To be held and to hold

There is not enough holding each other going on. Not enough hugs. That warm-kindness gift between beings when, for the time it lasts (and then some, if you’re lucky), you are caring and cared for. Those who hug for effect’s sake rather than sincerity’s sake are not included in this missive.

I would gladly hug Charles Dickens for saying, ““Have a heart that never hardens, and a temper that never tires, and a touch that never hurts.”

There is an abundance of evidence telling us the presence of touch improves our quality of life and the absence of touch reduces the quality of life. “Touch makes our world real,” is one of the  salient points made by Alberto Gallace and Charles Spence in their book, “In Touch with the Future: The sense of touch from cognitive neuroscience to virtual reality.” Spence works out of Sommerville College, in Oxford, England and Gallace is with the Department of Psychology at University of Milano-Bicocca in Italy.

In a time when technology (driven by government and big business (I am repeating myself)) draws us out of self and into their control the importance of being truly present in the moment and present with another in the moment is, I fear, fading.  Pairs of eyes by the thousands staring at handheld devices unaware that they are slowly but surely being fed whatever the powers that be want them to be fed. 

Which is why to hold someone and be held by someone is one of the purest forms of sanctuary life offers.

Hug those you love, let them hug you back. Hold them. Allow them to hold you. Springsteen was right. Sometimes it all comes down to wanting “a little of that human touch.”

Addiction to technology is not about life, to be held and to hold is.

25 Years Later

Tomorrow marks the 25th anniversary of the day two teenager held me up on a Brooklyn street. One put a gun to my head and fired. He and his accomplice, who was rifling through my pockets when the trigger was pulled, got $63 for their efforts. The bullet is still lodged in the brain and I take great pleasure in feigning disappointment that I do not set off  airport alarms (if you were hoping for a humor free essay you might as well stop reading now).

To this day there are occasions when, upon hearing about the shooting, a person will lean forward, their brow furrowed a bit, and say things like,  "Did it change you?", or, "Is life different?" or, "Do you understand life in a way you didn’t before?" Honest questions all, but I always get the impression that the asker believes being part of an extraordinary act of violence automatically results in a deeper understanding of life. It doesn’t. At least I don’t think it does.

The experience did give me a new appreciation for the importance of ducking. It certainly increased my awareness of the human capacity for cruelty. And, it has helped me to remember to live, not miss the moment I’m in,  and not miss the chance to tell people I love that I love them.

Much has changed in the last 25 years and there is nothing unique in that. Some wonderful things in life have happened as a result of the shooting. I have been given the gift of being able to work with survivors of brain injury, their families and people in the health care field.

The health care field itself exposes you to wonderful people and to people who have a capacity for cruelty that outdoes the cruelty of shooting an innocent person in the head. Health care providers who see and treat people with disabilities as sub-human beings that are on this earth so they can make a profit ought to be jailed. I know one owner of a community-based program who has run clinical meetings for people in the program and doesn’t have one iota of training as a clinician, yet his ego is so distorted and the lack of regulations so prominent, he gets away with it, to the detriment of those receiving services in the program. I know another director of a brain injury program who told the wife of a brain injury survivor, with her husband present, that there needed to be a funeral for her husband because he no longer exists and she and her husband needed to allow this director and his team of sycophants to re-create him. By comparison, the kid who shot me was simply having a bad day.

There is another thing the shooting gave me. An appreciation for having a bucket list, though it wasn’t until the movie came out that I became aware of the term bucket list. I was, however, aware of experiences I wanted  and want to have before my time is up. I want to meet Bruce Springsteen and thank him for the role his songs had in helping me stay alive during some dark times. I’d like to visit the Grand Canyon and spend a week or more exploring the canyon itself. I want to stand in a room that Beethoven was in, and in a room Tolstoy was in, and in a room Dickens was in. I’d even like to get married again some day, really share life with a soul mate. I’d like my daughter and I to have a relationship again before time’s up.  And, of course, I want to write and write and write. The list goes on.

One other thing, I’d like to thank God with all my heart and soul that I am alive 25 years later to even have a bucket list,  and write this essay for you.

 

The Life I’m In

Outside my window thunder and hard rain have their say. Phone calls, emails and friendship warm the morning hours and I’m living the life I’m in.

Folks I know and some I don’t helping my dream of thanking Bruce Springsteen in person come true. And me I’m moved by the kindness and grateful to be breathing the life I’m in.

Some ask, "You okay boy if the dream don’t come true?" and I just smile sayin’ the man helped me stay alive so I can dream in the life I’m in.

Suns rise and suns set and there’s always another summit I’ve never known. I’m living the gift of being on the climb, and the gift of takin’ the next step in the life I’m in.

Some dreams come true and some dreams don’t, but nothin’ needs to take away the love, light and laughter to be found by loving the life you’re in.

 

Thoughts On Meeting Bruce Springsteen

A close friend of mine recently asked me why I want to meet Bruce Springsteen. I can’t do the answer justice.

The short answer is Bruce Springsteen helped me save my life and I’d like to tell him and thank him in person. However, my words can’t reach the complete answer. It lives too deep in my heart and soul.

As regular readers of this blog know, I was held-up on the streets of Brooklyn in 1984 and shot in the head at point blank range. The bullet remains lodged in the brain to this day. The 24th of this month marks the 25th anniversary of the shooting. It is not a depressing day. In a way it’s my second birthday.

Less than a year after being shot I was held-up again at gunpoint. I retreated into seclusion for a year. It was then that Springsteen’s music went from songs I loved to songs that helped keep me alive. I love a wide range of music, but for that entire year, Springsteen was it. There was something in his songs that filled me with life, reminded me life was still there and worth living again – like it used to be.

I did not understand at the time how powerfully and completely his songs connected to life in part by connecting me to chapters in my life. They reminded me I was alive and even had value to boot. Our histories were linked in a way that brought me comfort. My grandparents were from Ocean Grove and Rumson, New Jersey. Every summer meant Asbury Park, the boardwalk, and beaches that seemed to last forever. His songs brought me back to the days I had family, days ended weeks after my father died when I was 15 and I was disowned weeks later. His songs brought me back to the days my father was alive, and the world was safe. In a way, they brought back my father.

Moreover, his songs knew the taste of hard times. The lyrics of “Jungleland” reminded me – and still remind me – of the days I lived in the streets, my head packed with dreams struggling to get out. “Kids flash guitars just like switch-blades hustling for the record machine, the hungry and the hunted explode into rock’n’roll bands” and, my mind adds, writers and poets and painters and sculptors, inventors and teachers and always always dreamers.

As to what would I say to him (and his band) given the chance? I’d say much the same thing I said to the police officers from Brooklyn’s 84th Precinct on the 20th anniversary of the shooting. When the officers of the 84th Precinct found me staggering about and bleeding to death, blood spurting from my head, they threw me in the back of one of their cars and rushed me to the hospital, just in time.

I’d tell him that were it not for people like him I would never have searched for and found my birth-mother. She would have been able to die in 2001 knowing where her son was and knowing her son loved her. Were it not for people like him, I would not have lived to see my two grandsons. Were it not for people like him I would not be alive to help others, other brain injury survivors, crime victims, and more. I would not have been able to ride my bicycle 1,000 miles around the state to bring hope to others. And there’s more to thank him for, like how his songs helped me stay in motion in the days following my adoptive mother’s 1992 suicide.

Springsteen and the East Street Band are playing in Saratoga Springs on August 25, one day past the 25th anniversary of the shooting. That would be perfect timing. The 84th Precinct on the 20th anniversary, Springsteen on the 25th. Sounds like justice to me.

One other point to make. Some close to me say I deserve the chance to thank him in person. Maybe. But I think it is actually the other way around. I think he deserves to be thanked in person. After all, he’s one of the people who helped me stay alive.

peterkahrmann@gmail.com



NORMAL, THE WAY IT’S ‘SPOSED TO BE

Normal is you giving yourself permission to be you.


In a recent workshop with trauma survivors and today in a conversation with an extraordinary woman, the subject of normal came up. Normal is a dangerous notion because it is drenched in the poison judgment. Judgment is poison, at in my view it is. Were it not for my allegiance to free speech, I would urge that the word normal be banned. Normal as an expectation should be banned. What gets presented as normal by society is driven by commercial interests
which are driven by the desire to make money which is, more often than not, driven by greed. And nothing driven by greed can be normal, meaning nothing driven by greed can be physically, emotionally and spiritually healthy.

The line from Bruce Springsteen’s song Badlands says a lot about the greed-driven “normal”:

“Poor man wanna be rich,
rich man wanna be king
And a king ain’t satisfied
till he rules everything”

I know a business owner or two that went from good to bad ‘cause they wanted and want to rule everything. Wanting to rule everything? Now that ain’t fucking normal.

Normal is being who you are. Nothing more, nothing less. Being who you are, learning to be who you are, allowing yourself to be who you are, and not letting your history stop you.

Think about it, if there is anything in the world you deserve to be, it’s you. You are a wonderful discovery. If you don’t think so, take some decision making power away from the unhealthy messages inflicted on you by your history. When you do that, you will get to meet your true self. Guaranteed you’ll wind up best friends.

That’s the way it’s ‘sposed to be.
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