After a brain injury it can seem almost pointless to adopt long term goals and dreams. The reason is this: what’s right in front of you is often overwhelming and hard to understand, how can you even conceive of planning for the future?
Sometimes the goal is just being able to cut your food at lunch. Or stand up. Or think straight.
Eventually, though, for our own sanity, well-being
and in order to build a life, we need to construct longer term goals.
Ten years ago I was hiking on Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, staying in one of the high mountain huts, when I met an Englishman who was through hiking on the Appalachian Trail, along with his son and a hiking partner. He told me a story which, in some ways, brought me to the essence of my own battle with TBI.
He and his hiking partner grew up in the county of Suffolk in England in the 1940’s, where there were a couple of US air bases. The American airmen would tell him stories about hiking the Appalachian trail, and, as a kid, he got it in his head that he wanted to hike it. Finally, after fifty or so years of the idea percolating in his head, he told his friend he wanted to go and hike it. The man offered to go with him. That was in 1991.
They hiked for three months that year, and covered 540 miles. They went back to England swearing that they would never try that again.
Well, the year I met him marked the fifteenth consecutive year they had come back to hike. Obviously, something in the way they thought about this had changed. Each year, since 1991, they had come back for their two week vacation and picked up where they left off.
After fifteen years they had gone as far as the White Mountains in New Hampshire, with about 300 miles left until they reach the peak of Katahdin in Maine. It was going to be the toughest part of the trip.
The Finishing Touch?
When I was talking with this man about what an amazing job he had done, and how close he was to finishing, he said, “Oh, I don’t think I’ll finish.” He was 66, and his hiking partner was now 71. I felt sad for him, and it was such a great story that I immediately said, “Maybe I’ll finish it for you.” I’m not sure how that would have been possible but I said it, caught up in the moment, wanting him to finish. It just seemed like an incredible legacy which should be continued.
Listening to him, I was swept up in the cause that he had created over fifteen years of perseverance and commitment, and told him what a great legacy he was going to leave for his son; a legacy he could be proud of.
He had carried that dream a long time before actually engaging in making that dream a reality, but the fact that he never gave up on something that was important to him, and then persevered until he could go no longer, spoke volumes about what kind of man he was.
There are a lot of people who are stars for a moment, or do something great… once. Then there were other people who work hard and persevere, getting is much from the journey as they would from reaching the destination.
These are the people who live their lives; not jumping from lily pad to lily pad, but living their life as a long, connected series of events, where lessons are learned through struggle and personal experience.
I put life after brain injury in this category. The difference being, that this man from England made a choice to not live his life the easy way, but to experience things and fill himself up with this stuff that makes us human.
We Have No Choice
I, and we, have no choice, but there is much we can “get” from the journey, just as this man from England did.
I think back to this man from time to time, and from the lessons I learned from him. He helped me put my own struggles in a new light, in a way, helping to restore my dignity because of how I was now approaching my life. I was able to look beyond my day to day issues and see my life as something new and exciting that I was able to get something back every day.
I was not involved in a desperate and endless struggle to recapture what had been. My life was taking a new direction, and although I might not have had a choice of what direction it was taking, I did have choices when it came to my goals and living my everyday life.
My journey would not always be easy, but this is what I have been given. I just had to get over the fact that I didn’t have a choice.
Persistence and perseverance would strengthen my character as I worked towards my goals and dreams, and although I had no choice in the basic journey, that wouldn’t remove me from having to make other important choices. My job was simple. All I had to do was live my life, the best I could.