“It was twenty years ago today” My Life with Traumatic Brain Injury

Ride leader. BCA Wednesday Ride

On August 5, 2000 I set off to ride the Greylock Century Ride, a grueling 100 mile ride through the Berkshire Hills of Western Massachusetts. I had already gone up and over Mt. Greylock, the highest point in the state, and up the famous “Hairpin Turn” on Route 2, “The Mohawk Trail.”

At mile 33 I found myself off the road in a drainage ditch  (I found out later they are called “paved waterways” and are designed to keep then snow melt off the road.) The waterway led to a grate. It was too steep to ride back on the road or onto the shoulder so I literally went head over heels onto the pavement, still clipped into my pedals.

The damage to my body, I learned after trips to two hospitals, was a badly separated shoulder, a broken rib, a contused lung, and multiple abrasions to my arms, legs and side (cyclists call it “road rash.“ What I didn’t learn for three more months was that I had an undiagnosed severe traumatic brain injury (TBI).

I had surgery to fix my ruined shoulder, the road rash finally healed months later, the rib healed, the lung healed, but the TBI remains with me to this day, although I have adapted to my “new normal” and have learned to live with it. If you want to know more about the day of my accident I gave a paper on it to the Monday Evening Club called “I Lost My Marbles on the Mohawk Trail.

In September of 2004 I came to the realization that my disability made it impossible to remain a parish pastor, and I sadly resigned my pastorate of 22 years and went on long-term disability and SSDI, thus ending may thirty years as a pastor to congregations.

One of the ways I lived my new normal was to continue my ministry through my writings. I started this blog in 2009, and I have written about the things I care about, one of which is TBI. One of the first pieces I published here was called “I Have a Brain Injury.”

My first devotion for the UCC Daily Devotional was called “What’s Your New Normal?”

My “New Normal” is what my doctor told me to think about my life, and not compare it to life before the TBI. I have found this helpful, and a good way to think about one’s faith journey, for we are always faced with changes and new challenges. I have recently repurposed the devotion to help think about our new normal after this pandemic. That piece is called “Imagining Our New Normal.”

I will be remotely preaching on this topic this Sunday, August 9, at South Congregational Church in Pittsfield, and next Sunday, August 16, remotely at The United Congregational Church of Little Compton, Rhode Island, where my daughter is the pastor.

Finally I want to say that I am most grateful to my wife and family for the support they lovingly gave me through some difficult years. And I am thankful for God’s grace and vast love for me even when I didn’t feel it or acknowledge it. On the Tenth Anniversary of my accident I wrote a piece called “Disability and Grace.”

I ended that piece with this reflection:

The scripture that speaks to me most about disability comes from the vision of John the Divine as reported in the 21st chapter of Revelation. John looks up and sees a new heaven and a new earth, and a New Jerusalem coming down from God out of heaven. He says, “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”

I take comfort from this promise that God’s ultimate intention for us is a community where we don’t suffer pain or death or loss.  That would have to include disability. No more sleepless nights, no more depression, no more chronic pain, no more anxiety and fear, no more shame. No more of all the things that beset us in this earthly life. Quite a vision!

This horizon of hope often allows me to bounce back from my set-backs, to experience forgiveness for my failings, to face the challenges and complications of each new day, and to enjoy the quotidian little (and sometimes not so little) graces that visit me unbidden and unexpected.

Amen.

 

(Photos: 1. On a BCA Wednesday Ride. 2. In front of the Monterey General Store on a ride)

“Imagining our New Normal?”

“Behold I make all things new!” – Revelation 21:5

Twenty years ago my life changed forever in an instant when I flew over the handlebars of my bicycle and landed on my head. Like Humpty Dumpty I “couldn’t be put back together again.” The name for my new situation is traumatic brain injury (TBI), the injury so many of our troops return with from war.

Everyone’s TBI is different. In the Brain Injury community, we say, “If you’ve seen one TBI you’ve seen one TBI.”  Still, all TBIs share the family traits of neurological deficits and behavioral changes that are challenging for both the one who has them and for the loved ones who must deal with them.

As I was trying to stay afloat in these new uncharted waters, my thoughtful neuropsychologist, Sarah, threw me a lifeline with the term “new normal.” She said, “Don’t compare how you are today with how you were before the accident. Compare how you are today with how you were after the accident.  That’s your new normal.”

One of my disabilities is an impaired “executive function,” the part of the brain that allows one to multi-task. Sarah told me, “Before your accident you could probably cook dinner, talk to your wife, and listen to NPR all at the same time. Now pick one.” So I have learned how to do one thing at a time. Sometimes I get very frustrated by this, especially if I compare myself to before my injury, but measured by my new normal, I can see improvement.

This idea of new normal has been so helpful to me that I have begun to think about it as a metaphor for the life of faith. Since my injury I have been paying attention to the word “new” wherever I come across it in our faith.  Scripture is full of it: the Revelation passage above is just one of countless verses where “God is doing a new thing.”

And our hymnody is also full of allusions to the new: “morning by morning new mercies I see” and “new every morning is the love.”  These phrases carry so much emotional power for me.

They remind me that ours is a God of new starts, second chances, the God who raised Jesus from the dead. And you don’t have to have a disability to benefit from thinking about your “new normal.” The everyday bumps and shocks of life set us all back at times, and the aging process will in time diminish our capabilities. But this God of the new is never done with us, even in the face of death.

It occurs to me that “new normal” is a useful way to think about what happens after the pandemic. Many are eager to go “back to normal.” But there is no going back to the status quo ante.

Recall when the prophets like Jeremiah spoke of “restoring the fortunes” of Israel it didn’t mean going back to the way it was. It meant creating something new, something better, something more just, and fair and kind. It meant seeking something closer to God’s intention for his people and world

The upheavals in our society, the protests against police brutality, the cries for justice, and the revealing of the inequalities and inequities in our society call for more than a return to the way things were. The twin viruses of Covid-19 and racism share a trait: they are powerless without a host. These viruses invite us to imagine not a return to business as usual, but to a new way to be a society, a new way to be church, a new way to be a person of faith.

Let us imagine what our “new normal” might look like.

Prayer

God of the Exodus and the Resurrection help us to see and know the new things you are doing in us and in the world around us. Keep us from discouragement about the things we can longer do, and let us be grateful for the things we can. Open our imaginations to what new things we might do.

(Photo: RL Floyd, 2020)

“Taking the Long View” Reflections of a Retired Pastor

Presiding(This is a talk I gave to “The Saints” which is the United Church of Christ retired clergy group in the Connecticut Conference of the UCC. The talk was in Cromwell, CT on May 14, 2015)

I’d like to thank you for inviting me to be with you today. I have great respect for ministry as a high and holy calling, and I enjoy the company of ministers. I am proud to be a minister, and this year is the 40th anniversary of my ordination. And it is good to be in the Connecticut Conference. I never served here, but my daughter, Rebecca Floyd Marshall, is an ordained minister here in CT, serving in Westport. If you bump into her at a Conference meeting introduce yourself.

My talk today is entitled “Taking the Long View” which was the title of a UCC STILL SPEAKING Daily Devotional I wrote for March 14 of last year. I see it was re-printed in your newsletter. I’m going to share with you some of my personal back-story behind the writing of this particular devotional.

I began the devotional with an anecdote about Ralph, a congregant of mine in my first church, who owned an apple orchard: “I drove over to see Ralph at his hilltop orchard a week after I had presided over his wife’s funeral and burial. He was well into his nineties and they had been married for seven decades. I was all of twenty-seven. It took me awhile to find him, because he was out planting apple trees. He seemed glad to see me and said, “You may wonder why I am planting trees that I will never live to see bear fruit. But it’s what I have always done, and I am not going to stop now. There were apple trees in this orchard when I came here that somebody else had planted, and there will be apple trees here after I’m gone.”

I’ve held onto Ralph’s words for forty years, and lately they have helped me as I think about what it means to be a retired minister. That hasn’t been easy for me. Because when I left my role as a pastor it seemed, at first, and for a long while, like the loss of my calling as a minister. Now I have come to realize that, although I am no longer a pastor of a congregation, I am still a minister. When I turned 65 the UCC Pension Boards mailed me a good little book by Paul Clayton entitled Called for Life (Perhaps you all got one, too). I love the play on words in the title, and I do believe we are “called for life” in both senses of the phrase.  Continue reading