See that cloud? That’s a brain. See the lightning? That’s an aphorism. James Geary, our world’s foremost expert and collector of aphorisms, calls this “most intimate, idiosyncratic literary genre” a “Swiss army knife for the mind.” Aphorisms, he writes, “come in small portions, are exquisitely formed, and always leave you wanting more.”
I’ve fallen in literary love with this form, and since my brain was bashed last summer, my thinking and memory come and go in rapid spurts. Taking in, holding onto, and pondering one aphorism at a time is one of my good medicines. In this healing journey from injury, I’ve taken this gem from Novalis to heart and mind:
Every specific fact is a source for a special science.
Science! — the cradle of curiosity. Peering into a fact, fleshing it out, turning it every which way, peering at it from as many perspectives as we can imagine. Curiosity itself is a holy fact, and I’ve forever been curious about words. Sometimes I think that every human act begins with a single word: a Yes or a No. Mindful or not, our yays or nays tend to drive us.
In the aftermath of traumatic and existential injury, No often takes over. Fear tends to drive the ship, and we retract. No more! No more!, we cry.
But Yes! refuses to give up. Yes to the cardinal’s song, to the lilac bush that’s flinging out a scent that carpets entire neighbourhoods. Yes! to telling our stories because someone in the world will point to our story and say Yes! to their own. Yes! to comprehend in our marrow that
To admit a common human frailty is to activate a common humane strength.
Nearly 11 months since I was injured, I’ve noticed that certain glitches seem to have settled in for a long stay. My right leg tends to collapse, and my gait can be gimpy. My eyes can’t tolerate much light; my ears, much sound. Names and faces don’t easily blend into a coherent memory. What can I do? First of all, I can remember an aphorism that I made up as a touchstone:
Instead of saying “I can’t,” say, “Adapt.”
So I’ll take my gimpy leg out for a walk, and let my nose lead me to some lilacs. I’ll lay down on the floor and do some somatic sequences that soften the spasms in my neck. I’ll nap, or play some music that I can breathe along to … music that, if I tend to it with my breath, will ease my rhythms into an adagio tempo. I’ll look out my window to the sky, and receive the spaciousness. I’ll do this:
Turn disability into this ability.
I’ll invent some aphorisms. They do strike like lightning from a stormy brain! And even if my brain is storming with fear and panic, I can reach out and clutch to the fact that
There are as many factors in a situation as there are hairs on our head.
Somewhere in the storm, synapses of courage are firing. Synapses that insist I am so much more than injury’s effects. Synapses that remind me of every competence I’ve gained, every goodness I’ve committed, every beloved mentor and friend who has walked beside me and shed some love into my soul.
Light, too, is inevitable.
Remember … remember.
One grace at a time.
(Photo: Kara Swanson, Positive Lightning, via National Geographic)