The chance to make a difference, every single day


Death is never an easy thing to deal with, and losing someone — or something — that means a lot to you, is just plain hard. Grief has a timetable of its own, and even when you think you’re past it, it can come up again — days, months, years after the fact.

I’ve been thinking a lot about loss, this fall. I’m working on my book TBI S.O.S. – Restoring a Sense of Self after Traumatic Brain Injury, and I’ve been thinking about all the ways that TBI has taken something from me over the years… including my Sense of Self.

Now a dear relative has died, and I have the opportunity to look at how that loss is affecting me and many others, whose lives they touched. Looking back at their long life — over 100 years — so many people and situations came across their path. Lots of good situations, lots of hard situations. And the last thing you could say about their life, was that it was easy. The last thing you could say about their personality, was that it was easy-going. They had a hard life, and they developed the mettle to deal with it. They weren’t always fun to be around, and they could be mean-spirited and cruel. But in the end, they really had a positive impact on so many lives. So many, many lives.

No matter their shortcomings — and we all have them — they always stayed true to their commitment to make a positive change in the world. That’s what their life was really about — through teaching, volunteer work, and active service on many boards in their community. The number of people coming through their hospital room at the end, to say good-bye and thank them for their service, was amazing. So many people who gained because of their commitment.

And it occurs to me, looking back at this relative, who had so many obvious flaws, that if they can make a positive difference, then any of us can. And we should. We simply need to have the willingness and the energy to keep going. We need to have that commitment. Each of us, in our own way, has at least one gift we can offer and develop to benefit others. And each of us, when we reach out to the people around us in a spirit of genuine helpfulness, can do something positive in this world to make it a better place. We don’t have to be famous or rich or mathematical geniuses to forge ahead. We can find our own small ways to pitch in and help, and do it better in our own way than anyone else ever could.

In a way, the fact that my grandparent was a difficult person, makes their contribution all the more inspiring. They freely admitted that they had limitations, and I know that in their later years they regretted a lot of things they had done in their youth. But they kept going. They kept learning. They kept showing progress and changing with the times. They didn’t push people away because of their limitations — they engaged with them and they learned from them, as well as taught. And in the end, what really matters is the good they brought to the world.

Looking at their example, I can see so many parallels with my own life — struggling with limitations, overcoming them, finding new ones to deal with, and keeping on till I could see past the most recent obstacle and get a clearer view of the world around me. Each barrier, each obstacle has taken me higher — so long as I’ve engaged with it. And each time I’ve overcome, I’ve gotten a better view of where I stood and what my options were.

Brain injury has been a real blight on my life. It’s stolen many good years from me, and it nearly ruined me, 10 years ago. But through following the example of my grandparent, and just keeping going, I’ve gained so much more than I ever could have, otherwise. And for that, I am truly grateful.

We all have something to offer. We all have something to contribute. And that “something” will necessarily change over time. As we age, as we learn, as we grow, as we go through the changes in our lives, our bodies and brains and outlooks change, sometimes turning us into completely different people. The loss of a job, the loss of a spouse, the loss of a home, a sudden change in fortune – for good or for ill – can drastically alter us and our relationship to the world and others around us.

That doesn’t mean we stop being able to help and contribute. That doesn’t mean we stop being useful and needed. Sometimes we need to recalibrate and shift our attention… look around for new ways to be of service. But those ways are out there — if we keep steady and look for them, with an open heart and lots of humility.

Okay, I’m getting off my soapbox now. I’m in a pretty philosophical frame of mind, these days.

On Thursday night, I’ll be driving to my family again for the viewing and funeral. I’ll probably be “dark” during that time, with everything going on. Right now, I’m making my list of things I need to do ahead of time, getting things together systematically, so I can just pick up and go on Thursday after work. I need to do laundry, buy food for the road, collect my thoughts for a short eulogy I’ll be giving, and basically keep myself steady and rested for the next week.

These things are never easy, but I do have a heads-up about what’s to come, so this will be logistically easier than the last weekend, when it all sort of took me by surprise. I was ill-prepared, in some ways, but it all came out okay in the end, I guess.

The main thing to remember, is that I’m doing really well.  I have NOT melted down, since getting back, and I’m keeping steady and calm. I have a long day ahead of me, but that’s okay. At least I have a plan to follow, and I know how things are going to shake out.

Anyway… onward.

Finding Monday

Rise and shine...

I was up early this morning. I just woke up, as I often do. I tend to have early meetings on Mondays, so I have gotten in the habit of waking myself up early. That’s changing, though, and my Monday mornings are being pushed back a few hours, so there’s no need for me to be up before dawn.

This morning, as I lay in bed, looking at the still-dark window, my head was going a mile a minute. This is classic for when I’m tired. I had a pretty active weekend, and I wore myself out. Didn’t get as much rest as I needed, but I did have a great time. Now I’m paying for it — I’ve got some time blocked off later this afternoon to do my breathing and get some rest, so I’m not terribly worried about being able to keep up. But seeing the workings of my head going full-speed-ahead as the sky is just starting to get light… well, that’s classic fatigue-driven adrenaline-pumped gears churning.

With all this Occupy Wall Street stuff going on, I’ve been pondering lately what it is that we’re doing with ourselves…? Where is this country going, and how is it that there is such a disconnect between the protesters and the people who work in the buildings where they are demonstrating? Having worked in finance in the past, and having once been part of one of the big companies that people are so actively faulting and blaming, I wonder at the disconnect between the way “the bankers” are portrayed, and how they really are in real life. I’m not making apologies for anyone – as far as I’m concerned, it’s corporate policy and assumptions about what constitutes “good business” that are to blame, much more than individual people making such-and-such amount of money. But that’s another post for another time — probably never, actually.

Perhaps more pertinent to my own situation… What am I doing with myself? I have a job, I have a house, I’m pretty far behind in many respects, and I’m nowhere close being able to afford to do the repairs on the house that it needs. But I’m not about to go out and protest about what others have done “to” me with their policies and priorities. Maybe it’s just me, but in all my years of all my difficulties, I’ve never had trouble finding work. And I wonder about the people who do. I can’t speak for them, but I’ve always been prepared to do what needed to be done to put food on the table — and that involved a lot of really degrading “below my pay grade” work over the years… which I always parlayed into something else.

Now I look around me, and it seems like I’m sorta kinda running out of options. It’s not that I’m in danger of losing my job — I feel a little like I’m slotted into a position that doesn’t have a lot of room for advancement — or the advancement it offers isn’t something I truly want, or that I can even do. I work for a company that’s global, and the people who are rising, do a lot of traveling. I don’t have the funds — or the time — to be spending shuttling back and forth across the oceans. The company reimburses you everything, but I literally don’t have the $500 to front for hotel and taxi and other incidentals till I get reimbursed. That old adage, “You have to spend money to make money,” comes to mind. But I’m neither able to do that, nor in the mood to throw money around. I just don’t feel like it. Nor do I have the time to go flying around, getting jet-lagged, hob-nobbing, etc. I don’t feel like doing that, either. Seeing the world is all very well and good, but I’d rather do it on my own steam, on my own time, in my own way — not as part of a rushed business trip.

So, on a Monday morning, here I sit in the early morning light, pondering my fate. We’re moving offices in less than two weeks, to a place that’s twice as far from home as my current office. More time in the car. More gas expenses… I don’t feel like doing that, either. I just don’t. Part of me just wants to settle in to a simple life, plant and tend a garden, make things with my hands, watch the seasons come and go, and just be. Pursue a dedicated life of contemplation and service, with a nice daily ritual to keep me on track.

But when I think about it, maybe that’s what I have already. I am just so busy looking for what’s better, that I lose sight of the things around me that are immediate and real and have the very qualities I seek in my ideal life. I have valuable knowledge about what conscious breathing can do for me, and I have the ability to get to a state of peace, calm, and balance, by focusing on my steady breath for 5-10 minutes. For all my imagining about how much better it would be, if I could extract myself from my current work situation, the fact is that the things I think that would get me are actually available to me on a daily basis, regardless of my employer. That means that my job is NOT keeping me from whatever peace I desire. And although the money isn’t there to do things like travel for my job, it isn’t keeping me from interacting with my overseas counterparts on a regular basis. That’s what email and the phone are for.

So, what this morning really boils down to for me, is that it’s not the external situation that is keeping me from living my life — it’s how I relate to it — if I am engaged, if I am open to what it brings, if I am willing to put myself into it and do those things I think a “simpler” life would offer — service and contemplation. Nothing around me is preventing me from having those things right now — the only one stopping me… is me.

That all being said, I know what I need to do — find the Monday morning in my heart as well as my head, and get right with my life as it is — here and now. It’s pointless to run away from what’s waiting for me. It’s also pointless to think that a drastic change in how I live my life would really solve anything. My ways of doing things would follow me wherever I go, and knowing myself, even the simplest, most contemplative life would end up a complicated mess, if I let myself have free rein.

So, there we have it. It’s not Monday that’s the problem. It’s not my job or my employer or my office that’s the problem. It’s my attitude, my desire to perpetually kick back and do nothing at all. It’s my fantasies about how much better things would be… if only.

But time’s getting away from me. I need to prepare for a conference call. Life, if I take a close enough look at it from the right angle, is perfectly fine and good.

Monday is here. And so am I.