Several years ago I was standing in an Albany parking lot talking to three other men who, like me, had survived being shot in the head at point blank range. One of us, I don’t remember who, interrupted the flow of our conversation and said, “Can you believe it? We’ve all been shot in the head and we’re still alive.” A quiet moment followed in which each of us took this reality in. There was, then and now, an ineffable and unbreakable bond between us. I feel the same bond with Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who handed in her resignation today , as well as anyone who has experienced this form of mind-splitting, life-shredding violence.
What is rarely if ever talked about is a salient truth unique to head injuries, brain injuries if you will. When your head is wounded, whether by bullet, stroke, fall, accident, drugs, alcohol, and so on, the very place from which you experience life has been invaded, and, without mercy, damaged. I cannot and will not say one type of injury is worse than another. What I can say is there is a form of vulnerability one lives with after suffering what, in today’s parlance, is called an acquired brain injury. And acquired brain injury, or ABI, is any injury to the brain that occurs after one is born. The more commonly used term, TBI, or traumatic brain injury, is a subset of the ABI family in that a TBI is any brain injury resulting from an external event: fall, gunshot, accident.
I tend to think that all of us who have lived through these injuries live with this unique form a vulnerability, sometimes consciously, sometimes subconsciously, sometimes both. The question, or perhaps better put, the challenge we each face is this: are we willing to take part in life again knowing these things happen? My answer and my hope for myself and all others is, yes. Am I successful in this endeavor? Not always. There are days on end when I cannot get myself out of the house. I do know I do the best I can.
I know this too; the three men I was in the parking lot that day are doing the best they can. Gabby Giffords is doing the best she can. Thousands upon thousands of Americans of every age and every walk of life are battling like hell and doing the best they can. Because we are all human, our best varies from day to day. Such is life. What I will not do, and I hope no one else will do, is give up. If we give up, then whatever life-villain damaged our brain wins. And one of the last things on earth I want to do is give the circumstances of my injury and the injury itself so much control over my life that they cause me to give up. That is a power they don’t deserve – not ever.