Sometimes one event can define you, and it’s a hard thing to shake. It can be a negative or a positive, but whatever that event is, everyone around you can come to associate you with it not matter what. As far as the negatives go, if I were to ask anyone historically who John Wilkes Booth was, they would simply say he’s the guy who shot Lincoln. Sure, a week before that someone might have had said, “Oh Jonny! Sure I know him, really good actor, loves to BBQ!” but one brutal decision he made wiped out almost anything else most people know about the guy.
Similarly, if I were to ask you who Neil Armstrong was, you’d respond he was the first guy who walked on the moon. He might also be a crazy baseball fan and incredible father, but that is not how he’ll ever be known again. One clearly a negative, the other a positive. Those events were choices made by those individuals, and will define their legacy. Those gentlemen will always be defined by one single event. It may frustrate someone being defined by one event, but in Neil’s case I’m sure he didn’t mind.
Then there are events that come to define you as a person that are out of your control. Those can also be both negatives and positives, but when you aren’t the one making the decision and fate takes over, they can often end up being a combination of the two. I’m experiencing that now, even when I don’t want to. The worst part is that I’m not really quite sure how to handle, or respond to people who genuinely mean well when they talk to me about it.
It’s been two years since I was in a serious car accident and while I was going through recovery, people could not have been nicer and more supportive. I was incredibly fortunate to have recovered how I did (emergency brain surgery for an artery bleed, fractured skull and bone in my ear, etc. all the fun stuff!) and when I see people now, they still ask how I’m feeling or will be very complimentary in saying, “Looks like nothing ever happened!” or “Glad you’re back to 100%!”
I always thank them but I’m not being completely honest. The problem is I’m not 100%, and at this point just have to accept I may never will be.
I’m also reminded of it every day. That’s the weird part. I still have nerve compression in my face, a fractured bone in my left ear so my hearing isn’t as good (for now the doctors said to hold off on surgery), and every now and then I’ll get a sharp pain my jaw if I’m smiling for too long. How Jewish is that?! Don’t get too happy! Remember, how miserable we are as a people! Brushing my teeth, or swishing water is also different, as I have to be careful about it leaking out of the left side of my mouth. I’ll sometimes just use my hand to press my mouth closed to avoid it.
All of this said, compared to what could have been, it’s an absurdly small price to pay. I’m very fortunate and lucky. While I’m happy that people care and still ask how I’m doing, it’s strange because the last thing I want to be is a victim. Whenever I watch reality shows and they play the victim card, I get annoyed. “I was bullied as a kid!” Really? So were most of us, now sing or get the hell off the stage! Everyone likes a sympathetic ear when they’re going through a tough time, but whatever that problem is, I don’t think it should define your whole life later. And in the end, there may be only one way to avoid that definition and that is by doing other things people can remember you by. You may always be the kid who flooded his bunk in summer camp by leaving the sink running, or fell down in front of a crowd at prom, or whatever the event is from big to small, but that doesn’t mean it has to define you as a person.
No matter what may have happened to you in the past, there are things you can do in the future that can change people’s perspectives almost immediately. I’ve known my friend Dan or “Doctor Dan” as he is called in the neighborhood as the chiropractor to go to for any kind of pain anywhere. I’ve lost count the amount of times he’s fixed me up. His Dad is a really nice guy who walked around our neighborhood with a walker. One day, his Dad, a man in his eighties who had never been to Israel, decided to go… a few hours after the muse hit him. He threw some clothes in a backpack that day, booked a flight, that same day and hopped on a plane, and officially moved to Israel. That’s a story for another time, but here’s a man late in life who now became known for that decision. Crazy? Maybe. Gutsy? Definitely. Admirable? Well, he now lives in Nahariya, (coincidentally where I was born!) and loves every second of it.
He will now be known for the rest of his life as “that guy” who made an incredible decision. While he’s done other great things, served in the military, had great kids, etc., this one may be his defining moment, and that’s just fine.
So, while I may be the guy who was in that accident, and while people may still remind me of it all the time, I guess that’s just fine. It will always be part of who I am, and I may just have to do a few things more in life to remind people that there are other things too. It’s never too late to redefine yourself, no matter what. Time for me to get going. Feel free to join in!