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Philosophy Professor Experiences Suffering

Philosophy professor David Gushee shares:

Early in 2006, my 18-year-old daughter, Holly, pulled in front of a Chevy Tahoe on a rainy, windswept night and got "T-boned" on the driver's side at about 50 mph. Holly was pulled unconscious from her Pontiac Sunfire. She had suffered a broken pelvis, a chipped tailbone, a cracked collarbone, extensive facial lacerations, and, most importantly, a "brain shearing" injury that left her with damage to her frontal lobe and other parts of her brain.

Everything changed for our family that night, as we were involuntarily ushered into a new community of those whose family members have experienced catastrophic injuries. More specifically, we joined the thousands of families that are affected by traumatic brain injury.

When we first saw Holly, and for three long days following, she lay unconscious—bloodied and bruised and deeply silent. Every step after that was a step forward. She opened her eyes after three days. For 11 more days, she drifted between wakefulness and sleep, a mute witness to the family and friends who rotated through her room, keeping watch. And then, joy; on February 11, she rasped to her caretaker, "Could you rewind the movie, please?" By later that evening, she was talking happily with school friends. As I write, she seems to have recovered most of the "self" that existed before the accident. Hardened professionals describe her progress as "miraculous."

As a professor of Moral Philosophy, my most recent book was about human nature. But I must say that I learned more about human nature in one month than in all prior months combined. Many things I said in the book took on a whole new meaning. A wise friend called this the difference between knowledge and experience.

In that book, I emphasized how deep and mysterious the interconnections are between people, and how sacred is human life. I had no idea how true that was until I saw my Holly in the ER, sat by her bedside, and wondered whether she would ever wake up. The experience of the "near-miss," of getting her back as if from the dead, awakened me to her immeasurable value, and by extension (because everyone is someone's child, and all are made in God's image) to the immeasurable value of every human being. I knew that before the accident. Now, I know it.

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