It’s been a long, impossibly difficult year since the accident. We’ve thinking about what we’ve learned.
Friendship. The first thing that comes to our minds is the value of love and true friendship. This might sound sappy, but it’s a little like that experience that occurs when you get new eyeglasses for the first time—you suddenly discover that there’s a whole lot of fine detail out there in the world that you’d been missing, that you just hadn’t seen, but that you weren’t aware of missing. Sometimes friendship, love, has come from unexpected places, from people we hardly knew before the accident, and emerged with a depth of affection and generosity that we could never could have hoped for. It has come from family, from friends we know well, friends we’ve known since childhood, colleagues, people who’ve come to visit from distant places, caregivers. This remarkable, extraordinary generosity and affection has sustained us through the rigors of the past year.
Patience, infinite patience. What you think will happen in two days often takes a week or more. And what you think will take two weeks sometimes takes two months. This is the way the process of neural recovery we have been going through works. When I asked one of my most trusted respiratory therapists what the key was to all of this, he said, time is the key. Time is the key. It takes many months of weaning off the vent to really fully realize this, and when we have been able to be genuinely patient, progress (if you want to call it that) has occurred much more quickly. A friend of ours, a sleep doctor, says that rest is almost as good as sleep; in this process you have to learn how to rest, and patience is the key to that. If you let it happen, it will happen at its own pace, and if you let sleep happen without trying to force it, it will come to you, folding you into the arms of Morpheus.
Without relapsing too much into religious vocabulary, we’ve learned that there is such a thing as faith, that there is a spiritual dimension to this, which I’ve somewhat lost sight of. That’s what the lama reminds us of when he visits. When the lama said that the body is insignificant, the mind is everything, we didn’t believe or understand at that point exactly what he meant. We also didn’t understand at that time the nature of the compassion that he said would flow from the accident and along with it the happiness that this accident and the so-called suffering it produced would yield. Of course there’s been real suffering and real anguish. Of course there have been times when we have lapsed back into comparing the present with the past and the future—these moments only produce hurt, and reduce potential for real mindfulness and concentration on the moment, however difficult it might be. But still the underlying lesson has been that there are in fact “invisible powers” that are there for you, if you will allow yourself to have faith in them, although we don’t mean this is any conventional religious way. Surely this is related to the love and true friendship we’ve mentioned above, and it’s also related to patience; both are invisible in a sense but also have power. But there’s something more to it than that, to use the cliché, something that “cannot be expressed in words” because it is beyond words. To employ the lama’s mystical discourse, it’s as natural as the rising sun and the flowing rivers and the snow that may be falling soon outside, and that’s why it is sometimes so hard to perceive, like the fine detail you see when you first get new eyeglasses. Our minds get in the way of us, Our minds block us from it, as they block us from understanding the naturalness of the rising sun and the flowing rivers. In all this, raw experience has been our teacher, experience of a sort that we never in a million years thought we would go through—indeed, we never though about the possibility of paralysis at all. It seems odd to be thankful for it, but that is the way we feel, at this moment, anyway, not thankful for the paralysis itself but for what it has brought us over the past year.