A Purposeful Blog Post

“Whoever survives a test, whatever it may be, must tell the story. That is his duty.” – Elie Wiesel

I’ve decided I want to make it public knowledge that I’m writing a book about my recovery. The book has gone through many differences in the way I talk about it. At first, I was going to make it a memoir; then I was going to make it a memoir with very little mention of my accident; then I decided I wasn’t writing a book at all—mostly due to the fact that I realized that I didn’t want to be tied to my traumatic brain injury (TBI) for the rest of my life. I didn’t want TBIs to be my thing.

Then, the more I reflected on it and the more miraculous I began to realize my recovery is, I began to think that I had been given a remarkable story. It would be selfish to keep that story to myself. And as I began thinking about writing a book about my recovery, I realized how much it would have helped me, my caregivers, and my family. There have been some very dark times for me, my immediate family, and those who are close to us. And when you are in a dark time, you feel alone. What would it have been like to have a book that told me that I wasn’t alone—that others had traveled a path similar to mine?

Writing my book (which is a little short of twenty pages now) is why my blog posts have been few and far between recently. My motivation for writing this post is because I figure that someone who reads my blog either knows someone at a publishing company or knows someone who knows someone at a publishing company. I’d really appreciate it if you could put in a good word for me wherever you have a connection.

My Visit to Detroit

My family took me to Detroit so I could visit my hospital to see my caregivers and my school to see my students. Here are the things those experiences made me feel.

1. Botsford Hospital

On Sunday, at Botsford, it was a surreal experience. I was talking to all of these people whom I didn’t know but who knew me.

All of the people I met were simply amazing.

I gained something from that experience that I hadn’t been expecting. Surrounded by medical professionals who had seen me immediately after my accident, they took the time to walk me through how serious my injuries had been. They showed me scans of my brain and explained what normally is expected from those injuries. At one point, I had a dozen bleeds in my brain. The doctors said that nine times out of ten when they see injuries like that, the chances of recovery are super low.

My family and I took my main resident out to eat at a restaurant. My dad asked him if he had ever thought that less than seven months since my accident, he would be eating dinner with and talking to me. He said absolutely not. That conversation and those like it made me even more thankful than I had been about being healthy.

2. School

Another teacher at my school had many of my students do a project where they wrote letters to me while I was in the hospital. I read them a month or two ago and was saddened because I didn’t remember many of them. But then I re-read them the night before I went in to visit my students, and I remembered almost all of them. My students’ favorite game to play with me was “Do you remember my name?” I remembered a lot more than I thought I would, and those that I didn’t remember, I knew at least the first letter of their first name.

Many of my students told me how I was one of the first math teachers they had ever had who made them want to learn math. Statements like this were great for my confidence, which has been frustratingly low since the accident.

Also, I was so happy to see my coworkers doing the things they are doing. My students are in great great hands.

My Remarkable Recovery From Traumatic Injuries

My Remarkable Recovery From Traumatic Injuries

I wrote the above post (if you follow the link) for Botsford Hospital’s blog. Botsford Hospital was the hospital I was in immediately after the accident. I chose to use the stories that made it in the piece because I feel like they capture my entire recovery in a microcosm.

Super Saturday: A Teacher Regenerates

This post was published on January 1 of this year. This Wednesday marked exactly six months since my accident. When I get discouraged, I have to remind myself how close in time I am to the accident. It’s kind of remarkable that I’m only six months out and that this post was written only two months after my accident.

I have written about policy mainly on this blog, but talking about education reform requires a lot of reading outside of the blog, and I’m not at that level yet. It also hurts my ability to talk about education reform because the fact that I’m not in the classroom influences my inability to comment on education policies. Being a survivor of a horrific car accident in October of 2013 has got me thinking about using this blog in another way: as a way to document my recovery. My parents are super cool in helping me to think positively. I hear constant congratulations from my parents when they congratulate me on my improved decision-making and other things that show recovery. The visitors I’ve had have taken an instrumental part in my journey. Recently, I made a decision about how happy I am to be alive and re-chasing career/life goals. This inspired congratulations from my parents. It’s incredible how the shift into happiness has affected my social encounters. They are much better. I’m making a lot of other changes. Something that is not a change is my fandom of Dr. Who. I watched a lot of Dr. Who recently, and I made a recent tweet that said I must be in the middle of a Regeneration. And I think I am. My body has changed. I’ve gained a little weight since the accident. I weigh more than I did <i>before</i> the accident. And this blog will surely become something else as I move into recovery.

Thoughts about some things have also changed. Phrases that contain the word “death” or bring thoughts of it are annoyances. They didn’t bother me so much before the accident. I bought an Eminem album recently in a certain mood.  The phrase “Imma kill you” is prevalent in the album and annoyed me. The annoyance stems from how excited I am to be alive.

As people have remembered on Twitter: I made a permanent decision a considerable time back to get the following tattooed to me: “I am the dust of the earth. The world was created for me.” It’s scary how much my life came to fulfill that first sentence and how hard it is for me to stay focused on the second sentence.

I have earned my life back. “The world was created for me” begins to seem more believable. Sometimes, I talk about a future tattoo I might get. But I don’t need another tattoo when I have a scar.

What people don’t know (some may have seen my dad putting a picture on Facebook) is that while in Dodd Hall at Ohio State University Hospital I wrote on a white board beside a piano that I was playing—I was playing the song you think about when you read the lyrics — and my therapists saw the sentence “No mountain high enough.” My recovery and journey back to the classroom has totally taken that theme. Another theme I’m trying to remind myself about is the Detroit motto “We hope for better things; it shall rise from the ashes.” I hope for better things in my life.

In Detroit, I’ve learned a lot about education, students, and life. I hope I will be given a place to tell everyone that wants to know these things. This blog is my take of that place. Dr. Joseph Bianco, my thesis advisor at Ohio University sent me a book about a nurse who helped Vietnam veterans with their last minutes of dying, a lot of whom had been survivors of near-death experiences. They were in Hospice, getting ready to die, and the nurse helped them see their personal inner heroes. That’s the kind of attitude I want to bring into the classroom. Teaching is simply helping students discover their personal inner heroes.

God told me something in my moment that was amazing. I listened in the time.  For the rest of my life, I’m going to continue to believe in God because I’ve seen Him. My relationship with God before the accident was rocky. I didn’t always believe in Him. I am so thankful He ended up keeping me alive.

The list of things I tell my parents I’m excited for and the list of things God will certainly put in my life since He has given me my life:  being in charge of a classroom again, returning to my job, interacting with friends, being able to drive to their events, and being present at the important times in all of my friends’/family’s lives, and having similar times that I get to invite people to. My brother Tyler who has been crazy fun to interact with in my recovery is thought of here. I’ve been a huge joy to him as he is to me while I’ve been recovering. I went out with him when he practiced kicking. He’s his university’s football team’s kicker. I retrieved footballs for him. He got the biggest grin on his face when I would throw them back to him.

God’s last words to me were “I have to go, but I have a plan for you.” “I have to go” was one of the scariest things to hear in a near-death moment because I thought He wasn’t going to help me and those words have been the source of much of my confusion. It’s why I thought I was dying. It’s why that supposition has returned several times. God seemed out of it, in the moment, but in reality, I was the one out of it. Now, I realize “I have to go” was referring to my survival and that He had given the skills to emergency responders and doctors that would ultimately save my life. But “I have a plan for you” seemed more than a little crazy because I wasn’t ready to think that God’s plan for me was brand new. As I have discussed His words over with many people, they have helped me to realize that God’s plan for me did not have to be different than His first one. My first God plan was definitely to educate, think, and love people I was around. That’s what His current plan seems like, which means the life I’m currently living is not my own — an idea that is hard to swallow; the scar is a good reminder. Other people will gain life from it. It will be a life I devote to service-type things like teaching, loving, and learning. I am frustrated almost daily because I’m not actively meeting all parts of His plan. The support that I’ve received is all about heading back to the classroom.

Today is the welcome of 2014. I count on it being a great year where I manage to make it back to the classroom.

Super Saturday: A Hypocritical Heart Heavy with Hyperbole

I originally posted this on November 17, 2011. These kind of violent hyperboles are literally everywhere. I can see them now in a way I couldn’t before the accident. It’s made me stop using them myself. So I guess I’m not a hypocrite anymore!

I’m about to criticize the world for something I know I do on a regular basis. So I’m hoping you can afford me the love and grace to recognize the truth in the following words even if they do make me a hypocrite.

Your exams are not going to kill you. You have a cold; you are not dying. You broke up with your boyfriend; you are not forever alone. That class did not rape you. You don’t want to kill everyone. You don’t hate everything.

Hyperbolic phrases. I get them. They are sometimes humorous. Except when they aren’t. There are people all around you who are struggling with deaths, with sexual abuse, with terminal illnesses, with depression. I don’t know. I don’t mean to be a debbie downer here. And believe me, I understand being stressed or uptight about things that are seemingly unimportant to others. But that doesn’t mean that you should compare those things to grave things like death and rape.

Life is not exactly a walk in the park (although, it is a bit like standing in the ocean), but if the biggest thing we have to worry about is a tough exam, maybe we should be blessing the world instead of cursing it.

Super Saturday: A Metaphor Concerning a Family Card Game

This post was originally published on December 26, 2011. Uno was the first card game I played in the hospital after the accident, and I played it so many times when I got home. I made everyone who visited me play it. From the very beginning, I used my strategy.

Holidays at the Smith household are pretty amazing. We spend a lot of time playing the card game Uno.

That’s not completely accurate.

I spend a lot of time trying to convince my family that we should play Uno. I really like it. It’s a very simple game. It’s mostly about luck – what cards you draw and what cards others play. But I have a strategy.

My family doesn’t believe in the strategy, but the numbers speak for themselves. Over the past few days, I have won the most games (the numbers are even more striking when you don’t count Dad’s wins when he cheated and when we played by my brother’s “house rules”).

I don’t think that I’ve cracked Uno. That’s not very likely. Like I said, it’s mostly a game of luck. And I don’t think my strategy is ground-breaking. It’s just a plan. It does two things for me.

1. I always know how I’m going to play a hand. No matter the cards in my hand or the cards in my opponents’ hands, I know exactly what I’m going to do. I do all the thinking well before I ever pick up a card. It saves me from making mistakes during game play.

2. I never worry about what else is going on. Obviously, you can’t control the cards that your opponents get in Uno. But if you have a plan, any plan, then you are controlling all that you can. Therefore, there’s no reason to worry about what else is going on; you can just play.

That’s what a good strategy does. It gives you a plan, and it frees you from worry.

Super Saturday: When Eternity Finds Its Way Into Today

In recovery, eternity and the present seemingly merged for me.  It seems like my accident was a lifetime ago but it was a little more than five months ago. When people visit me, I can say “it’s been a lifetime since I’ve seen you” and mean it literally. This post was originally published on November 9, 2011.

I’m deathly afraid of eternities and infinities. My brain likes it much more when I have a finite amount of things left to do.

I used to be a philosophy major. It was a hard time in my life. I think I used to like philosophy. It’s hard to remember that far back, but I think I did, once. I started to second-guess my major at the same point in my life that I began to consider it as a life-long career.

The problem with being a life-long philosopher is that your job is never really done. There are always critics to argue against. There are always new ideas to explore. There are always more books to read, more systems to overthrow, and more logic to do.

That scared the hell out of me. I don’t know if I could have been a philosopher. Maybe I don’t have what it takes. But I do know that I would have been burnt out before I had gotten through grad school. I would have been focused on the following sixty years of my career. I would have been thinking about the next thing always. That’s tiring.

For a while, dropping my philosophy major made my life easier. I don’t plan on making an academic career out of my studies in literature so the endless amount of academic work in the field doesn’t intimidate me. But now I realize that infinity, the future, eternity sneaks up on you. It finds you. And pretty soon, you realize that you are never going to be able to read everything, see everything, meet every person important in your field. Then you have a choice.

You can either let it intimidate you. You can let it ruin you. You can let it stress you out.

Or

You focus on the task at hand. You can approach your present challenge as if it is the last thing you will ever have to accomplish. And you can do it.