit of a ‘feeling sorry for myself’ episode over the past two weeks, I have managed to drag myself out of it and just spent the evening thinking how lucky I am to be safe and warm in my house with my christmas tree lights on, giggling at a tv programme, despite feeling a bit groggy and having a bit of a headache…….this brain injury does allow you the space and perspective to appreciate the small things in life……..so your blog is right on the money. I would be very interested in what treatments you have found most effective in your journey of recovery. Maybe I can find that in your book or blogs?

    Comment by Jules — December 14, 2010 @ 7:03 pm | Reply

    • Hi Jules from across the pond….Thanks for stopping by. Check your personal email for a note from me. Kara

      Comment by karaswanson — December 15, 2010 @ 12:20 am | Reply

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