I was playing a game of 20 Questions with a friend some weeks ago, and all of the questions were based on how well we actually know one another. One of mine was “What’s my favorite season?” and my friend replied, “Easy. It’s Spring, because you say Spring is the time of renewal, rebirth, and resurrection.”
That was the right answer. And couldn’t we all use a little Spring right about now?
In that vein, we’re visiting the archives, to Spring’s arrival two years ago…
Spring arrived this past weekend. Spring is my favorite season. There’s such a sense of renewal and promise to Spring that you can’t help but feel hopeful. I parked myself outside on Monday for a couple of hours and accumulated a little bit of a sunburn and a few more crows’ feet, both of which were preferable to the tuberculosis I was destined to pick up on the Theology floor of the library, where a couple of undergrads were hacking up their lungs like they were AWOL from a sanitarium. (Seriously, guys, Jesus is not shielding us from your germs. Go to the Health Center! … Or at least back down to your area of the library.)
Last week, when it was still winter, I was supposed to be doing some light theological reading (that’s a joke; I’ve yet to encounter any theological reading that can be characterized as “light,” or any that hasn’t made me want to stab my eyes out with a seafood fork, for that matter), but I watched a documentary on Netflix instead.
The film was called My Beautiful Broken Brain. It chronicles a year in the life of Lotje Sodderland, a young woman living in London who suffers a hemorrhagic stroke that leaves her near death and unable to communicate. After months of grueling work to recover the ability to speak (albeit with serious trouble recalling words), Sodderland is left still unable to read or write, and with serious vision, hearing, and sensory processing difficulties.
To make matters worse, Sodderland’s professional life was based on communication: she was a producer at an ad agency, was developing a documentary film, and was an avid reader and socializer.
And then, poof. Her life was forever changed.
When we first meet Sodderland, she’s just a few days post-stroke, freshly awake from a medically-induced coma and major brain surgery. She looks at her iPhone, having re-learned how to use the Record feature in the hospital so that videos could function as her brain in the absence of memory, and says,“Okay, I’m alive.” Then she smiles and gives a thumbs-up. “I’m not dead. That’s a start.”
Always a fan of his work, one of the first articles Sodderland struggles to make sense of is a profile of filmmaker David Lynch, to whom she sends a video clip of herself saying hello. To Sodderland’s joyful surprise, a conversation of sorts ensues — Lynch emails a response to her video message — and a year or so later, the two meet. (Lynch eventually executive produced the documentary about Sodderland, as well).
For Sodderland, stripped of the skills and abilities that formed the foundation of who she believed herself to be, life after the stroke is a series of setbacks and challenges. One of the setbacks is so startling, and so severe, that I marveled at Sodderland’s ability to retain any sense of hope at all.
She gives a huge amount of credit for that hope to Lynch, who helped her move from viewing her post-stroke life as a series of drastic limitations to understanding her life as new and dramatically different, but loaded with infinite possibilities.
Sodderland now sees her life as demarcated into pre- and post-stroke eras; but as difficult as the experience was for her and her friends and family, Sodderland is at peace with what happened to her.
“It’s like, Okay, I’m never going to be the same as I was before, but then nobody is. Things change constantly for everybody. This was a very dramatic change and it happened very suddenly, but you have to accept that change is part of life,” she said, in a Vogue interview. She dictated an essay for The Guardian to her iPhone, saying, “I see my stroke as a kind of rebirth; unexpected and painful, but also more vivid, filled with purpose, meaning and potential.”
Her friendship with David Lynch helped bring spring — and a sense of hope and the possibility of renewal — back to Lotje Sodderland. And while we’re not all lucky enough to be pals with successful filmmakers, we all have meaningful people in our lives, and the possibility within us to be reborn.
Let’s hope that it won’t take a catastrophe to get each of us to our own personal Spring, to push us towards a sincere commitment to rebirth, renewal, and resurrection. After all, if Sodderland can lose everything that made her her, surely we can also find purpose, meaning and potential in our own circumstances, no matter how wintry they may look at the time?
As the credits rolled on Sodderland’s story, I was reminded of the way my friend Susan ends every yoga class, by reminding us of the infinite possibilities that surround us in every moment.
Those possibilities are, of course, the opportunities we have every day to choose to begin anew, to walk away from disappointment and hurt and regret, to leave the past behind us, and be born into something bright and full of promise.
So no matter the weather outside, my hope is that each of us will seek the signs of spring in every season of our lives — and recognize the possibility of rebirth, renewal, and resurrection that lives within us.
Come on, Spring! Show yourself, in all of us.