Pain and Promise

On August 22, 2012 I wrote a blog post called “All or Nothing.”  In it I mentioned Kathleen O’Connor’s book Jeremiah: Pain and Promise. I had only read three chapters of it at the time but this morning I read chapter 9 “Encoding Catastrophe” about the sermons in Jeremiah.  Pictured at left is O’Connor’s book along with a book by Gerhard von Rad, The Message of the Prophets.

As I wrote earlier, I never liked Jeremiah but O’Connor’s book is giving me a new appreciation for it.  I consulted von Rad’s book because I get sort of confused about all the historical things in Jeremiah.  I hope to study it more carefully later but for now this chapter really affected me.

O’Connor writes, “Because disasters shatter ‘the sense of what life deeply means,’ and because they destroy the symbolic universe that formerly held up the world, new ways of conceiving identity must emerge for a people to survive as a people. (p. 93, bold added) While it is true that sustaining a traumatic brain injury is not the same as the disaster Jeremiah writes about, there are similarities. 

O’Connor shares what trauma experts Robin Fivush and Beth Seelig wrote.  “When experienced events cannot be understood, the human mind returns again and again to the event to try to make sense of it in a repetitive and compulsive way.”  This definitely happens when one sustains a brain injury.  We want to tell our story over and over again in order to make sense of it. O’Connor says that part of the narrative changes in the retelling, “But the more coherent and better organized explanations become, the more they aid survivors.”

This is true in my case.  How many times have I told my story?  My husband Michael and I went out for frozen yogurt and when we were returning home he forgot what gear he was in on our standard transmisiion when he turned left.  As a result, we were hit by an oncoming car.  The police officer even gave him a ticket as I was being taken by ambulance to the nearest hospital and he was experiencing all the confusion one experiences after being in a serious accident.  (He spent a week in the hospital.  I was in an induced coma so I didn’t know anything that was going on.)

I’ve gone over it in my mind millions of times.  How could Michael be so stupid as to not know what gear he was in?  Why did we get frozen yogurt just then?  and Etc. Etc. Etc. However, going over it again in my mind has “turned frightening chaos into a contained and predictable event.”  (Tal, Worlds of Hurt) Like Jeremiah’s sermons, my “sermons” (to myself and to others) have allowed me to accept this tragedy and move on.

This is why brain injury survivors must connect and tell their stories to one another. I’ve shared my anger at Michael for causing the accident and he has shared his regret.  In fact, he won’t buy a standard transmission car now!  While I’m not thankful for the accident, I have learned much from it. In fact, both of us have grown. 

At some point, I plan to study Jeremiah.  O’Connor wrote in her preface, “Viewed from this perspective, Jeremiah is a work of resilience, a book of massive theological reinvention, and a kind of survival manual for a destroyed society.”   Those of us who are brain injury surivors need a “survival manual.”

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