Have you ever gone to the beach for the day? Started out in the morning, high tide, feeling the sun on your face, the sand in your toes – everything is warm, and peaceful as the waves flow up and down on the sand. You set up your chair, sighing in relief at the time to relax.
As you sit in the sun, reading your book, eating your lunch, applying more sunscreen as the day goes by, you begin to notice the beach changing. The water no longer laps at your feet, you don’t hear the small waves breaking any longer. As the sun arks toward the horizon, you suddenly realize that the water has moved far out towards the ocean, no longer with you, cooling your toes, wetting the sand near you.
Brain fatigue is like the tide, in the morning it is full force high tide – it is strong and focused, at full strength and deep. As the day goes by, its strength ebbs, and it doesn’t reach the heights and depths that it did earlier in the day. Memory becomes fuzzy, decisions become more difficult and the filter that we all have in place for daily decisions slips away, leaving someone vulnerable to baser emotions like anger and laughter without control.
Last night we were given the great privilege of attending the North Memorial Hospital Gala – with each step into the event, we ran into nurses, therapist, line staff that we knew and recognized. The hugs and well wishes were abundant, and joyous. It was with honor that we were among so many great people that take great pride in their work. The friendly faces gave Frank comfort in the crowd of 1,000, knowing that he can relax and be himself. With our table of friends, we watched the Gala unfold, telling stories of rehab successes of the past, and the focus of the future for that great hospital.
Our moments of joy and friendship was clouded by a moment of ill-timed uncontrolled laughter, and the negative reaction by someone at the next table. For the first time in my life, I felt the sting of embarrassment, not because of something that happened, but because of the judgment of another. Is this how someone feels when someone snickers about your weight when you walk into a room? Is this the sadness felt when someone stares when you are in a wheelchair? Using a cane? Stutter? Drool when you are trying to eat?
This is not an emotion I am familiar with – I have worked with people with disabilities my entire professional career, and no one should feel that their personal medical issues make them less than who they are. Or be ashamed. Or feel the hurt and sadness that I felt for Frank last night.
Appearances can be deceiving – walking down the street, Frank looks like everyone else – many people with head injuries do. But inside, they are not the same. They struggle with remembering names of friends and past acquaintances, remembering words for things, and being able to control their temper, and laughter.
Who would have thought that laughter would bring him pain – and embarrassment. Who would have thought that one person, one judgment, could make such a negative impact on an evening.
We all have the power to spread good in our day. One statement made in anger, one misguided judgement, one snide remark can cut someone so deep that they might never recover from the pain of that barb. Many of us still hold a lasting lifetime memory from childhood of that one person that hurt you with a caustic remark. I know I do.
My goal today is to attempt to salve the wound of a proud, honest man, who felt for the first time in his adult life how cruel people can be when you are seen as different. A man that just wants his life back, who dedicates his day to getting better, and choose a career to keep others safe. He puts others ahead of himself, because that is who he is.
To that judgemental man – I am trying to forgive you, but right now, my hurt is too tight in my chest, the tears too close to my heart. You hurt my family, and that is not easily forgiven.
One judgement, one snide remark. That is all it took to take fragile comfort, wavering confidence away.
Just nine words to break my walls back down