There’s a lot of emotion and tears for me behind this week’s Provision. This marks the one year anniversary from when I came down with my strange brain inflammation and started having seizures. Who would have ever ‘thunk it! That’s the bad news. The good news is that I’m still here, still living and loving life, and, if you are reading these words, then you know that I’m still writing Provisions. As the folk singer Amos Lee would say, I’m “floating back on top.” Read on to share the joy and a bit more of the story.
As you know, if you’ve been reading Provisions over the past year, the inflammation that took over my brain one year ago brought me about as close to death as you can get without actually going over the edge. At my worst, I had no physical reactions in my entire body other than the pupil of one eye. Shine a bright light in that eye and my pupil would constrict. The other pupil, and the whole rest of my body, was otherwise pretty far gone. No wonder my wife, family, and friends were in so much distress. There was every reason to think that I wasn’t going to make it back into the game of life.
Yet here I sit, one year later, writing another Provision in my ongoing series on what it has meant to be grabbed by the scruff of the neck, as it were, shaken around, and to not only survive but even, in some respects, to thrive. That’s what I mean by that beautiful play on words for the title of this Provision series and the book that I plan to write that will grow out of this experience: Seized by Life. Since this all started one year ago, I have been recovering wholeness and a different sense of myself – with steps both forwards and backwards – one minute, one hour, and one day at a time.
It sure hasn’t been an easy journey. But then life itself isn’t easy and, lest you need reminding, no one gets out of here alive. So we do our best, during the limited days we are given, to enjoy the trek of life and to contribute positively to its improvement. That was something I learned long ago in Boy Scouts: always leave a campsite looking better than you found it. Writing and sending out these Provisions is one of the ways in which I attempt to do that and it makes me happy that they go out to more than 12,000 people every week and that almost a thousand of those folks actually open the email. I thank you for that. It means a lot to me.
As I wrote at the end of March in Provision #804, Music Matters, my recovery has been facilitated, in part, by listening to music, on a daily basis, sometimes for hours at a time. Indeed, no Provision is written without music playing – often rather loudly – in the background. Music has always been a part of my life; my mother played the piano, for example, and I played the trumpet in high school. In college I picked up the guitar and woodwind recorder. And I have always enjoyed listening to music. But now the significance of music in my life has taken on dramatic proportions. It has filled the room of my brain, so to speak, as if to crowd out the seizures that might otherwise be happening.
That’s an interesting thought. My experience of music is that it doesn’t just distract me from my problems; it literally takes me to a different place, invites me to view and approach the world in a different way, and is a part of healing my brain. That is, of course, what everyone wants. My great cloud of witnesses – those who surround me with love and affection – doesn’t want my problems to just be managed effectively; people want my brain to heal and my problems with seizures and memory to be resolved completely. If and when that days comes, it will be an occasion for great rejoicing on earth as it is in heaven.
A few weeks ago, we drove to Ohio to support and care for my 91-year-old father as he was recovering from a painful bout of cellulitis in his legs. Fortunately, he is recovering and things are looking up on that front. While we were in the car, the song “Bottom of the Barrel” by Amos Lee started playing. You can watch him perform and sing the song live, at the 2011 Bonnaroo camping and music festival in Manchester, Tennessee (USA) by clicking through to this link on YouTube. Although the entire song is great, the first verse and chorus really spoke to me:
I keep on laughin’, to keep from cryin’.
I keep on dreamin’, to keep from dyin’.
So I keep on tryin’. I ain’t gonna stop.
You get right down to the bottom of the barrel
and you float back on top.
Wow. That’s been my experience in a nutshell. I keep on laughing, dreaming, and trying to keep from crying, dying, and stopping. Even though it’s been very hard to go down to the bottom of the barrel, and even though it is not something I would commend to you or to others, it is a beautiful and transformative thing to go through the process and to float back on top. But floating to the top doesn’t happen as a matter of course. Amos Lee is right. What gives life buoyancy is laughter, dreams, and effort. Those are the dimensions that we all need to cultivate if we hope to float back on top and those are the dimensions that my family and friends have helped me to cultivate in order to calm down my brain inflammation. For me, those dimensions literally have made the difference between life and death.
Laughing. This may be the most important dimension of all. If we can’t laugh then tears will have the last word. But there is much to celebrate and to laugh about even when life is tough, or we hover on the brink of death, as I have done on too many occasions over the past year. It’s hard, of course, but not impossible, to laugh alone. Sometimes I will read or see something and burst out laughing just because it’s amusing or funny, without anyone else around. But laughter is so much better when there is someone with whom we can share the joy. My wife, Megan, has not only been my primary source of support and care over the past year, she has also been my primary source of laughter. I love it when something strikes us as funny and we just burst out laughing with each other. It really does keep me from crying.
Dreaming. Dreams are the stuff that keep coaches in business and that make life worth living. Without dreams, we are treading water, going nowhere, and dying a long, slow death. Who wants to live a life without dreams! That’s why I found the events on Wednesday, celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, to be so powerfully and profoundly moving. Dr. King’s address, delivered to 250,000 supporters, punctuated the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. I was only 8 years old at the time, and I cannot remember the event itself, but I have long resonated with the message. To have an African-American president, 50 years later, lifting up those words again in such a powerful way moved me profoundly. President Obama got it right when he said that Dr. King’s words “belong to the ages” and that Dr. King “gave mighty voice to the quiet hopes of millions.” There’s nothing more important than dreams.
Trying. Unless, of course, that something is effort. Dreams without effort, dreams without the trying that makes dreams come true, are nothing more than pipedreams. They are self-indulgent fantasies that may feel good but that rarely change anything. In my own recovery process, I know how important it is to try. And I also know that trying is neither always desired or easy. It guess that’s why it’s called “work”. In my own case, “working” to make dreams come true manifests itself in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Oddly enough, “rest” is the most important “work” that I can engage in right now for my brain to recover from the inflammation that it is has suffered and continues to experience. I know that may sound like an oxymoron, but that’s exactly what they have told us I need to do. So I plan on taking off a week or two from writing and sending out a Provision. I want to give my brain every chance to heal before we go back to the Mayo Clinic. So don’t be looking for a Provision in the next week or two and don’t worry that I’m having problems. I’m just “resting” which, ironically, is the best “trying” I can do right now.
Holding Hands. There’s another line that comes later in Amos Lee’s “Bottom of the Barrel” song that says “the world is so much meaner when your heart is hard.” He got that one right as well. Part of the profundity of Dr. King’s speech was that it was delivered to 250,000 supporters. Literally and figuratively he was holding hands with them to make the world a better, nicer, kinder, and more just place for one and all. That’s when Dr. King’s dream, and the dream of every person of conscience, will come true. That’s when, as Dr. King proclaimed, “every valley shall be exalted and every hill and mountain shall be made low.” That’s when “the rough places will be made plain and the crooked places will be made straight.” That’s when “we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.”
I know that has been true for me. Without those of you who have been holding me up in your thoughts, hopes, dreams, and prayers, I would not be sending out this Provision today. Without my wife, daughter, and son, who have each played special roles in my recovery, I’m sure I would be dead. Without my sister-in-law, I’m sure our business would be out of business. And without each and every one of you who open and read these Provision emails every week – and my email delivery system lets me know who you are 🙂 – I would not have the raison d’être to keep on keeping on with the trek of life. It really has taken a village, to quote then First Lady and now Secretary of State of the United States of America, Hillary Rodham Clinton, to keep me in the game.
So I would close this anniversary Provision by including the names of all family and friends who have come to visit, support, and stay with me and my family here in Williamsburg, Virginia or in other locations. My message to you is simply this: thank you.
Immediate Family & Friends: My dad, Bob Tschannen; Bryn & Andrés Rodriguez; Evan, Michelle & Everest Tschannen; Laurel & Philip Mayeux; Maura & Dave Rawn; Erika, Theo, Lo, Wren & Elek Jackson; Jennie, Ksusha & Sergei Wallace; Jim Klagge & Kathy Carpenter, Allison, Breanne, Rebekah & Britney Bowers; Tara, Tristan & Cora Guenterberg
Extended Family & Friends: Alix Kozak, Amy Haas, Christina Lombardo, Cindy & Ernie Lemmerman, Darlene & Leo Michitsch, Dennis Gaughan, Don & Ryan Newsom, Doug, Lynn, Emma & Maisie McCready, Jennifer Ryu, Jim Tschannen, John Koetz, Mark & Kate Kriynovich, Phil & Lois Longacre, Rick & Anne Bennett, Tim Tate, Tom & Kathy Brownfield, Van & Deb Barndt
You, along with the hopes and prayers of unseen others, have helped me to float back on top from the bottom of the barrel. I still have a long way to go to float back up and to stay on top, without ever having another seizure again, but thanks to you I now believe that is possible. And I also believe that when that day comes the great cloud of witnesses who have helped me and pulled for me along the way, both living and dead, will be dancing in heaven. That’s how it works, after all, when something good happens: it’s time to pop the cork, turn on the music, and dance.
Coaching Inquiries: Do you want to dance? In what kind of world do you want live? How can you contribute more to making the world that kind of place? Who can be your partners on the journey? How can that life-long project be more conscious, successful, and true?
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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 linked to your last Provision in a recent blog post. You’ll see how inspiring you are, in so many ways. Sorry I missed see you recently. You and your story are an inspiration to many.
I am so glad that you are doing better and the path to recovery has been a bright one for you. I especially liked your recent Provision theme about family and your return to Ohio. I just retired from the Columbus, Ohio Fire Department, having completed a great thirty-two year career. I have a wonderful family and to me, no matter what is taking place in the world at any point in time, a strong and happy family can always make the World seem right and beautiful. Thanks for the great reminder with this weeks Provision. Take care and Godspeed.
I sure liked your last Provision today on the “right” answer. The most recent crucible of internal work I have been doing has been acceptance of me just as I am and tuning up my awareness on judgments. That’s why your Provision helped me. My new motto is to throw blessings in place of stones. It has been quite interesting noting what is allowed in the field of my perception by letting go of judgment. This has slowed me down another notch and, you know, for us transforming workaholics that is always an amazing thing. Thanks so much for the reminder of its importance and possibility.
I appreciate the insight in your recent Provision about inviting and being open to the Spirit of Wisdom. I find my need to control is often challenged by the gift of the spirit instructing patience and direction to an open heart. I think that control for me is even saying that I am “centered or grounded” at times. I find that even those words are my attempt to control.
My present journey is to listen as the Spirit gently speaks from with in. I try to accept my journey and be open to the possibilities that open each moment. I sense the phrase “being able to embrace sadness and joy at the same time, and knowing that it is good” is my recent challenge. And it is still peace, not that I create. It is the peace you talk about from wisdom knocking at the door of our heart. The gift is life itself and the immense love that surrounds us. I am glad you have been able to experience that so fully and completely. Enjoy.
The other day I shared a story about how, while on stage in Australia, I helped a woman named Stephanie who couldn’t speak because of seizures she had had a few weeks back, and how I was able to help her to speak for the first time since the seizures, by tapping with her. It was an incident that once again stretched my thinking and had me asking, “What is truly possible?” To learn more, watch this YouTube video.
May you be filled with goodness, peace, joy, and health.
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
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Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
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