A fascinating book that is much more than a tragic personal story, more than a picture of how brain injuries will strain relationships with family, co-workers, health care professionals and a legal system not adequately empowered to respond to an individual’s needs, let alone the thousands who have suffered long after their initial injury. All too often it seems few are able to overcome the adversities of such situations, to move on with their life, or to ultimately find a peace within themselves… but Alan J Cooper has done that with this book, reflecting on his life, so that his words may offer help and guidance to the many brain-injured people and their loved ones.
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About the Author
Alan J Cooper embarked on a writing career after being struck by an impaired driver and incurring a severe brain injury. He holds five degrees from the University of Toronto, including a Master of Religious Education and a Master of Education. He is a public speaker, and his articles have appeared in Canadian journals, as well as the Globe and Mail.
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By Alan J Cooper, Sharon Crawford
Exile Editions LtdCopyright © 2015 Alan J Cooper
All rights reserved.
FRIDAY, APRIL 26, 2002
My student teacher year is almost complete and I have an A average. I am being told by an adjudicating committee that I have failed.
The committee has gathered in the school office of Principal King, a senior woman whose face radiates the wisdom and kindness of an old bloodhound. She will be the deliverer of my failure message and is sitting ceremoniously behind her desk. Seated silently facing her and several seats around a curve of chairs directed toward the front of her desk, is my university supervisor Katy Bard. As Ms. King utters the last word of her one long sentence, supervisor Bard hands me back without eye contact, my copy of Harold Minden's Two Hugs for Survival. Bard's boss is there too, the one who has already told students, "You will all pass, you will all get jobs." Now she begins to talk about what a crush this meeting must be for me, " ... having put my heart and soul into the entire school year." Bard's boss is offering me psychological counseling back at the University of Toronto and softly adds that help is waiting there for me.
Though much of the meeting moves along as if it has been meticulously stage-created, the producer/director/choreographer has yet to utter a decipherable sound.
I then pose an unanticipated question, "May I have it in writing, Ms. King?"
The principal seems momentarily at a loss but the producer-mastermind Ms. Coy, who is director of practice teaching, eases in with an answer representative of her agility with the use and abuse of words. She finishes with, "It's over."
I am finished in minutes and though it is still lunchtime, I am out of the school and none of my students has seen me leave. I am in shock but not surprise. My associate teacher has been openly happy with me as have the children, and I have shared with Ms. Bard my confidence that this is a school in which I would very much like to teach. But I have had over 20 years of such sudden firings, failures and dismissals, and each time when I have heard the words anew, I have turned increasingly mute.
I bus home that Friday, unaware of the shield that my brain has created around itself. Noise is brushing by. My mind is shooting through the past 5 days of practice teaching and how frantic they must have been for the firing's mastermind. Only the Friday before had I been forced to slip my letter of protest under her office door, her having left early. More likely than not, she would have thought she had closed the door on her personal compromise, and by the Monday following, I would already be practice teaching.
The producer-mastermind, Ms. Coy, had offered me the makeup Practicum only 2 days before my entering it, thus making a mockery of my intended appeal. She had advised me at the time that if I wanted to appeal the sham of 2 months earlier, I would not be able to enter the make-up practice teaching on Monday. For over 6 weeks I had been requesting from Ms. Coy, the college's position from which to appeal. In the end, Coy had finagled me into a trap in which I could not appeal and still graduate in June. Legally, she had pulled off a masterful stroke.
My letter of protest to Coy had made it clear I was not appealing my case but had made mention that supervisor Katy Bard had given me no warning of changing her reference on me. Bard had changed it from a promised excellent to an outright refusal to give one, after having heard Coy's overview of my failing 2 months earlier.
At the time, a substitute supervisor under Coy had directed my in-class teacher to change her assessment on me from "pass" to "fail." The substitute had done so only 20 minutes before the end of the term, without so much as witnessing my practice teaching that week. Within days of that interim failing and despite my being earlier told by a Toronto School Board interviewer that the TSB was eager for me to become a teacher within it, I had received from them a 2-sentence "not-interested" letter. As for Ms. Bard's changed reference, she had been alerted by her boss about Bard's not forewarning me of a reference change. I had later heard from Ms. Bard the saying that I have been given so often — to put the issue behind me and concentrate on the future.
I have worked 100 hours per week for 8 straight months since September. My papers and class work have been regarded as outstanding — but one issue that has loomed across every hour for the past 20 years and 4 months — is center again. Despite my A average, Toronto Teacher's College is determined not to allow me to teach. Its eventual, written response will detail a litany of behavioral patterns that betray my severe and permanent brain damage.
Mid-Friday afternoon, I reach home and am beyond exhaustion. I collapse into an heirloom chair in my little living room and ponder what to do next. There is always suicide, as I have contemplated so many times before, but suicide seems so much overdone as is true of its prime motivator, the need to punish. I look at the air and the walls, and wonder what, if anything, I will ever do again. Nothing seems left, not even pain. Where anger and indignation once boiled, there is not even despair. It is as if I have been in prison for many years and face nothing but prison yet to come, with all its new pains and injustices for a sentence that was never mine.
I move from chair to toilet to tap water and this ritual goes on for hours. I feel like a drowned towel and the thought of going to sleep is one I cannot endure. I keep looking at nothing, biding my prison time and awaiting some clue as to the reason for my being.
Around hour 4, I find my mind turning, as it has done so many times over the past 20 years, to writing. I search for paper, for a place to start. Though my home is ultra-organized to aid in using my battered brain, the sheer number of coded files, cabinets, drawers and briefcases feels overwhelming. As has happened so many times before, my right brain has begun to signal for something the left side can't find.
I descend the steep steps into the cellar and in the abandoned dank of a former coal storage room, start to probe through old papers from my Master of Education. My personality knows one brain side is deranged and the other driving, and I feel I have no choice but to follow my right brain's signal while the left side plods on. I come across a piece I wrote for my 2 sons' school, and at some point I must have considered it important enough to have slotted it later into a massive binder of formal learning. The piece is an opinion paper, based not so much on formal learning as on my gut feeling at the time from watching, playing and working for 2 years as prime caregiver with my sons, James and Robert. The handwritten piece talks of child development and how critical it is for children's physical development to precede their intellectual development, and spiritual development to precede the physical. I warn that spiritual development is not religious development but is to me the opposite.
I remember now how James and Robert had not only read, written and spelled before the age of 2 but had also swum, skated, bicycled, climbed trees, danced and from their daddy's many lessons, known how to fall. Both were happy with their father looking after them and had proven out, hour to hour, that children can develop sooner — much sooner — than even the most progressive elements of our Canadian educational society had allowed. I had taken them to the library, had written them stories and listened to their letters. Their paintings had been displayed throughout our home, along with their writings, cartoons and architectural constructs.
I find myself digging through papers going back years to my earlier Master of Religious Education. Religious I am not, but curiosity keeps driving my wondering how religiosity spins spirituality and skews human behavior. I find from 7 years earlier an essay which summed up some of my values. It was a review of the Christian bible's Book of James, purportedly written by James, brother of Jesus of Nazareth. The Book of James is crisp, clear and reflective of a single writer. I was once told that the original Greek is also of the highest order. Not bad, I think to myself, for a person whose prophet brother spoke only Aramaic. I begin reading.
A Review of The Letter of James and Its Contribution to Ongoing Spiritual Education
Professor Ken Bradley
U. of T. Course WYP 2567S
The integration of faith and learning is an issue fraught with dissent. The very words "faith" and "learning" contain connotations possibly too numerous to list and their actual denotations have been historically shaped to meet the expediencies of time, place and power. In reading about the integration of faith and learning, one can have difficulty conceiving of the subject's being free of controversy.
The Bible's Letter of James deals with both faith and learning and the integration not only of the two but each in relation to life's living. Not surprisingly, it has never been free of controversy and perhaps was so designed. As a source document, how can The Letter of James make a meaningful contribution to the faith/learning subject?
James deals first with the testing of one's faith, a trial which he believes should be greeted with joy, since such testing produces endurance that in turn leads to maturity and integrated wholeness. 'If one feels lacking in wisdom, one need only ask for it from a generous god and wisdom will be given; provided, however, one asks in faith, not doubt.' Doubt in the sense used here, is the duplicitous doubt espoused by the apostles in Luke 24:11 and is not to be confused, (it is suggested), with the doubting in good faith, ever captioned by poet Tennyson ,
'There lies more faith in honest doubt,
believe me, than in half the creeds.'
Material wealth is cut down to size in James'Letter as are those myopic and self-centered souls who wallow in it — 'The rich ... will wither away.' Temptation is said to be of one's own making, and blessings are given to those who endure it. Alternatively, generous acts of giving are always outflows of God's love .
The author assigns critical importance to listening within any communications process, with the learned person always being ready to remain silent to learn more. Being quick to anger is admonished as betraying ill will. Strong and repeated emphasis is placed upon those acts which carry through the word of God versus illusive hearing of that word. The one ascribed "perfect" law, the only one needed for anyone's pursuing the path of principles, is the "law" of perfect liberty. Those people who are only professedly religious, have suspect faith. Those who care for the needy and try to steer clear of temptation, have true faith.
James continues. 'Gauge a person's substance or worth not on the magnificence of his car. Exercise a hermeneutics of suspicion on anyone insecure or pagan-like enough to wear his wealth on his sleeve — did he acquire such material gain through the oppression of others? Love others as you would be loved. Do not compromise in your living out that love. Do not profess to have faith if you do nothing to demonstrate that faith; don't pride yourself on not being adulterous, if your behavior regularly contributes to life in the inner city being ruinous.
'Few people should become teachers, for teachers help mold minds and are thus to be held accountable with greater strictness. All of us are human and capable of making honest mistakes. The teacher, though, is like the rudder on a ship — capable of unwavering, strategic guidance or of running us amuck. The tongue is one of the greatest rudders. One should never lose mind of its awesome potential for doing good and evil. If one is wise, one can show it with the gentleness of works born of wisdom. If, however, one is envious or consumed with self- centered ambition, one should not compound those spiritual afflictions with hypocrisy. Once allowed to take hold of a person, envy and self-ambition lead to other disorders and wickedness of every kind. But wisdom from God is free from hypocrisy and partiality. Those who glean such wisdom from God are eager to help others and are full of mercy and peace.
'What are the sources of conflicts and disputes among people? Are not the sources actually cravings at war within oneself? One can enter into every conceivable wrongdoing to satisfy those earthly cravings and in so doing, one separates oneself further from God, becoming a self-exalted creature of pride. Ironically, the truly exalted are the unassuming who see in the first place, the illegitimacy of such cravings and the moral undoing in trying to satisfy them. One should thus resist devilish temptations and they will flee. If one draws near to God, He too will draw near.
'Do not speak of evil against one another, because to do so is to make one an illegitimate judge of a law that only God can judge. To pretend to become that kind of judge, one becomes incapable of carrying out that law. For trying to be god-like, one loses one's own freedom. Nevertheless, if one understands both God's law and the right thing to do in a specific instance but fails to do it, one still commits sin. Those of us who have spiritually raped people and the land in pursuit of our own luxuries, need to look at the temporality and the quality of the booty — withered clothes; rusting gold and silver. Yet the expensive trinkets remain as evidence against us and will cause our ultimate downfall.
'Above all, we should not make insincere oaths. Our "yes" should mean "yes" and our "no" a true-to-ourselves "no". We should pray, and if joyful, should sing prayers of thanks. If sick, we should exercise our faith and trust, and God will care for us. If we have done wrong and we ask in true faith for forgiveness, we will receive it. If any of us helps another out of spiritual sicknesses or back from the plagues of wrong-doing, we will have helped save that person from a hell on earth.'
It is not surprising that The Letter of James continues to create discomfort for many of us today. James says what is often not said in university faculties and his points bear relevance for even the agnostic or atheist. There is in The Letter of James, arguably not one thought that does not penetrate our consciences and our way of living now. The Letter is predicated on principles that are timeless and universal. The fact that the Letter comes packaged in a Christian message or reflects classical Jewish thinking should be of only moot concern. A careful reading through The Letter of James from time to time in any educational process cannot but help realign our inevitably out-of-balance sets of values. James' reminders of our human frailties should also underscore to us the never-ending need for spiritual as well as mental and physical growth, as part of the educational process.
Alan J Cooper, July 24, 1995.
(Professor's note: "Alan: You have pushed the class and me in good ways with this.")
Next day: Saturday
Strange for me but in my dreams I am reaching out for help. I fear help, for I fear the damage that anyone operating under its guise may do. Trusting others has been so damning for 20 years. Bach may lend strength in his music as he has in the past but in ways that I do not want now to understand. The university's Hart House has helped too, if only by its architecture and reason for being, but I feel Hart House now could remind me too much of old pains.
I need nature. I have to get out of Toronto. Hart House sits mid-city in the University of Toronto, but Hart House has a farm out in the Caledon Hills, an hour's drive northwest. Once I get past farm keeper Gord and wife, there will be no-one there and its ravine's ponds will be cold, clear, and I guess, clean. I could bicycle, bus or hitchhike.
Two hours and 5 pees later, I am being dropped off in the hamlet of Cheltenham, 4 miles south of the farm. With a half-full jug of water, I begin to hike up through the hills of pampered countryside, past the horses, cedar and post beams that reek of genteel country wealth. In less than an hour, after 2 more stops to urinate and subsequently quench my thirst, I reach the stone fence of Hart House Farm.
It is a 6-minute walk up the driveway to the farmhouse and another 30 down the ravine to the ponds, and I make my way past the house and amble onto the tree-cathedral path sloping away to the rear. I reach the top of a trail that winds down this part of the Niagara Escarpment and as I start to descend, my eyes are met everywhere with green, brown and a dabbling of stone gray. I arrive at the bottom, the area enwrapped in dark forest, brown earth and huge ridges of limestone. At the first pond, I stop on the dock long enough to search for the swing rope. It is still there, a sweet yet hurtful reminder of times past when James, Robert and I each took turns doing Tarzan yells, lunging outward and plopping into the pond.
I walk along the last 4 minutes of path, pause as I pass pond 2 for yet another needed pee, then saunter on to the sauna alongside the last pond.
There is a pile of cut wood to start the oven but I opt not to fire it up. Instead, I walk onto the giant dock, stand and gaze at the massive stone wall of the Niagara gorge in front of me. On the dock, facing the pond and wall beyond, I peer at the pine trees rising out of the needle-covered earth sloping up the hill, and the air all around is full of fresh breath. As I stand alone and stare, I feel the god within me trying to make contact with the god beyond.
"God, dear servant, it's been over 20 years of this stuff. I do not always try my best but I think this time my best is not enough. You know, God, I was just about to ask you for help but noticed no-one ever asks you how you are doing. We are so caught up in ourselves that when we turn to you, we begin with a mercenary tit-for-tat. First, in some neurotic need we have for determinacy, we label you as perfect. Then we butter you up, lavishing upon you earthly phrases we regard as praise. We often call you "Lord" as if you were some sort of landowner up on a hill or we say "The Almighty" as if you have an ego that needs to be told you can out-power all. Then we want our slates cleaned, so we tell you we've sinned and ask your forgiveness, then we say thank you for all sorts of things that we ourselves judge good, then we get around to the asking part.
Excerpted from Brain Injury by Alan J Cooper, Sharon Crawford. Copyright © 2015 Alan J Cooper. Excerpted by permission of Exile Editions Ltd.
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Table of Contents
ContentsForeword by Douglas H. Hopp,
Friday, April 26, 2002,
Near the Close of 1981,
The Months Leading Up to the Accident,
10 Years Before,
Back to the Present in 1982,
Back to the Present in 1985,
Forced to Go to Court,
9 Months from the Close of Trial to Judgment,
From a Pulpit in October 1989,
Trying to Survive Post-Judgment,
November 20th 2003,
2007 to 2015,