The Charming Gardener

Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom – Marcel Proust

For years I have wanted to share a story about a man who has made a profound impact on my life during the month of March when it is the Brain Injury Awareness month, but have struggled to find the words that capture the essence of him and also be sensitive to never want to exploit his life, or his injury.

Every once in a while if you are lucky, you meet someone who touches your soul in a place that you may have not otherwise even known existed. I had been teaching yoga to people with brain injuries for many years when I met someone who reached something in me that is not easily described. Of course, each of my students who have arrived for yoga have brought something unique and often profound to my life, but one man in particular has really found a place in my heart. 

It has been my method while I teach yoga to people with brain injuries to not ever ask how they sustained their injury. It is not that such a huge event in their life does not matter to me, but I do not need to know the details. I do not need to know even what their life was like before the injury. Instead, I prefer to just know them as they are now. I want to know what they like, what they dream of, what bothers them, what they long for, what brings them joy, what hurts and what they love. In time as we work together it is not uncommon for the details of the injury to be revealed, or the life they had prior to the event, but it is not something that I seek out. Just as I rarely seek to learn about someone’s past, because it is now that I want to know and be part of. 

Each time I was leaving the long term care center that I frequented weekly to teach adaptive yoga I would often see a man with the most beautiful blue eyes sitting in his chair watching hockey reruns or slowly walking through the corridors, grasping the hand rail, sliding his left leg along the linoleum floor. I would greet him and I would usually get the same response, “hi….yep yep”. Always the same answer. One day I asked him if he wanted to come to yoga and this time, he gave me an adamant, “nope nope”. This exchanged continued for nearly a year. Always “nope, nope”.

Then one day, I got a “yep yep”.

That was the beginning of a friendship and a blending of two people bringing out the best in each other. In time through his amazing family and his own sharing, I learned about his life before his accident and it is my honor to share it here. 

My friend Jim was just a young man with his whole life ahead of him. A recent college graduate, a great new career at a bank, and a nice home. This elite athlete who had his eyes on an Ironman, who was a former college hockey captain, and friend to anyone was welcoming in a life that many dream of. Surrounded by an incredible family, life long friends and a passion for being a competitive athlete, the younger Jim was a man full of dreams that he knew he could achieve. 

But, in a split second, the life he created was shattered. A training ride on his beloved bicycle changed everything when he was struck by a car. After months and months in the hospital and in rehab, Jim was able to regain some of his skills and returned miraculously to his love of running. With the help of his family and friends, he was able to do some of the things he loved and had some amazing successes through his recovery.

His next hurdle would be the massive seizures that would prove to take away the progress that he had gained physically, and with his language and memory. More work, more struggles and more setbacks. 

When I met Jim he had recently suffered a massive seizure that caused major damage to his brain. His language was stuck on a constant loop of repeating the same phrases over and over, or he would have outbursts that were either bouts of laughter that was uncontrollable, or fits of rage. Physically, he was struggling to walk and use his left arm. Cognitively it was hard to say what he was able to retain since his ability to communicate easily was greatly impacted. 

When a portion of your brain is removed and the misfiring neurotransmitters from repetitive seizures, it is a miracle to witness all that he is able to do. He may not remember what he had for breakfast, or what year it is, but he can tell you the details of his favorite hockey team, the names of his beloved college buddies, or the exact model of hockey skates he prefers. He will laugh at your jokes and even crack a few himself. 

It is hard to capture the resiliency of his spirit. The best way I can describe it is despite all of the struggles and all the loss he has endured, his spirit is as loving, as devoted, as connected, and as grateful as it ever was. His smile can light up a room and the second you remind him that he is a champion, he beams and tries even harder. His confidence in himself marvels me.

I have never once heard him complain about his life. Never once. Instead, he is a light. He bears goodness on anyone in his presence. He brings out the best in me, I know that. He has become my version of the charming gardener who brings out happiness and blossoms in me. 

Jim’s life was on the path much like yours and mine. In an instant it was all gone. And yet, he is the kindest, most humble man, who always shakes my hand to thank me and say goodbye as he looks me in the eye. He could have given up. He could have become bitter and resentful. Instead, he is pure grace and pure light.

One day while I was on the floor at his feet working his very stiff ankle, he whispered something to me. I couldn’t hear him so I asked him to repeat it. He quietly said, “I forgive her”. When I asked him who he was talking about, he said, “the girl who hit me with her car”. 

Can you find that kind of grace and forgiveness? Can you live your life without a complaint? Can you be resilient to the tragedy and loss of your own life? Take a lesson from my friend Jim. He knows the way.

One thought on “The Charming Gardener

  1. Pingback: Living My Manifesto | Embracing Wisdom

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