Things I Learned in 2008

For the life of me I cannot remember who first told me that, a good measure of what kind of day you had is to ask yourself, "What did I learn today?" but it has stuck with me because at the end of most every day for as long as I can remember, I lay in bed and try to recall something new that I learned. Some days, especially when I was younger, it was easy-- and others I would struggle to come up with anything significant but, even then, I learned that you can't learn something new every day. 

Here, at the end of 2008, I thought it would be interesting to, similarly, think about the things I learned in the year to determine if we can consider it a success. Obviously, I will not be able to include all 300-some-odd things that I learned every day throughout the year, but after careful consideration, I have been able to categorize most all of those individual things into one or more of three basic themes:

You can teach an old dog new tricks-

When you lose the ability to do so much, as I did when I had the stroke, it is very easy to see the whole learning process. I had a new found understanding of how we learn new things that opened my eyes to what my two-year-old Son was going through.

I was very lucky that the brain attack had little-to-no effect on any of my cognitive abilities. Even the challenges with speech that I had were, mainly, motor problems in my face, mouth and tongue. My mental capacity was not affected so I didn't have to re-learn anything I knew and I could concentrate on re-learning how to do things like walking, talking, writing, typing, driving and anything else that we take for granted every day.

Stuff that I had seemed simple to master decades before, like juggling, were way too complex and, even though, my brain knew how to do it my body just couldn't pull it off. Most of that stuff did come back as I practiced and re-taught myself to do it, however not everything has been that easy as I found out at my niece's Birthday Party. I have roller skated very well since I was seven or eight years old, even playing on roller hockey leagues growing up, but when I strapped on the skates and stepped on to that familiar wooden floor, I was painfully reminded about the laws of gravity. I thought, for sure that would come back to me but, for some bizarre reason, I just couldn't get the whole balance thing down and I looked like Cox or a first-time four-year-old out there.

It was like a new experience all of the time for a while-- I had a lot of good days because I was learning so much and seeing, at least, some improvement every day. This inspired me to seek out other ways to gain enlightenment and learn about as much as I could. I think of myself as pretty smart, to begin with, but I really dug in to research things that I was interested in by reading books, searching the Web and talking with people. Having a, somewhat, obsessive personality anyway, it wasn't hard for me to get seriously into subjects like the brain, strokes, anxiety, health, religion and many others.

Feeling that spending too much time with these endeavors would be unhealthy I also set out to find some more creative outlets. What started out as trying to sell some of my designs in the SkeetzTeez cafepress shop turned into me getting involved with and learning about many other Internet applications. Squidoo, Twitter and Facebook taught me about social networking, guerrilla marketing and even some basic Web design and html and this blog has taught me that writing can be fun and I am not too terribly bad at it.

If there is a lesson I can say that can be learned from this it is: we are never too old to learn. I thought that I was, but when thrown into a situation that I was required to use my brain again, I liked it-- and even thrived on it. I can't help to think that many of the older folks that I saw struggling in rehab with me would have had a better time with it if they embraced the learning experience a little more.

Make what's important... important-

You are, probably, thinking-- just like I used to... "Oh yes, I do that. I have all of my priorities all ironed out and I'm sure that I would never second-guess myself." 

I hope that you never find yourself in the predicament, but until you are in a situation that you are sure you are going to lose everything you have... you can not, truly, appreciate it. As you can probably tell from reading this blog, I am quite the idealist--I am very opinionated and am not afraid to tell you what I think of anything. Whereas this has been true for most of my adult life and did not change when I had the stroke, the same cannot be said about the message that I was preaching.

I used to proclaim things like, "Work hard-- Play hard!", "Don't be a Wimp!" and "Nice Guys Finish Last!" but, now, I am singing a different tune. I have written about my feelings on this subject on several occasions but it is very important to me so it is worth repeating... tell the people that you love that you love them-- be so very thankful that you have them in your life.

There was a time when work was the most important thing in my life. Even after I was married and had a family there were times-- even if it was only a few minutes-- that work or a TV show, video game, sleep or one of a hundred other stupid little things were more important than the things that were supposed to be important. Even now that I have been through that experience when I knew I could have lost them, as a selfish person, there are still times that I make the wrong choice about what is important.

I don't feel like I need to drive this point home because almost everyone knows what is truly important and I think that they also know that they probably don't do a good enough job of making the important things most important. Most, however, could use a gentle reminder now-and-then to counter the effects of the things that make it hard for us to do-- selfishness, pride, greed, anxiety and shame, to name a few... I know that I can.

You are not in control-

This is, by far, the most important thing that I learned this year. It, too, was a lesson learned as result of my brain attack, but this lesson is what all the other ones are based on, the reason for such a remarkable recovery and why I am a stronger and, just all-around, better person from the whole experience.

I originally learned this lesson in Sunday School in first- or second-grade and it is the basic theme of what you are taught in church most weeks and everything we read in the Bible. I was listening to the lesson most every time I heard it but I was convinced being a strong, intelligent, experienced man, that I had at least some control of my life. It took a stroke to, literally, take all of that control away, for me to realize that God is in control.

Not only is God in control, but we have to embrace the fact that He is because it is only going to be harder for us if we do not accept it. I learned this, first-hand, when I finally realized that nothing I did was going to make my recovery faster or more complete-- not working harder or longer, any amount of money, worry, medication or treatment. No one else could do anything to help me either... except God.

I was given a second chance at, exactly, that moment-- a second chance to live and a second chance to take what I had learned from the lesson and apply it to my life. I took that chance (What other option did I have?) and I am still learning from it. Why, just last week, at church I learned that God has a plan for all of us and there is no way for us to change that plan or even find out what it is. All we can do is seek Him through His Son, Jesus, and He will meet us and change our lives. 

Trust Him. I have seen it happen!

Here's wishing that you and yours have a happy New Year and that you learn a lot in 2009! Peace.

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