I left the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, where I underwent extensive testing and treatment for my brain disorder, on June 14, 2013. Today, July 21, 2013, I still remember an elderly black gentleman who went by in a motorized wheelchair while my wife and I were sitting in an outdoor mall. The two of us made eye contact in a way that spoke volumes. Curious as to what we said to each other in that nonverbal exchange? Read on!
So let’s be honest – given where my brain is at in its recovery process – I could never have brought back the memory from the outdoor mall in Rochester, Minnesota upon which this Provision is based unless I had discovered the notes I made at the time. That’s the bad news. The good news? As soon as I read those notes, I could picture the gentleman perfectly and I remembered well the chance encounter we had with each other that I would like to share with you.
Notwithstanding the fact that I had to rely upon the almost accidental discovery of those notes – which proves it pays to go through and clean up your piles of paper once in a while – my ability to recover that memory is remarkable. It’s an encouraging sign as to my ability to recover from this debilitating disease that has attacked the part of my brain that makes and encodes memories. It’s also a testimony to the power of compassion, which, as I have written about before, literally means to “suffer with” – compatio.
No words were spoken during that exchange between the two of us. Both he – whose name I will never know and who I will never meet again – and I were in the same condition: there was something profoundly wrong with our health and well-being. I have no idea what his problem was nor does he know mine. But at that moment we knew that in suffering we shared a commonality that transcended race, age, or any other differences. In suffering together, we had become one.
That connection would have never happened, at least not in the same way, before I got sick. The trauma of the past 11 months has changed me, both profoundly and permanently. I would never wish this on anyone, but the experience has had its positive elements such as the way it has made compassion more of a felt-experience for me. Compassion has always been one of my core values; indeed, it is part of what led me to declare myself a conscientious objector from all forms of violence during the Vietnam War. But that value has never grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and shaken me to the core until the past year.
It’s impossible to really understand suffering until and unless one has really suffered. That is not a reason, of course, to become a masochist. It is cruel and heartless to bring on suffering intentionally, whether to oneself or to others. There is plenty of unintentional suffering to go around in this world and, sooner or later, suffering will come to us all. Before August 30, 2012, when I had the seizure that began the next phase of my life, my suffering had been relatively mild and normal. Getting my wisdom teeth pulled out, for example, caused pain for a few days, but then it passed.
This suffering has been different. What started for me last August has gone on for almost a year and has been cataclysmic in size, scope, and proportion. Indeed, as you know if you have been reading Provisions since last November, it almost killed me. It’s been a real trauma for me and, in many ways, even more profoundly for Megan, my wife, and the rest of my family. They have been alive, awake, and aware through the whole experience while I was in a coma or unable to remember one day, week, or month to the next.
In different ways, then, everyone knows what it means to suffer. And it was the experience of suffering that created the bond that I shared with the gentleman in the motorized wheelchair. We looked each other in the eyes and we knew. We knew that neither of us wanted us to be in the condition we were in and that both of us wanted out; we also knew, however, that in sharing our suffering together – as we looked each other in the eyes – we were somehow carrying each other’s burden, lightening each other’s load and helping each other to become a bit more whole.
Until one has suffered, it’s easy to look down on those who are somehow sick or incapacitated. Even for someone like me, whose values prohibit looking down on anyone, there was a part of me – an unspoken and unclaimed part of me – that took that stance. I had my life together, or so I thought, and those who suffered their way through life and did things poorly must just not be doing things right. If the whole world were just like me, the place would be a lot better off. Ha! Did life have a humbling lesson for me. And it took a great deal of suffering to drive the lesson home.
But having suffered and suffered profoundly, a bond gets created with others who suffer that I now treasure and appreciate deeply. It has made me more compassionate and more connected with the pulse of life itself. That’s because life is full of suffering. It is also full of joy, of course. But the suffering is there as well and it is especially important to be with each other in those moment. The load gets lighter when we look each other in the eyes and wave hello.
The eyes, like the ears and nose, are direct portals into the brain. They might even be described as extensions of the brain itself. The interface between mind and matter is one of the most mysterious and magical of them all. But mystery and magic do not preclude mechanisms of action. They have to happen one way or another and three of the most important mechanisms are sight, sound and smell – the three S’s of life!
Together with taste and touch, never take your senses for granted. They are gifts that go beyond the ordinary. They are extraordinary opportunities to connect not only with the outside world but especially with other people. Sometimes those connections happen briefly, in chance encounters like the one I had with the gentleman in the wheelchair, while at other moments they happen by design and for extended periods of time. Either way, if and when they happen, they represent opportunities to become ever more fully alive.
Coaching Inquiries: What makes you more fully alive? What does suffering and joy have to do with your understanding of life and your sense of connection to other people? How could you enhance that sense of connection? How could that sense of connection become more full, complete, and life-enhancing? What is one thing you could do today to make it so?
To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation.
Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.
I have had all kinds of complications on my trip across the Atlantic. I am now sitting in Newark, a day later than expected, waiting for a flight to Belfast tonight. I know this is a lesson in patience and endurance and flexibility. I cannot tell you how many angels I have come across who have blessed me and have helped me in so many ways. I know without a doubt that that is happening to you as well and that things will unfold perfectly and the mystery of your health challenges will be solved, unfold, make you a better human being and bless you immeasurably.
Congratulations Bob and Megan and “all” upon receiving the award for your School Transformationwebsite!! I regularly enjoy your articles and am so grateful for your continuing progress in terms of health and in your gift of sharing so much wisdom with the world. Our prayers continue to be with you and for you from out here in southern Illinois.
I want to express my gratitude for your poem Seized by Life. It touched my soul and I feel led to share with you. I truly hope you are enjoying good health now and many blessings.
Your poem has real meaning for me since life indeed did “seize” me on March 13, 2012. I was struck by a vehicle while crossing the street into work. My right leg was shattered from the knee down. I was out of work for three months and unable to walk for two months. It has taken a full year plus of recovery, therapy, etc. to regain my life again. This would be a tough journey indeed, but it was doable.
However, what struck me that day and the days that ensued was not the extent of my injuries, but what I was ignoring my life. Suddenly I had much time to think, process, and revel in the joys and blessings life has brought to me. I had been ignoring my relationships and letting the stress of life take me over. Until that day when life literally turned me upside down, I had not realized I was walking in a fog, dealing with my every day routines and not truly living. It indeed started an “awakening” in my soul and my heart starting beating loud and clear for the first time in a long time.
Since, I have changed my life to be mindful and present. I have become more positive even in the face of adversity, overcoming the trials of learning to walk again. I have come out of my accident stronger, healthier, and more alive than ever before. The “seed” of life has once again begun to blossom within me. I connected this with your poem, a truly inspirational piece.
As for my life now, I am answering that cadence that was calling my name. I am working on my certification as a Wellcoaches certified coach. I am currently in the Core Training program and am learning every day. I want to be able to give back to others as I benefited from a healthy coaching relationships prior to and during my accident with Wellcoaches coaches. Never in my mind would I have thought my life would be leading me down this path, but as I explore and grow I feel life has once again “seized” me.
Thank you so much for your poetry and coaching site. I continue to enjoyed savoring the knowledge and tips it has to offer.
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services