There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation.
The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.
Will Rogers was born as a citizen of the Cherokee Nation in what is now Oklahoma. At one stage, he became Hollywood’s best paid actor. He died in 1935 when his small plane crashed in Alaska,
When I first read his quote, I thought that Will must have looked at “the rest of them” as the stupid ones. Now, I am thinking that the ‘stupid ones’ might be the ones who really know because they have learned by doing, by experience. What can you really learn, second hand, just by reading or by observing others?
Many people told us ‘facts’ about Pádraig’s future life, about our life, following his accident. An acquaintance recommended Plum and Posner’s Book on Diagnosis and Treatment of Stupor and Coma. I wanted to know what Pádraig’s chances of recovery were. I asked the doctors treating him almost every day: what next?
Now I know that reading books and asking doctors to find out whether and how Pádraig was going to recover was always futile. Now I know that we would not even have agreed on what ‘recovery’ means.
The books said that with his kind of brain injury, statistically, there was only a negligible chance of survival. The doctors were talking about an intolerable life and organ donation.
I had to pee on that fence for myself to learn that what we did was not supported by everyone. It was not supported by a professional diagnosis. At times it felt like as if someone had switched on the current on that fence to make me feel what it meant to go against the current (no pun intended).
There is another Cherokee saying:
Give me strength, not to be better than my enemies, but to defeat my greatest enemy, the doubts within myself.
We, including Pádraig, are well on the road to recovery. We have no doubts that we are living our lives. In a different way than we had ever anticipated. So what?
We are learning by doing. I am learning to distinguish between fences that are safe and those that aren’t. There will never be certainty. But it is worth trying and taking risks. Defeating my greatest enemy.