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.