I was listening to a story about a gentleman in his nineties who had recently died. Despite living in poverty he regularly bought birdfeed for the wildlife that visited his yard. He had one reason. When he was a young man he had been imprisoned in a concentration camp. From his cell the only thing he could see through the window near the ceiling was the occasional bird flying by. It was these birds that gave him hope. They helped he dream about freedom. They helped him imagine himself beyond the immediate circumstance he found himself in.
When he was liberated from the concentration camp he kept his one promise, his promise to never fail to feed the birds. And so, despite his meager means, he always kept the birds fed that visited his backyard.
As I heard the story, I was not able to contain my tears. I had to pull over to the side of the road to give myself time compose myself.
Later that day, I shared the story and my own reaction to it with a friend. In retelling the story I was once again overcome with emotion. I explained that I rarely had this type of response to stories prior to my brain injury.
In response to that, my friend asked if I hoped to maintain this level of sensitivity. I’m not sure. On the one hand I see it as a good thing. I mean, can one be too empathetic? On the other hand it seems rather disruptive to be hyper sensitive.
If I listen to a similar story but with fictitious characters, my response is very neutral. It’s just a story.
The stories or situations that touch me deeply usually involve someone dealing with a personal struggle or someone reaching out with compassion.
Recently a niece of mine was dealing with a serious health situation in which her child had been put into an induced coma. My heart went out to him. Each time I heard an update on how he was doing I was in tears.
Last week I walked through the church yard with my grandson. We were looking at different grave stones and commenting on some of the people, different neighbours we I had known from the last 30 years. When I saw Percy’s grave stone, dated almost 20 years ago, I was moved to tears. I had known him for a number of years. He had come to Canada as a Bernardo child. His disability limited him to working as a farm hand. He had been badly treated as a farm hand for many years. The memory of the struggles he had gone through and the compassion that the last family had shown him touched me deeply.
These experiences and many other similar situations make me realize I am a different person from a year ago. In addition to the brain injury, I could no longer continue my job. As a result I no longer identify myself by my job title. I now realize that the job title coloured my view of myself more than I realized. I no longer carry the responsibilities or the demands on my time. Life has slowed down considerably. I now have more time to focus on other matters.
I now have time for people who live right around me. The half hour or forty-five minute commute, twice a day, are behind me. In the past year I have spent more time with people in the neighbourhood and have met more new neighbours than I did in the previous 29 years that we have lived on Minifie Rd.
I also found out recently that we no longer live rural but now actually live in the hamlet. No, we did not move our house. The hamlet now includes our property through some invisible shift. Not that the change gives us any additional municipal services.
My familiarity with fatigue and headaches makes me take my time when completing chores or running errands. I have no need to hurry. I’m not living with goals that have firm or urgent deadlines. That part is rather enjoyable. At the same time I am finding things to do that are meaningful or rewarding on a different level.
My slower pace is particularly noticeable when I am experiencing fatigue. I have become that annoying driver on the road that is driving at the speed limit or, oh horrors enough, even below the speed limit. I can’t believe how hard it is to push that gas pedal down a bit harder. If I think of it I switch to cruise control for the sake of the traffic behind me.
One of my slowed down activities that I’m actually enjoying is playing Snakes & Ladders. It’s not the Snakes & Ladders that exciting, but watching my four year old grandson’s excitement when playing the game. He’s excited when he gets to go up a ladder. He gets twice as loud and excited when he goes down a snake, because then the game will take longer.
I’ve made the game more interesting by suggesting that he not count out the moves after he rolls the dice but to simply add the numbers together. It’s fascinating seeing his number sense grow. Soon he was telling me which numbers to not roll to avoid the snakes. Recently he did some subtraction to figure out how many spaces a particular snake would set him back.
I’m starting to acknowledge the reality of what I read recently. An experience with mTBI means I will never be the same person again. In some ways I’m okay with that. Some days.