As a brain injury case manager, I traveled all over the country conducting evaluations of people who had sustained a severe brain injury. I have faced a woman who plucked out both her eyes because her brain injury gave her a horrible compulsion to pick at her face. I conducted one evaluation of an elementary school teacher who was kept in a barn because no facility would accept her for treatment. I met another man who had a brain infection so severe that it caused him to think he was dead, even though he could move about and interact with people.
In my eyes, brain injury is the most spiritual injury, because it is the one catastrophic condition that forces us to ask who we are—and that same question is central to every religion and mystic tradition. We walk around with a sense that we are a united, solid person that has immutable qualities. But when you experience a brain injury, everything you think is fundamental about your life can be changed. You can lose your senses, or hallucinate different sensations. You can get a complete personality overhaul, or you can forget your entire past, along with everyone you love. You can lose your ability to communicate, or even your ability to feel alive. Nothing about you is fixed–nothing; I have born witness to this.
I believe that the answer to who we are is right in front of us, every moment of the day. The answer simply requires a small pause between two words that have become too common to us. The answer is: You are a human (pause) being.
Had you forgotten that word being is a present-tense verb? You aren’t a human was, or a human will be (though you might feel that way sometimes). You are a human being—a human unfolding moment by moment. You are this very moment, again and again and again. You are your brain, your heart, your lungs, your body–thinking, beating, breathing, sensing. I believe you are a human—being.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.