Though he is paralyzed, his words apply to us all, for each of us has paralysis in some ways.
Imagine walking from a well-lit room into a dark one. Imagine the darkness as a visual expression of silence. My rehabilitation made a mistake with the silence by focusing on the absence of light. It too quickly accepted the loss and taught me to willfully strike out against the darkness. It told me to move faster rather than slower, push harder rather than softer. It guided me to compensate for what I could not see.
Another course of action, however, is patience. Stop moving, wait for the eyes to adjust, allow for stillness, and then see what's possible. Although full-fledged vision does not return, usually there is enough light to find one's way across the room. After a while, the moon may come out, sounds may gain texture, and the world might reveal itself once again, only darker.
I was convinced to accept a complete loss of light. First, the doctors replaced the flesh and bones of my legs and feet with stories of phantoms and ghosts. Next, the physical therapists guided me to believe that the only meaningful connection to my paralyzed body was through a regenerating spinal cord. Against this backdrop, compensation was offered. My arms and my wheels, fueled by a compensating will, were to carry me through my life. My efforts would aim to prove that the room's darkness didn't matter at all. I would overcome it and become as effective as if the light were still on.
But what if I really wanted to be whole? If I wanted to work with the darkness rather than against it? Such questions were beyond the range of my rehabilitation. My initial attempts to feel were seen as an impossible hope to walk again. The only other option presented to me was total darkness - my paralyzed body as lost. This was the mistake. When silence is perceived strictly as loss, it can become deadening, even self-destructive. In my case, my paralyzed body became a static weight, an antithesis to living presence.
This view of silence lends itself to a familiar story. We love the notion of overcoming adversity, of succeeding in the face of imminent and probable failure. Short of that, we admire those who refuse to fall without a fight. We are a willful culture and define our heroes accordingly. We strive for victory over the darkness of the room.
But what if the darkness (the silence) is a fundamental part of us, of our consciousness? How do we overcome an essential aspect of what we are? For me, as we shall see, working against the silence deadened my sense of living and accelerated a negative sense of death.
Eventually I reached a boiling point. But the lucky frog in me refused to trade my lower body for the speed of will and wheels. When I resisted this particular healing story, when I instead actively explored the silence, a different world appeared, one with greater depth and potential.
Again, today, is a day to remember, a day "to actively explore the silence," and see what appears.