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DALLAS — Since my brush with death while walking through a grocery store parking lot seven weeks ago, I’ve hit a few rough patches.
Besides navigating my way through lots of aches and even more pains, I struggle with what’s called “diminished capacity.” In other words, my brain can process only so much activity or stimulation before it decides that it’s had enough and starts to shut down.
I’m never quite sure when this might occur, so it’s proven quite problematic — especially when I’m out in public or trying to have an extended conversation.
My doctors say that my brain will eventually recalibrate and return to its normal state. As time wears on, I can see why they use the term “eventually” — it’s nice and vague. I’m beginning to wonder if patience, for all its virtues, might be a bit overrated. At this point, I would choose full pre-accident brain capacity over patience in a heartbeat.
As tough as these issues have been, at least the doctors prepared me for them. The one thing that caught me completely off guard, though, is that I couldn’t get myself to go back to the scene of the accident. Every time I would pass the store, the thought of walking through the parking lot was paralyzing.
For someone like me, who isn’t nervous or panicky by nature, that feeling of dread was foreign and somewhat frightening. It wasn’t rational, but it was very real.
At the five-week point, I decided that I’d had enough of my own wimpiness. I was going to show my kids what being brave looks like. So in a burst of confidence, I put on the shirt I had worn on the day of the accident (sadly, my jeans were rendered unwearable by a zealous paramedic wielding a giant pair of scissors) and drove to the store with my two youngest kids.
Once I parked, I realized that my confidence had been short-lived and I came very close to turning around. But my kids — who understood why we had come — were with me, and the whole idea was for me to show them how to be brave. I climbed out, held tightly to my 7-year-old son’s hand, and we slowly retraced my steps through the parking lot.
Without my son’s smile and my 10-year-old daughter’s enthusiastic words of encouragement, I couldn’t have done it. As it turned out, my kids helped me be brave.
As we entered the store, there were no cheers or balloons or even a cookie to acknowledge my feat. We simply walked through the aisles, filled our cart and went to a checkout line. As he was scanning our groceries, the teenage cashier smiled and said, “How’s it going?”
Almost everyone I know has tackled, or is currently tackling, significant challenges ... in other words, we all suffer a form of "diminished capacity" at some point. ... It can be so very hard to be brave — especially without help.
I smiled back and said, “Fine, thanks.” He didn’t know my full story, and would have been pretty overwhelmed with my real answer. But he was both genuine and friendly, which was enough.
Almost everyone I know has tackled, or is currently tackling, significant challenges: health issues, death or disability of a loved one, divorce, struggles with children, huge disappointments, depression. In other words, we all suffer a form of “diminished capacity” at some point.
When we’re in this diminished state, it can seem almost impossible to walk into a store, or even get out of bed in the morning. It can be so very hard to be brave — especially without help.
I tell myself to make more of an effort to smile, to give words of encouragement, and to hold someone’s hand when they need it. And even though I will rarely know anyone’s full story, I remind myself how important it is to simply be genuine and friendly.
It may not be everything, but there's a good chance that it will be enough.
Main image: Susie and her son during their walk through the parking lot. (Photo: Susie Boyce)