“…grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…”
Alert and tense, ready for any stumble, I watched him cross the living room, slowly, painstakingly, supported by the walking frame. He does it every day, and so do I. Being so accustomed to the situation we simply accept the ‘what is’. The ‘what was’ and ‘what should have beens’ do not register… they have no place in the moment. Over the past nine years we have learned to accept and deal with the demands of ever-present reality.
For a moment, I marvelled at the adaptability of the human spirit, that can accept the changes wrought by the most extreme events and learn to encompass an altered reality and the consequences it brings in its wake.
And yet, today was different. Perhaps the news that his attacker has just been sent to prison again that had dredged up old emotions. I don’t know. From out of nowhere a sudden grief, as vicious as it was unexpected, tore me out of acceptance, conjuring a memory of the tall businessman who strode with the unconscious assurance of youth. The pain, as overwhelming, for a moment, as it was during those first days after the attack, robbed me of coherent thought, leaving behind the taste of blood and a senseless litany. This is my son. It shouldn’t be like this. It will always be like this.
I dragged myself back to the moment. Busied myself for the rest of the day. It serves no purpose to indulge in ‘what ifs’ or to rail against Fate. I know that there is purpose in everything, something to be learned, turned to good, light to discover and understand… and we have found plenty of that over the years.
It was not until darkness fell that the tears finally came.
“…courage to change the things I can…”
For years, my son sought to reverse the damage done by the brain injury, working for hours on end, day after day, targeting the individual problems he contends with… mobility, sight, speech, balance, dexterity and memory. Throughout the early years, it was his only focus.
A relentless, determined refusal to accept the level of disability he had been left with made every day a battle against impossible odds and each miniscule improvement a major victory. He refused to believe he could never ‘be himself’ again… the person he used to be, the person he knew.
That determination led him to do great things, for himself and for others. Some of it deliberate… some of it simply because people found inspiration in his attitude. Despite the progress he made and the bravado with which he faced the world, he could not wholly heal himself, neither physically nor emotionally. His idea of ‘being himself’ had to change… and that required a different approach and a new acceptance.
“…and wisdom to know the difference.”
It started with a journey. He deliberately took himself out of his comfort zone, challenging himself to go out into the world as he is, not as he would like to be. That probably took more courage than anything else he has done before and taught him a good deal about himself. It is an ongoing process, but his focus has shifted from trying to regain what he felt he had lost, to embracing who he is. It does not mean that he has given up on trying to improve his abilities… but he need no longer wholly define himself by them.
Wisdom starts small. It begins with a shift in perspective. It does not come with a fanfare, but creeps in quietly. It is often the darkest events in our lives that teach us the most, and it is they for which we may, one day, find ourselves the most grateful. We may wish they had never needed to occur, just as I wish my son had not been the victim of senseless violence, but there may come a moment when you realise that the things you have most needed to learn may be taught through the things you have least wished to experience. Such events can be turned to good, giving us a better understanding, not only of ourselves, but of the experience of others, and, if nothing else, can allow us to reach out with true empathy, not sympathy, when there is need.
There is a theory that every moment is a crossroads and every choice leads to a new reality in some parallel universe. Perhaps, in some divergent corner of the multiverse, a mother watched her son stride, tall and straight, with the unconscious ease of youth across his room this morning. If so, it was not me. My reality is here and now, and although, for a moment, I grieved for my son, that grief did not last.
Sometimes exasperating, often annoying, insulting and demanding, sometimes kind, funny and generous… We clash, we laugh, we argue… he is, after all, a son. It shouldn’t be like this. It will always be like this…because he is still here and human and himself. And so am I.