Strong at the broken places
Sunday September 27th 2009, 11:06 pm
Filed under: Life

Thanks to Lene, I looked up Richard M. Cohen‘s book, “Strong At The Broken Places,” and reading the reviews, ended up ordering it and also his earlier one, “Blindsided.”  They arrived this past week, and I’ve been having a hard time putting them down.

I knew Cohen’s name from his political column.  I had not associated it with MS.  “Blindsided” is his story of being diagnosed with it at 25 just when he was finding success as a TV news producer.  Vision loss was one of his first symptoms.

He mentions an assignment in Lebanon early on where he found himself in an argument with someone while he was standing apart from his camera crew, who, when he walked back over to them, were stunned, going, how could you be yelling at that guy with all those guns aimed at your head!


He’d been too blind to see them.

He writes of his anger and frustration at the disease, and yet of his joy at being married to Meredith Viera and at the arrivals of their children.  It comes out over and over again, in both books: while he freely admits how hard he and his disease are and have been on them, they are his strength and his way of getting through the day okay.

Over and over, I’ve been finding myself wanting to exclaim out loud, Yes! THIS is what it’s like!  YES!

One moment that so hit home for me was the day he was walking down the street in New York City and suddenly found himself ducking on impulse into a shop that sold canes.  No doctor had told him to, he says; he had resisted it for so long and had stumbled so much; but it simply was time. And that was that.

I spent a year after my car accident demanding that my brain relearn how to navigate the world.  It would be awhile longer before the various ways in which it had been damaged became more clear.  One eye saw normally; to the other, everything bright was very near and everything dull was far, and the cacophony would argue and throw me overboard if too much visual information was incoming–my left side would simply collapse. But I was determined to progress in my recovery.

It took a year. One day it was simply finally enough.  Now.  I walked into the orthopedic place a few blocks away and bought my first cane, impressed at a man there who knew his trade and how long to cut it based on whether I needed it for support for a leg, or balance?…  And do you usually wear shoes of this height of heel?  Ah. This long, then.

I had not expected to immediately find someone who knew what it was like, in a way, to be me as I was now.  It was a quietly stunning moment.

I’d been so worried about the stigma. What I hadn’t realized was how much of my freedom that cane would give me back, how much I’d avoided, how many places I hadn’t gone and things I hadn’t done because I couldn’t walk upright through crowds or visually noisy places without stumbling badly (or worse).  My children had become protective of me, offering me an arm to give me the tactile feedback that kept me from falling.

And now I could manage on my own, poof, just like that.  I wondered how many people had thought this good little Mormon was drunk so many times that past year. Stigma?  Gimme the cane already, I’ve got places to go.

And on and on as I read “Blindsided” I continued to relate to this story and that. My lupus and his MS, my Crohn’s and his colon cancer.  Although I had to chuckle a tad ruefully; ileostomy? Dude, I’ll show you ileostomy. Yours was temporary.

Cohen’s writing really blossoms in the second book (which I forced myself to put down halfway through to come write this).  In it, he’s not being as self-conscious about exposing himself, but rather he’s reporting more on the stories of others with chronic illnesses who chose to share their lives with him.

We truly do become strong at the broken places. Especially when we see each other–and ourselves–for who we are despite their getting in the way.

14 Comments so far
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I think you are meant to write to Mr. Cohen when you finish his books. I’m sure he would even enjoy this post, and be encouraged, himself, at how you have been touched.

Comment by Barbara-Kay 09.28.09 @ 2:51 am

Why is it always a surprise to us to find somebody else in the world who we can relate to in tough times? I suppose being generous at heart doesn’t shelter us from feeling self-centered when it comes to our pain (if that makes any sense).

I am very glad to read you found someone who wrote about their experience so you could feel some sense of echo to your own.

My dad often said that animals are more intelligent when it comes to their body: none of them would have forced their system as long as you have yours. When an animal is sick or tired, it gives its system time to recuperate or finds a way to deal with the injury/handicap. I think this is so because their survival depends on it when for us, humans, we think we have forever to aclimate.

And then, the day you get your cane, you realize all you could have done as much as all you can do… I’m learning through your lesson, for sure.

Thank you for sharing it!

Comment by Suzanne in Mtl 09.28.09 @ 5:16 am

It’s true… so often what we resist is just what we need. (Hmmm… I need to make that appointment, don’t I?)

Thank you for sharing so much of yourself with us.

Comment by Channon 09.28.09 @ 6:05 am

Thank you for sharing both stories with us! I have tears of sympathy welling in my eyes. I can relate so much, on a smaller level of course. I think I have 2 new books on my to read list now.

Comment by TripletMom 09.28.09 @ 6:33 am

How timely is this? I bought my first cane two weeks ago. After nine years and twenty various and assorted courses of chemotherapy, my balance is shot.

It doesn’t feel bad either…never did. I mean really – how does it differ from needing glasses which I’ve been wearing since I was in 4th grade?


Comment by Robbyn 09.28.09 @ 7:07 am

It takes one to know one? I now have enough equipment to start a small store! Yes, it is amazing how much we humans put off what needs to be done. That’s probably why I cracked my head about a month ago — wrong piece of equipment. Cliff insisted I go back to my hemi walker (the one I was using the day you were here. It’s safer.

Ok, sumpin’ funny –


I have to exercise early in the morning before my brain figures out what I’m doing.
I joined a health club last year, spent about 400 bucks. Haven’t lost a pound. Apparently you have to go there.
The only reason I would take up exercising is so that I could hear heavy breathing again.
I like long walks, especially when they are taken by people who annoy me.
I have flabby thighs, but fortunately my stomach covers them.
If you are going to try cross-country skiing, start with a small country.
I decided to take an exercise class. I bent, twisted, gyrated and jumped up and down for an hour–but by the time I got my leotard on, the class was over.

Comment by Don Meyer 09.28.09 @ 9:31 am

I saw him and his wife on a talk show and he is very inspiring. The disease is a very difficult one and he has handled it with grace.

Thank you for sharing yur story.

Comment by Joansie 09.28.09 @ 1:49 pm

Neat. I have to read his books too!

Comment by Bev 09.28.09 @ 2:44 pm

Thanks, Lene & Alison!

Comment by RobinM 09.28.09 @ 6:19 pm

When I was first told of my hearing loss, I cried for an entire afternoon. and then determined I would not get a hearin gaid. Eventually, clearly, I did get one. And wow! What a difference. i wondered why I had out it off so long.

Comment by Carol 09.28.09 @ 7:04 pm

I now have 2 new books on inter-library loan order! Thank you!
Many years ago a friend with serious R.A. said that one of the functions of her cane was as a visual clue to others,”Please be careful!” She found it particularly valuable in crowds and when traveling; she knew that if she got bumped she would land on her butt with no way to get up.

One of the lessons of illness for me has been to learn to accept help with as much grace as possible — hard because I was born an ornery critter. My parents told me my first word was “felf” — meaning “I can do it myself” LOL!

Now that I’m recovering from chemo, I’m also learning to reclaim chores that I had been so grateful for my dh to do, but am once again able to do. I’m learning to say, kindly, I hope, “I can do that now.” I’ll be forever grateful for his help, but doing things that I can gives me a sense of competence that I missed.

Carol in MA

Comment by Carol Telsey 09.29.09 @ 6:37 am

Thaank you for that,now I will put those books on my Christmas wishlist.

Comment by karin maag-tanchak 09.29.09 @ 10:07 am

I love that you share such wonderful stories and your always an inspiration to me.Hugs Darcy

Comment by Darcy 10.01.09 @ 6:50 am

Another book in the same vein (ouch) is Stephen Baron’s “Never Give Up” ( Faith perhaps can make things easier…..

Comment by Holly 10.01.09 @ 9:29 am

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