Kara Swanson's Brain Injury Blog

January 3, 2013

The Mayans, Two Simple Words, Brain Injuries and Life

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 1:32 am

For many years, the date of December 21, 2012 hung there in the back of our collective consciousness.  Like gray hair and wrinkles and dreaded diseases and death itself, it reminded us that there is an end waiting.   Many of us worry over when we will die so it was kind of the Mayans to take away all the hand-wringing and just tell us when it would all be over.

I never believed that the world would end on December 21st.  I came across a show while channel surfing one night on the folks who take end-of-the-world or, at least, end-of-life-as-we-know-it threats to a whole new level.  As I watched them plan walking exits from their cities and rehearse family emergency strategies to survive natural disaster or man-made disaster, I was a little nervous…not knowing if they were the crazy ones or was I.  They have six months or even a year’s worth of food and bottled water and supplies to survive on.  I look around here and wonder if Tim Horton’s would still have power so I could get a hot cup of coffee in the wake of a disaster…

I thought of we brain injured that night when the world was supposed to end.   We bring to each event in our lives the only things we have:  perspective, experience, our own capacity and desire to learn, our support circle or lack thereof. 

When you suffer a brain injury, you are surrounded by a usual lack of experience.  A whole mountain of fear.   A lot of vague prognosis.  And, if you are like me, you have a whole bunch of people looking at you with wide eyes and saying, “Oh man, Kara, you’re f*cked.”

But, as is the case with everyone who woke up the day after the world was supposed to come to an end December 21st, you realize that you woke up.  The world didn’t end.

And neither did you.

Many lifetimes in one….

It’s been more than twenty years now since I heard my Mom’s voice.  A whole lifetime ago,  I often say.  I’m coming up on seventeen years ago since I was a caterer.   Thirty years ago since  I was in high school….

Lifetimes ago.

And so, when I get to that week after Christmas when the excitement and anticipation of the season has gone but the new year is not yet upon us, I find myself in that weird transition between chapters.

Some find that that week between Christmas and New Year’s last for years.  For a fist-full of reasons, we each write our own chapters and they are longer and they are shorter.

They are ours, after all.

I think one of our biggest problems is when we allow ourselves to believe that it’s all supposed to look the same, year after year.  We are lulled by our Christmastimes, granted.  We eat the same foods and shop for the same people and send out the same cards and heck, I even wear the same sweater.  Year after year.

So we’re tucked so warmly, comforted by familiarity, greeting the new year with a false sense of confidence and welcome. 

And then we’re just shocked and thrown sideways when that new year turns a page and we start reading and we can’t believe what is happening.  We didn’t want that person to die.  We didn’t want that partner to leave.  We didn’t want that job to end.  We didn’t want that law to pass.  We didn’t want that diagnosis.  We didn’t want those wrinkles or gray hairs or soft middles or bad credit or broken water pump or favorite TV show cancellation…

The Mayans didn’t have it wrong because they said our world would end on December 21st.  They had it wrong because our worlds, as we know them, end every day.

And THAT’S the hard part.  That’s the one that stings.

Because it means admitting that we don’t have power over near what we’d like to think we do.  Ask the parents in Connecticut with presents that never got opened.  Ask the families on the East Coast with no home to even return to. 

There is evidence everywhere.  All around us.  It’s not some new gimmick.  It’s not some exception.

It is life.

And so, as we embark on this fabulous New Year, this new chapter, this new adventure, the key word is new.   None of us can imagine exactly what 2013 has in store for us. 

We can plan and we can control and we can protect ourselves and we can pray….

But life gets in.   Life, with all her sharp elbows and trick plays.  All her faked punts and last-second shots to beat the buzzer. 

Life will take your father and gift you a daughter, all in the same week.  She will give you everything you dreamed of having, only to find out none of those things mattered by the time you acquired them.

Life will take and take and steal and grab and pinch and be cruel and painful and unfair.

And you’ll lament how quickly she flies by, wishing there was more of her to live.

At the end of the day, it’s more about…not how we squeeze to control and fight against her and all the events and circumstances she creates around us….But more about how we react and go on.  How we accept and adjust.  How we cling to and choose to be hopeful.  To transition from the warm comforts of Christmas to the cold, bright glare of a mysterious journey which promises nothing.

We didn’t all die on December 21st.  We didn’t all die the day we suffered our brain injuries.  We didn’t all die after all the surprising and heart-breaking things that have filled our lives.

We lived. 

And the impact of those two words…The reaction to those words…The size of them and the feel of them and the power of them….

Will color every New Year, every new day, every new breath that Life gifts us.  It will determine when we end chapters and start them and who we will choose to share them with.  It will empower us and feed us, enriching and lavishing upon us.

Or it will steal and deflate.  It will sap the color and extinguish the flames…

Thankfully, each one of us gets to decide.

Happy New Year, everyone.  I pray you will all find your own version of success and happiness and that you will know good health each step before you.  



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