In a bad mood, I ordered a chocolate cherry smoothie from Clean Juice and went to pick it up. After that, I sat outside on the porch with the dogs in the waning afternoon. I checked in on a couple of friends who are facing challenges. Finally, my mood shifted. In the face of life’s vagaries, we have two choices, it seems to me: gratitude, or change. I changed what I was doing and found my way back to a mindset of gratitude and acceptance. Therein, for me, lies peace, just for today.
I’m in awe of those who find strength and peace in the face of extraordinary adversity. In her newly published memoir Beautiful Trauma, Rebecca Fogg tells the story of the partial amputation of her dominant hand by way of exploding toilet and how she recovered both physically and mentally. (“I regret that, in telling the story of that night over the years, I have destroyed countless people’s peaceful relationships with their toilets,” she writes.) I sat down with her a few weeks ago at the new Picnic Cafe.
Becca is charming and also formidable; the book, the same – Beautiful Trauma: An Explosion, An Obsession, and A New Lease on Life.
Maybe charming isn’t exactly the right word for the book. It often reads like a work of top-rate investigative journalism, conveying the science surrounding her injury and recovery (deep dives into anatomy, neuroscience, and psychology). I appreciated even more her candor in sharing the shocking challenges of her experience, and the often painful self-knowledge she gained. She grew most profoundly in her realization that she could not recover on her own. It was only in community – the community of doctors and therapists, friends, family, and kind strangers – that she could heal. At the risk of sounding like a Hallmark movie, I could put it like this: a shattering injury changed her body – but most of all, her heart. She says it better.
For Nashvillians: you will appreciate reading about the time she spent here, recovering with her mother’s help. (You might know her lovely mother, Mary Cook.) Becca had a career in finance in New York before the injury and has had a second career in London, co-founding the Institute of Pre-Hospital Care at London’s Air Ambulance. She’s a careful observer of the kindness of strangers in all places, one particular highlight of this book for me.
I’d love to share a few passages with you today, to whet your appetite for more…
From Chapter 10, After the Unthinkable: Psychological Recovery
Psychological coping in the aftermath of trauma is not just about managing the clinical symptoms to which it gives rise. It’s also confronting our shaken foundations, the loss of those aspects of our lives and selves that used to sustain and guide us, but cannot in our new circumstances. It’s a painful, confusing “dying while alive” in the words of a teacher of Tibetan Buddhism I recently encountered…
The existential keystone that wobbled for me after 9/11, and took a proper pummeling after my accident, was my mistaken belief that self-sufficiency was achievable and necessary…
One night in London not long ago, I was sitting in bed reading when a surge of grief and loneliness overtook me. The sudden change in emotional state perplexed me, since the book wasn’t sad, nor was I brooding about any particular life issues at that juncture. It took a few seconds of mental exploration to realize it had been triggered by the song playing on the radio, which I had listened to a lot while recovering from the accident at home alone in Brooklyn, but not at all since. Called “Hang On Little Tomato,” it came from an album of cheery lounge tunes a friend had given me, and its reassuring “things will look better in the morning” message had often prompted cathartic tears. All these years later, instead of bringing relief from the painful aftermath of trauma, the song reminded me of what it felt like to be in the thick of it.
The experience of trauma changes us. Like spilled ink, it seeps into every aspect of our being, perceptibly and imperceptibly tinting memory, perspective, identity, and beliefs, long after clinical symptoms fade….
”Welcome to the Death Club,” [my neighbor] said in a chance hallway conversation a few months after my accident and her father’s death in hospice. “We’ve seen death up close, and we’ll never look at anything the same way again.”
…The work of this figurative Death Club is to integrate death into life, before it inevitably consumes us. That means surrendering to paradox, learning to carry a belief in possibility alongside the visceral knowledge of profound and permanent loss, so that loss does not become the chief architect of our lives, causing us to shrink from what is enriching or necessary for fear of it. And it means learning to embrace the strange kind of happiness (there’s no better English word for it, alas), that only travels with sorrow…”
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You might want to know that Becca has taken up the Scottish fiddle in recent years, and there’s this:
”For my own pleasure, I keep coming back to “A Happy Day in June,” a lilting contemporary tune by Lauren MacColl that rocks gently back and forth across the strings, asking mostly for sweetness but also for a satisfying bit of digging in the lower registers. It accompanies my bedroom view like a good movie soundtrack, drawing attention to what matches its tone, brightening even a bleak-weather day. My fingers know the music now, so that when I play it, I mostly forget myself. When intermittently aware, I feel whole, and a part of everything.”
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And here are a few tiny updates on flora & fauna in my garden…