It has been a few months since my graduation and as I have done for the past three, nearly four, years I focus on finding the strength to continue my crusade in this seemingly never ending physical and psychological battle called trauma recovery. Today like most days I battle the physical, yet tonight like I have done so many times before I sit down, eat dinner and reflect. I am watching Bill Clinton being interviewed by Andrew Denton and like so many other times since the accident, when people say things of importance to me or I hear prophetic things, I may not remember when or where they were said, yet the words will stay with me forever. Tonight is one of those times. Clinton has just told of his relationship with Nelson Mandela and how Mandela taught him a lot about love and forgiveness. I am inspired by what he said and can relate so strongly to his words that in a strange way, I feel the story is being told directly to me, for me.
Around December 1998 when President Clinton was being impeached by the House of Representatives, Nelson Mandela paid a visit to the United States when Clinton was personally and professionally at perhaps one of the lowest points in his life. The impeachment stemmed from an investigation by independent counsel Kenneth Starr and the charges Clinton faced included perjury and obstruction of justice. President Clinton commented to President Mandela on what a great gesture it was to invite his jailors to his inauguration when he became President of South Africa but asked at the same time about his hate for those people higher up, the big people who had, in effect, attempted to destroy him for so many years. Mandela replied: Yes, I hated them for a long time but then, after about 12 years, when I was breaking rocks one day, I realised they’d already taken so much from me. They’d abused me physically and emotionally and they had separated me from my family. It eventually broke my marriage up. I didn’t get to see my children grow up. Finally I realised they could do whatever they want and take everything I had except my mind and my heart. Those things I would have to give to them, he said. I decided not to give them away. Then he looked at me (Clinton) and smiled and said: and neither should you.
So many people ask me my thoughts about the garbage truck driver who ran me down on a pedestrian crossing and who by his own admission simply failed to see me. I have been questioned so many times about whether or not I hold him responsible for the accident and whether or not it has been hard to forgive him. Simply, at no time has it been hard. I do not hold him responsible for what happened and I have never at any time believed that he needs ‘forgiving’. My accident was tragic and life altering, yet it was simply that: an accident. No more and no less. Holding a deep resentment against the garbage truck driver would serve no purpose; it would not change my situation and it would not turn back the clock to how things once were. It would only eat at me and create a bitter and unhappy person.
In some ways I feel as Mandela did. The accident and its aftermath have taken so many things away from me, I cannot let it take one more thing. I cannot hold a grudge forever, I cannot walk around with a bitter heart and my mind can’t be filled with thoughts of retribution. I cannot control a lot of things that have happened and will happen to me, but I can control how I think and how I feel.
I know that a part of me died on the morning of 18 August 2000 and I will never get that part of me back. Yet a part of me was born that day, a part of me that I did not know existed until faced with the ultimate test—the test of survival. For a long time after the accident, my soul was lost. It was a struggle to just survive day to day. My pain, unhappiness and wish for life to end constantly filled my heart and mind. Only in the past couple of years have I begun to feel alive again. I cannot and will not let my accident dictate or take from me anything more than it already has. That garbage truck cannot and will not take my mind and my heart. As Mandela said to Clinton, I would have to give them away and I have decided not to.