I should start collecting money every time I hear that phrase. I'd have a nice little nest egg.
I've gotten so good at predicting out of which mouths I'm going to hear it, I've made a game of it. I stand in crowds waiting for the words and I fantasize about yelling "BINGO" when they are uttered. I never do yell out loud. It's not my style. So, I resist my judgmental tendencies and turn inward.
"There's nothing in there." This morning I sat a dock in Florida. The water is murky and silty so you can't see anything below the surface, but I know there are three manatees in the water slowly grazing just below my dangling feet. I can't see them except when they stick their snouts above the water to breathe, but I know there is a lively world below me and I don't care if I can't see it. I want to be with it just like this, right now.
I remember game watching in Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. Sometimes we sat on a wooden platform for hours without seeing anything more than a few birds. I was impatient then. It was 20 years ago and I was not yet a parent or a brain injured person. I was not yet a mid-life woman who needed silence and solitude as much as she needs air and water. I wanted giraffe and elephant sightings and I wanted them now.
Beyond wildlife sightings, I've always gotten pretty much anything I set my mind to. And then I moved on to the next thing I thought I "should" set my mind to. Determination and desire are not bad things, mind you, but looking back on them now, I can see that most of what I've set my mind to were accomplishments for which I would receive praise. External praise was always my motivation. I've pretty much always judged myself by two things 1) what I accomplish and 2) how I look. I was brought up in an achieving family and surrounded myself with friends who were much like me. It was expected. This is neither good nor bad. It just is the way it is. Or was. Or is with modifications now.
When I whacked my head in October of 2011, for the first three months of my recovery, my doctor had no idea what to do with me so she prescribed brain rest, which is standard treatment for my kind of injury. Brain rest means NO stimulation. No reading, no television, no physical activity - it means lots of sleep and lots of quiet time just waiting...just waiting for something unidentifiable, undefined, waiting for something lurking under murky water that might pop up to breathe. Or might swim away.
I failed brain rest 101. Brain rest was my equivalent of the Florida manatee-seeking tourist lament, "There's nothing there."
There was nothing there for me when I couldn't see myself as an achieving professional with deadlines to slay. There was nothing there for a writer who couldn't read more than a couple sentences at a time. There was nothing there for me when I didn't put on makeup and a designer purse to go to work. There was nothing there for me when my child, who was a senior in high school at the time, couldn't wait to get out of the house in a year. There was nothing there for me when I was no longer the independent woman who had always earned her own living and never asked for help.
There was a whole lot of nothing there for those first few months. I didn't know who I was when all that I had used to define myself was stripped away. I couldn't even feel depression or anxiety as I had in the past because I believe my brain circuitry was so altered that I was not physically able. I felt floaty. Like I was observing the world, but not really part of it. Like I was not really even part of myself anymore. Like I should be able to DO something to "make the manatee appear", but I couldn't. For the first time, I couldn't make anything go the way I wanted it to.
Something struck me today as I chuckled at the "there's nothing there" people. I realized that I AM pretty good at waiting quietly for something I can't identify - something I know is bigger than the throngs of people clamoring for an "experience." I thought about all the times in life when I have gone in solitude where there are no people, where I have sat and waited alone and found everything I needed at that moment in "there's nothing there." All the times when I've trusted my instincts and found the perfect restaurant - the place that looks run-down from the outside and no one has told me "I must" eat there, but has the best fish I've ever tasted or where I've struck up a conversation and shared something meaningful with a stranger without any agenda or expectation. I thought about giving birth in my living room 19 years ago, having decided to have a home birth just a few weeks before my due date - that sense of just knowing it was all okay and right. I've thought about all the beautiful travel experiences and people I've met in person and through social media just because I knew there was something there and I waited patiently at the dock for it to show up.
I've always had that sense about who is good and what is good. And it's always right.
I am lucky. One of the lingering effects of my brain injury is that my brain switches off when it's had enough. I can't speak in complete sentences and I walk into walls. It's like the blackout that happened at the 2013 Superbowl and I just have to wait for the power to come back. There's no switch I can throw to make it happen.
This is not a story of magical transformation. I am still impatient. I still want what I want when I want it. I still want to achieve great things, I still want praise, I still want to look good.
When I begin to act like a "there's nothing there" tourist of my own life, I've learned to laugh at myself. Compassionately. For in the moments of there's nothing there, something is there for me. I don't always know what it is, but I trust that it will appear.
In the moments of brain injury blackout and intentional solitude and quiet, I know that big things are swimming just below the surface and everything is there for me.