Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it. Helen Keller.
Helen Keller is one of my heroes. As a little girl she was struck down by what doctors in the 1880s termed a ‘brain illness’; although it is suspected in modern times that she may have had meningitis or encephalitis. She became deaf and blind as a consequence.
My brain injury left me in no way as impaired as Helen Keller, although it did mean living in a different way. A matter of great consequence eight years ago, but something of very little concern now.
That different way of living was greeted in the first instance like an uninvited and unexpected guest at a party. I refused to make friends with it and didn’t want to get to know it very much. It was boring, sucked all the joy out of life and had it been a person, I would have considered obtaining a restraining order forbidding it to have any contact with me.
Call me pessimistic, but please forgive me for not seeing the ‘silver lining’ in this one.
Quite unintentionally, something happened without me looking for it. This uninvited and unexpected guest had an important message to bring. I would have preferred that the guest arrived with a bottle of Rioja instead; but this guest did bring a life lesson which was a bit like a good Spanish wine. It was a complex bouquet of a lesson, which manifested itself in a crisp clarity after the initial cloudiness dissipated. (Memo to self – stop reading pretentious Wine magazines.)
After some time, I did notice an increased kindness. It crept up on me, (a bit like someone you’d need a restraining order against,) and it was there, lurking in the bushes. A greater pull of the heartstrings here, an increased connectedness there. Quite beautiful, really.
The smallest gestures of kindness in others became profound moments for me. Maybe for the other person it was an inconsequential act, but for me, something to remember, emulate and pass on to others.
The medical model of brain injury measures us in deficits, with reduced abilities of this and that; but the increased kindness and empathy it brings is rarely something we’re tested for. When people ask my father if the brain injury has changed me, he answers glibly, ‘Yes, she’s nicer now.’
Helen Keller said, ‘The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.’
I live with fatigue. High stamina levels are not necessary for giving and receiving kindness. Just experience it, feel it and pass it on.