Say what you want about nature versus nurture, but they conquer the world, get her done, girl type a part of my personality was born into me. My name is Jody or Jill Brown, and I grew up in the wooded hills outside of Washington, D.C., in northern Virginia. By the time I was four years old, I was already social, outgoing and even comfortable in front of a crowd. I even spoke at my preschool graduation in first grade.
My teacher would leave the room and leave me in charge at the head of the class, which is exactly the way that I liked it. A few years later, I ran for student body president and lost, but later ran again for secretary. And that time I won. In high school, I was voted most likely to become president of the United States. My parents had always told me I could be whatever I wanted to. All it took was to believe in myself, work hard and trust and have faith in God.
In college, I decided to try and do the four year program in just three years and I did that.
I was surprised to find my husband along the way because that had not been part of my plan, at least not at that point in time. And as much as Tollan and I are opposites in what seems like nearly every way, he is also my perfect match. We are so well suited and stubborn, but we love each other and have made a wonderful life together. When our oldest son was born, I started working in my non-profit job from home so I could live on my little ones and still have a job that would be a mental outlet for me and that would give me a little control over something in my life.
By the time our fourth child was born, I was honestly living what I would deem to be my white picket fence life, everything was the way I had envisioned from the time that I was a little girl. But then the dizzy spell started. And I had a hard time placing one foot in front of the other as I walked down the hall. Within a few short months, headache’s ruled my life, and at Christmas, I couldn’t even sit and write presents without taking a break to lay down on the floor to try and calm the nausea and hope the world would stop spinning around me.
I went to the doctor over and over and over again, and by the time I finally laid in an MRI machine, we were so desperate for answers I didn’t think anything could faze me. When the radiology tech came and told me that there was a mass on my brain. My immediate reaction was, well, that makes perfect sense. I knew that something was wrong. Now they can fix it and I can get back to my normal life. Little could I have imagined at that time.
What this journey would do to me and how it could take all of the strength. From inside of me. But then a few weeks later, as I sat in a neurosurgeon’s office and looked eye to eye with the physician, he looked at me and said. In the brain, it’s all about location, location, location. And I’m sorry to say, but, Mrs. Brown, your tumor is in a very bad location. It seemed the whole world started to crumble from around me, everything I knew seemed to fall out of my control.
A few weeks later, I woke up from my first brain surgery and it seemed that my life had been excavated along with the tumor. They had been able to remove most of the tumor, but it left me with my face paralyzed, my head was shaven and covered in staples, drool was dripping from my lip. My eye was big and wide open and unable to blink. I couldn’t even smile. Or hot food in my mouth. And I had spinal fluid leaking from my nose and down the back of my throat.
It didn’t take long for me to realize. That not all people are valued in the same way. A young man entered my hospital room and was there to clean and tidy up, but he looked at me and stopped when he saw me and he gave me and I feel sorry for you. Look. Immediately, a phrase from the New Testament flashed into my mind. Where Christ says, inasmuch as you have done it onto the one of the least of these, my brother and he have done it.
And to me. The least of these that was for the maimed in the blind they cast out in the sick, when had I become one of the least of these? Not me, not Jodie. To conquer the world. Get her done, girl. I couldn’t be one of the least of these. When did people stop seeing me and start seeing a body in a bed? My life was totally changed. I could no longer care for myself, my husband or my small children.
It seemed everything in my life was out of my control. That is when I learned that every interaction is an opportunity to change a life, and indeed that time every interaction did change my life in one of two ways, either bolstered me and helped me find strength to keep fighting the battle or left me feeling hopeless, helpless and sometimes invisible.
One day, a CNA entered my room. She did not tell me her name only announced that she was there to bathe me. She helped me get on to a plastic mattress and wheeled me down the hall to a shower room. She shut the door in the shower room and proceeded to yank the gown from my body and drop them on the floor. Then she grabbed the shower hose and turned it on and started spraying me down with cold water. I felt all of my dignity and humanity spiraling down with the tears and the water droplets.
It seemed every part of me was washing away with the water. I may as well have been a car in a car wash, a body in a bed and name on a chart, every interaction is an opportunity to change a life. And that interaction left me. Defeated, deflated, hopeless. And wanting to give up my fight. But nine long days later, when I was still in the hospital and still fighting for my life but finally starting to do a little bit better, I had decided that that was going to be the day that I was going to try once again to have a shower.
And I had made this decision as giving myself up and getting all of my energy ready for this. And then a young man walked into my room, walked across the room and wrote his name, Lucas’, on the whiteboard where it said CNN on shift.
Lucas writes, The one day I decide I’m going to take a shower and I have a male Seanna I quickly decided showers are overrated. My kids have proven that to me on more than one occasion. If I could just get my hair washed, I knew that that would give me some of the strength and energy I needed to get through another day in the hospital. So I asked Lucas or Christy or Heather or one of the girls around on shift today, could they come in and help me wash my hair?
And Lucas gave me a funny look and he said, I can help you wash your hair. Right. OK, we’ll go for that. So I told them I would love that. He said he would come back a few minutes later. Sure enough, he showed up 30 minutes later, pulling a cart full of supplies. It reminded me more of a circus than anything having to do with bathing, but I trusted him. He came in and helped me scoot down to the bottom of the bed, and then he draped black plastic garbage bags all over the bed, up over the pillow and cascading down into a garbage bin at the bottom so that the water would waterfall over the bags and fall into the trash.
Brilliant. He then scooted me back up to the head of the bed and told me to try and relax. I attempted to close my eyes and then waited for what I thought would be an awkward situation. But instead he poured pitcher of warm water over my not luxurious locks, but the little tiny sprouts of new hairs I had growing back on my head. And he was very careful as he massaged the shampoo into my scalp not to touch any of my scars or my staples or do anything that would compromise or cause me harm.
He then proceeded to pour another pitcher of water over my head and then started the process again, this time with the conditioner. The process that could have taken five minutes, Lucas spent 30 minutes. Kindly, tenderly, gently, massaging strength and humanity back into me. His every action told me he did not see me as Mayne’s or as cast out or sick, he saw me as a whole person, but one who was hurting. By the time we finished, I felt like I’d had a day in the spa.
Lucas held little status at the hospital, but he was a man who acted with great stature and that was far more important. His every action emboldened me. To continue the fight for my life. And to work hard to be able to go home to my family. It even gave me the silent acceptance to begin to love myself and embrace my new life. And indeed, I would certainly need that strength in the days to come. After three craniotomies and multiple problems, surgeries, infections, shots, lumbar drains and all sorts of side effects that kept me hospitalized for more than 35 days.
I was finally able to go home and go back into the world that I was not prepared for how the world would see me, they didn’t see me as a survivor and as a conqueror. Many people saw me instead as a comedic figure. They saw me and laughed. Every soul is great in the sight of God. When Christ encouraged his disciples to love and serve the least of these, it was not an insult. It was an invitation. An invitation to stop seeing imperfection.
And start seeing the divine individuals that we truly are. When we stop screaming at each other and start seeing each other, that is when we can embrace the imperfections that we have and live our lives to the fullest every day. No matter how dark the storms of life always remember behind the clouds, the sun still shines, there is a plan for you, stand tall, look people in the eyes and smile. You are beautiful and divine by design.