Finding Solace after Brain Injury

Birth is a beginning and life slowly unfolds to a future we can imagine but not foresee. We make important choices along the way, but the tenor of our lives is set by circumstances beyond our control. Life’s vicissitudes are inescapable, as when you sustain a brain injury. Your path veers off as if a “reset” switch in your brain was flipped, re-born into a new, very different body and mind. Although we think of our ‘self’ as immutable, human beings are never static. We are malleable. We learn. We adjust. It’s incredibly hard, but possible.

Personally, I accept the reality of living with brain injury but still struggle to accept what it’s done to me. (does that make sense?) My mind had always been so sharp and now is often foggy, confused. I had been so strong, able to help others but now am vulnerable, needing others’ support. I have to remind myself that brain injury is just one part of my life, perhaps the most challenging I have faced so far, but it won’t be the last. It’s not really the end of the world or even the end of my world.

I find solace among those on the same path knowing we face the unknown together. And I turn to this prayer* as a touchstone that offers me hope and reassurance. It is a reminder that pain is part of being alive, and that victory is measured not by how high you climb but simply by having made the ‘pilgrimage.’ In a way, that gives me permission to be proud of each day as it propels me forward on the journey that is the rest of my life.

Birth is a beginning
And death a destination.
And life is a journey;
From innocence to awareness
And ignorance to knowing;
From foolishness to discretion
            And then, perhaps, to wisdom;
From weakness to strength
Or strength to weakness—
            And, often, back again;
From health to sickness
And back, we pray, to health again;
From offense to forgiveness,
From loneliness to love,
From joy to gratitude,
From pain to compassion,
And grief to understanding—
From fear to faith;
From defeat to defeat to defeat—
Until, looking backward or ahead,
We see that victory lies
Not at some high place along the way,
But in having made the journey
            stage by stage,
A sacred pilgrimage.
Birth is a beginning
And death a destination,
And life is a journey,
A sacred pilgrimage—
To life everlasting.

This prayer also brings to mind an extraordinary moment between Anderson Cooper and Stephen Colbert on CNN’s AC360 (watch the interview here, on twitter). 

AC: You told the interviewer that you have learned, in your own words, to “love the thing that I most wish hadn’t happened.” Do you really believe that?
SC: Yes. It’s a gift to exist, and with existence comes suffering. There’s no escaping that.

—Laurie


* Central Conference of American Rabbis (1996), Gates of Repentance: The New Union Prayerbook for the Days of Awe. p. 283.