Lisa Genova’s inspirational book, Left Neglected, is the story of a young executive who suffers brain damage in a car accident caused by searching for her cellphone. As a result, she has no feeling on her left side and only slight feeling on her right. The book tells of her struggle to be connected to herself and to once again feel whole.
Genova’s work resonated with me on many different levels and was the perfect read after living the laid-back lifestyle of New Zealand. In Alberta, where we are busy working ourselves to the point of extinction, there is a constant pressure to perform. I have lived that life and died that death. In living that life I gave up the first words, the first steps, the first dates, and first births for “the industry.” And although many of those years were tough and rewarding as a single parent and struggling entrepreneur, if I had a chance to do it over, I would have lived my life differently.
I would have asked a mentor to guide me and a business coach to train me. I would have built my business around my family, not on my little family. And I would have learned that there would not be a dire consequence in saying “no.” When the going got tough and I got going, it would have been a team effort rather than a fragmented series of trade-offs that eroded precious family time and connections.
In dying that death and living again, I had a second chance even after learning to walk, talk, read and count accurately again. And that is why a book like Left Neglected is so close to my journey and such a testament to what we are capable of overcoming in our lives. In this story, the main character Sarah is fighting to regain herself from her handicap. A poster on the wall always intrigued her and she read it as a clenched fist with the word ATTITUDE in bold. When she was facing the fear of her limited abilities in going home from rehab, a caregiver reminded her of how lucky she was. How fortunate that she was not killed in the car accident or that her children were not in the car. How lucky she was to know herself and her family and to be able to articulate her feelings and needs. She took one last look at the gym that she was taking therapy in and saw the poster on the wall. To her amazement, there was not a clenched fist in the poster but two hands clasped together with the word GRATITUDE in bold.
A change in perspective revealed a new meaning to Sarah that she could carry into her life. There are days when we zip through life on attitude, but would it not be better to live days a little more slowly in gratitude? We could go farther faster, but what about the journey? We could jam our children into anther event or sit down with them and play cards or sort those cows one more time or zip around the dance (or kitchen) floor with our beloved. We might even take one-tenth of our time for our personal growth and building family and community relationships and maybe — just maybe — we would be richer for the change.
The good life is an individual measurement and a private choice. But if you find yourself reliving close calls rather than lovely moments; facing your days in complete exhaustion rather than taking in your surroundings with joy; or find yourself hating your job, your farm or your family, then perhaps it is time to step back before the inevitable crash as you are looking for something and be grateful for what is working on your left side!
I often think of my dearest friend Lynn, who we lost this summer. She loved life and was forever cheerful and happy. She would laugh and tease and was always appreciative of a visit. She could bring sun into anyone’s day. What she could not do was walk or feed herself. What she could not do was read a book or get dressed. What she could not do was send an email or control the temperature in her room, snuggle under a blanket when she was cold, or see her grandchildren. But as she lay in her bed, day after day and year after year, she lived her life with gratitude and would tell you with all sincerity that hers was a good life.
Sarah and Lynn remind us that our lives are short, beautiful pieces of history. We can choose to work ourselves to extinction or write the script.