Dear Bob Woodruff,
You and I and far too many others are survivors of traumatic brain injuries. You and I and far too many others who have survived traumatic brain injuries, or any trauma for that matter, have found themselves in the insidious grip of guilt. You and I and far too many others like us are guilty of nothing. Because you feel guilty doesn’t mean you are guilty, it means that is how you feel. It is a feeling, not a definition.
It was the explosion the wounded you, it was the gunshot that wounded me, it was the car accident or the fall or the assault or the stroke that wounded so many others. It is these events and these events alone that provide guilt its just living quarters
In recent interviews I have watched you and Lee take the wide-open courage step of letting people see what it is like to suffer a traumatic brain injury and what it is like to live with one. I have heard questions seeking to know how far back you are. Would you say 95 % they ask? As you and Lee and your family already know, the answer is not that easy and my thought would be, put down any instinct to measure and gauge that answer and live.
I work with survivors like us nearly every day and recently I asked them how they would describe living with a brain injury on a daily basis. There were answers like, Well, there are things we can’t do any more and other statements like they (the injuries) make it harder to manage our emotions and I don’t remember things as well as I did and I can’t talk the way I used to. In each of these discussions these answers would land on the table and we would all look at each other, shake our heads, and nearly in unison acknowledge that none of these answers come close to describing what it is like to live with a brain injury on a daily basis.
Here is what we did agree on. Living with a brain injury is different every day. In fact, living with a brain injury has one reality when rested and another reality when fatigued. We also agreed that none of us are defined by our injuries nor are we defined by the symptoms we deal with as a result of our injuries. We also agreed that none of us are diminished by our injuries, even though there have been and, for some, still are times when we feel diminished because of our injuries. We also know that there are times we are treated by others as if we have less value and less worth than others and that treatment too delivers an inaccurate message about who we are.
Years ago a very wise old man was asked what it was like to age. He paused and said, We are each like a lit light bulb. You have to decide, are you the bulb, which breaks down over time, or are you the light inside the bulb? We are the light inside the bulb, and that never dies.
The light of who you are, Bob Woodruff, is not gone. It is not damaged or diminished by the trauma you have survived. While you may not see the light all the time, while you may not see its luster and brilliance all the time, it does not mean it is not there all the time. From time to time life blinds us to the light that is our humanity’s unbending value and worth. Those moments of darkness do not mean the light is gone. Darkness, like emotion, are experiences in the moment and of the moment. Neither are definitions. The inner light and human value of all survivors is present all time.
Needless to say, the words written here apply to all of us for all of us in life encounter experiences that blind us to our worth, yet none of these experiences remove or diminish our worth unless we allow them too.
There is a nugget of American Indian lore I am particularly fond of. A warrior went to his chief and said, Chief, I have two wolves battling inside me, the good wolf and the bad wolf. Which one is going to win? The chief said, Whichever one you feed the most.
Keep feeding the good wolf as you are, Bob Woodruff. And remember, there will be times when people will ask for your attention and your presence and the healthier choice will be to say no and give yourself and your loved ones time away from all others. Saying no can prompt another bout of undeserved guilt, so here is another expression. Taking care of your self is not an act of disloyalty to anyone else.
Stay in the day, remember to live, and keep listening to Bruce Springsteen. You and I are very much in lock-step when it comes to the Boss. His songs got me through many a dark day and helped me remember that the light, for me and for you and for all of us, really is always there.
In his last album he sings We Shall Overcome. We will.
Warmth and respect,
Peter S. Kahrmann