One of the first things I was taught as a child was how to find the rainbow in the clouds. So, finding the meaning through the trauma of my accident was something I have been preparing for my whole life. Part of that entails being able to hold two seemingly opposite things at the same time. Things aren’t wholly good or bad, they can be both. It is also possible to feel gratitude in the face of loss. And loss in the face of gratitude. Life often demands that we feel both together. That’s being really alive.
My losses have been coming up for me more recently than they have in 3 years. The other day a thought came up that made me feel a little sadness. At first, I tried to go on with my day and think of something else. But then I recognized that this was the first time in years that the feeling had really come up in this way. And how important it was to feel it.
So I went outside to a place where I could be beside the trees and I cried. I let myself cry and feel my losses. I let them all come up. I felt it and I cried. And it hurt, but it was a relief.
There are parts about my life, before getting hurt, that I do miss. Certain aspects like being able to take more than 2 classes at a time, or being able to run in the rain, or ride ocean waves, of course, but more recently in my personal life. Just being able to live independently in Philly with friends who are also living independently and figuring things out alongside one another.
Those aren’t feelings that I think I’ve been keeping bottled up, but they are feelings that I really haven’t given a voice to, and honestly haven’t felt. Now that I feel them, I want to give them a voice and an honest one. It makes me feel connected to the people who feel like they lost something with and in me because of the accident.
One of the reasons I think I haven’t felt this loss is because my mind is so often occupied with the daily tasks of recovery. And when it’s not, I’m focusing on the different reasons I have to be grateful. I hope I have expressed before how frequently and ardently I feel thankful. But my gratitude does not erase the sadness that has come up recently over the losses.
I feel like some loved ones in my life are not sure exactly how to ask me how I am, or how to interact with me in a way more like they used to. When I put myself in your shoes, I can understand why you would be less sure of yourself. It might not always be easy to remember when you see me, but please talk to and treat me as you would have 3 years ago. If you feel sad for or about me, please tell me! It might not be comfortable. But I want to know how my life impacts others. It doesn’t make me feel bad, it makes me feel better to know how I am received. And makes me feel more connected to you, which I want.
I have been looking at some old journals recently and reflecting on how different my inner voice is now in comparison to the old entries. Rereading old journal entries makes me see how fearful I was before. I think it can be hard for anyone to put themselves back in their thinking in years past, much less someone with a brain injury, but I can do this because I have a number of old journals that I have that show me. Since I was a young teen, I have journaled about almost everything. I would process my feelings about my family, about my romantic interests, going into detail of how it all hit me. I have recently read these old journals and it struck me how fearful I sounded. I would worry about things like liking 2 boys at once that I look back now and think, ‘Julia, you should have been psyched..!’
There may be people who relate to the more fearful person I used to be. Most of the fears that come up may not even register as being that, so it is a practice of recognizing the fears when they arise. Once you become more practiced at recognizing this, you are more able to see the choice you have in feeling and leading with fear or with love.
I do not feel regretful that 2017 Julia cannot be here conversing and interacting with you. I know that’s probably still hard for some of you, but I feel like I am in some ways more able to meet you mentally and emotionally- if you are honest with and meet me exactly where I am. Because I know that’s where I’m supposed to be. I know I am who and how I’m supposed to be right now, including the losses, which gives me compassion for others, and I don’t want to go back. Thank you for continuing to take this journey with me.
NOTE FROM MOM: WHAT I’VE LEARNED WATCHING JULIA
I recently attended a funeral for my father-in-law where I watched Julia ascend the altar stairs to do a reading. With her obvious limp, I thought that the empaths in the congregation likely felt badly for her. Her gait makes her look unsteady. On the street, she draws side glances sometimes from curious strangers trying to act “normal”. I’m sure people assume from her limp, that her brain is limping too. But, it’s not. It’s jumping hurdles.
Whatever Julia experienced in the 2-3 weeks she was on death’s door, I’ll never know. I have heard testimonials from others, who have had near-death experiences, and they all say the same thing. Once they were free of their bodies, they floated into a state of pure peace. Where all fear disappears. All that’s left around them is love. And this state of pure love feels like the Heaven we’ve imagined. Nirvana.
Julia is in this state everyday. Whatever she experienced on the other side, she came back with a different soul. I say that without hyperbole. She is the embodiment of every spiritual tomb I’ve ever read. And she is light years ahead of me. Watching someone who’s been through an undeserved ordeal, and not see their heart harden from it, but rather break open in a way that gives them more room to love others, including the driver, is something magical to behold. And it is contagious.
You have heard us say, The opposite of fear is love. And the only way to vanquish fear is to apply love to it. Love in the form of gratitude or compassion. Nowhere is this more evident to me than watching Julia.
Julia’s first words as a baby were Thank you. True story. Today, when I bring down the laundry, she says Thank you. When I check the mail, she says Thank you. When I feed the cat, she says Thank you. When I go to the gym, she says, thank you for taking care of yourself. When I say, “Thank you for seeing it that way!” she says, “Thank you for reminding me I have a choice!” This Thank-you-boomerang goes on all day. If you live in the lap of that kind of gratitude, daily, and reminders that every action you take is rooted in the choice of love or fear, it shapes you profoundly. By osmosis, it seeps in.
I know from this, one of the most important things in life is to surround yourself with people who support and influence you positively. Avoid complainers. That is just fear. Fear breeds more fear. Compassion breeds more compassion. Love breeds love.
If you have been following our story, you know we asked for clemency for the driver, and suggested a Restorative Justice model from the courts, which spared the driver a potential 7 yr incarceration. I sometimes wonder if anyone judges me for that. What kind of mother would forgive her daughter’s assailant so quickly?
The answer is compassion.
The compassion I had for him started before I met him. Because it happened on campus, I assumed it was a student who ran the light and hit Julia. On my 80 MPH I-95 trip to the hospital, I thanked God that Julia was the one who got hurt and not vice versa. Hurting someone else so severely would have been harder for me to recover from, and harder for her.
If you look at this person’s mugshot, you might think he ran the light on his way to a drug deal. Would it surprise you to know he was in a hurry to get to organ practice at 1 of the 2 churches he plays for?
I heard someone say once, It’s impossible to hate someone whose story you know. I know the driver’s back story. He is from a wonderful family. He is a man of faith. They all love and pray for Julia constantly.
With that said, we have expectations of him still! Recently, I suggested he write Julia’s dad a Thanksgiving note to remind Pat that he is still “paying” for the crime in his own way. When he asked for ideas of what to say, I sent the following:
I’m not sure how to advise you. Restorative Justice is about accountability. He wants to hear how you’ve been accountable. Earning every day you aren’t in prison while Julia is in sort of a prison of her own because of you. Have you gotten your license reinstated? Have you gotten insurance? What’s the last thing you’ve done for Restorative Justice including spreading the word? What have you done for Julia recently to let us know you are remembering her every day?
Gratitude isn’t about being grateful for the trauma. No one is grateful for a brain injury and partial paralysis. You are grateful for what comes from the trauma and what comes because of it. In Julia’s case, it was the absence of fear. She gets exhausted being around it. Even the kind of fear that sometimes comes in the form of sarcasm. She is just this big ball of love and light. And her compassion for others is off the charts. When we see a sad story on the news, she reaches for my hand and says, “Let’s say a prayer for them.” When I catch her staring off with her big toothy grin, I know what she’s going to say when I ask her of what she is thinking. “I’m just so excited about the past, present and future!” She says this every day. And she means it. Wouldn’t’ that be a nice way to live? I thank God every day for it.
What I’ve learned from all this is, Forgiveness is our Superpower. It changes you and it changes them. And it all starts with compassion.
A challenge to you is, this 13th, on the anniversary of Julia’s accident, pick one person you can’t forgive. And don’t even forgive them yet if it’s too hard. But start with compassion. Think of one thing about them for which you can have compassion. If you think about that, rather than focus on the transgression, you might feel your shoulders relax a little. You might find you’ve created an inch or 2 more room in your heart for yourself or others. What can it hurt?
Have a Fearless, Forgiving, Compassionate Holiday!
Let everything happen to you
Beauty and terror
Just keep going
No feeling is final.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke