The Paradox of Gift and Curse

© 2000 Michele Toomey, PhD


June 12, 2000

The weight of reconciling the gift and curse of brain damage is enormous. Gift and curse are extreme states at the farthest end of the outer boundary, and brain injury is a devastating experience with traumatic effects. Reconciliation demands extreme expression between the curse of its devastating and tragic effects and the gift of the need it brings to connect with a depth of understanding and appreciation of the meaning of life. Brain damage dramatically changes our life, limiting us in ways we never expected and deepening us in ways we never dreamed possible.

There is a superlative quality to everything surrounding brain damage. Gift and curse are superlatives that capture the intense feelings and reality that are called forth. Without integrity they could call forth euphoria or despair, because without the boundary of integrity they would become superlative exaggerations. Exaggerations can not be tolerated, however, because they tip the balance from truth to deception. Euphoria exaggerates gift. Despair exaggerates curse. Integrity exaggerates neither. Therefore, only integrity can protect the fragile balance of the reconciled superlatives of the gift and curse of brain damage. The demand is for purity and truthfulness. No exaggeration can be tolerated or there can be no integrity, no reconciliation, no movement, and then no tolerance for truth. The imbalance contaminates everything. The gift is lost and the curse consumes.

There is no room for exaggeration. We are already at the outer limit. Exaggeration tips us over the edge. The imbalance contaminates everything. Take curse, for example. It screams out at us of loss, loss and more loss. It cries out in the never-ending struggle of hard, very hard, very, very hard. It instills fear, bone chilling fear, countered by anger, bordering on rage, white rage and red hot anger. Curse makes itself evident immediately and loudly. Without reconciling it with gift, the gift is lost and the curse consumes. Despair is the natural outgrowth of exaggerated curse.

To protect against despair, some would deny their feelings. They assume the stance of stoic stiffness to prevent feeling devastated. Or so it would seem.

Stoicism violates our integrity in another way, by preventing intimacy, that is a certainty. The price of this stiff, stoic non-feeling stance is an added tragedy. Not only is the paradox of gift and curse eliminated, but so is emotional involvement in one's life.

Giving in to despair and becoming a victim of the tragedy also destroys the integrity of reconciling the paradox of the gift and curse of brain damage. The vulnerability and passivity of victimhood are not balanced by strength and activity. The crash into victimhood may yield sympathy but it will never yield integrity or real intimacy. Courage is supplanted by a giving in and giving up, leaving no room for courage. Just as stoicism is stiff and cold, so victimhood is mushy and damp. Neither claims the paradox and both add another tragic element to an already tragic state.

So, what of gift that balances curse? Much less easy to discover and much more difficult to recognize and certainly much more challenging to embrace. The gift of brain damage is hidden in its demands. To deal with the endless list of demands that a damaged brain requires, we are forced to dig deep within ourselves and find the courage, the depth, and the commitment to integrity that allows us to go to essential truth. Only at essence can we find any gift. Only at essence is there any. To find it we must value it. And learning to value essential truth is a deeply spiritual quest. The gift of brain damage, therefore, is in its connection to our core. If we are to experience any gift in this tragedy, we must live out of our core, our essence, our soul. Fortunately, you, Marlene, are someone who has both the desire and the capacity to live out of your core. Not only can you comprehend the gift, you long for it and are learning to embrace it. The essence of life and love are yours to focus on and cherish. They are the gifts of the paradoxical gift and curse of brain damage.

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