The Advantages of Having No Brain (But Lots of Time to Exist)

These minutes burst like bees from hives
To sting or pollinate our lives;
They build a honeyed forest where
Rooms sweet and dark house clumsy bears—

We maul the comb to get a taste,
So lose the source and lay to waste
The treasury the bees had graced,
The boughs, from which our lives are traced.

~ “Honey Dimension,” by Kathleen Robinson

Seven months after an incapacitating head injury, I grapple with my place in the dynamic hive of DC.

Though I’ve been chronically ill since I was thirteen (a back surgery messed up my nerves, leaving me in constant, widespread pain), the concussion inhibited my ability to think and even hold conversations. The loss of creativity, wonder, and coherence stunned me. I simply existed for many months, my time all waiting and little activity.

As my brain continues its recovery, I must remind myself that my feelings of futility don’t correspond to supernatural reality.

The following meditation was my first attempt (many months ago) at rationalizing the apparent gross time squander. I was too mentally feeble to conclude it. I do so now, and the conclusion is but another act of waiting…

It is with trepidation that I sit down to a blank document, fingers arched over the almost unfamiliar keys. I’ve attempted and failed to write many times over the last month.

My mind wouldn’t budge.

It has, in fact, been broken nigh-on six weeks, since the scope of a 30-06 slammed into my face (yes, I was shooting the gun). Only since last week can I read with ease. It is just this moment that I discover anew how to think and write.

It is a startling experience, let me tell you.

The Pros of Having One Leg

Chesterton penned an essay called “The Advantages of Having One Leg.” It’s a splendid account of the majesty and utility of his one leg, evident only after injuring the other. I think of the essay when I’m laid up with sickness, and hoped soon after my accident to have one leg up on the old Englishman, and write of having no brain.

The trouble is, when you have no brain, you can’t even recite a mental Hail Mary, much less write with eloquence and wit to rival Mr. G.K.C.

My insights come late, upon recovery. I scrape them up like the squirmy bacteria from kombucha, wondering how long they’ve been here, and hoping the ugly buggers give health. I’ve had a long, sour draught trying to get to the bottom of this—

Most writers have a deep well within them.

At times, it is sooted.

Sometimes their bucket leaks.

But there is always something.

Some blend of images, insights, characters, wonder, or scrutiny. For a writer—a real writer—the well does not run dry. This is particularly true for the writer of faith, who sits at the foot of Mystery and drinks of the life-giving deluge.

My well ran dry.

Moreover, it felt filled with cement.

And, until this moment, I have feared it would never be dug out. It is with utter delight that I find myself able to make metaphors, and I don’t care if they’re too many. I’m an alien in my own brain, making new pathways perhaps–– growing grass over old bad roads, and hacking down vines to find castles I never knew were here.

Castles and wells! Can I have both? I wonder at God in the exodus of my intellect and imagination. I wonder at myself.

What Is the Wordless Writer Worth?

Yet even writing this, I fear my ability to imagine and connect thoughts is the sprouting of a single old seed that will wither, then prove the last of its kind. I’m not all here. And what if this less-capable-of-thought person is who I really am?

Creativity is a measure of our creatureliness, a way in which we image God the Creator. What is the point of me if I have forever ceased creating? What worth do I have? This question bears on the lives of all young, old, and disabled.

Ah, production— our ruler, bushel, cubit, beaker, mirror, and inchworm.

Odious! Erroneous!

The advantage of having no brain is that the lonely heart must confront its shortcomings. It must face its idolatry of its own thought, and the weakness of its faith.

Work fulfills us in that it actualizes our potential and habituates us be virtuous people. But it fails to measure our dignity, as we would have it do. Fundamentally, we are receiving types of things, and what we have received is nobility. I don’t need a brain to be noble; I just need God to hold me in existence, which He does.

Stints of incapacity—like lives of incapacity—unqualified, are worthwhile. We don’t need to parse out their precise providential role to know it.


Kathleen Robinson is a freelance writer, tutor, and theology student at the Dominican House of Studies, in Washington D.C.  She aspires to finish her fairy tale novel soon. Her writing has appeared in Verily, Ethika Politika, Fare Forward, and Philanthropy Daily.

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