When I first regained consciousness, I don’t think I was entirely aware of the mess I was in. I was stretched out on the bed, my body was stubbornly refusing to do all the things I’d spent a lifetime teaching it to do, and a big chunk of my skull had been placed in a freezer somewhere in the depths of the hospital (with the doctors’ supply of Cornetto ice-creams). But for all I knew, I could have been tucked up at home in bed.
It’s a shocking state to wake up to. But you might be surprised to hear that the first thoughts I do remember were incredibly upbeat, all things considered. For three whole weeks, my unconscious had been running riot without any interruption from all the worries of my waking life. I have no idea what was going on in there, but it must have been pretty profound, because my very first thought on waking was: We are all connected.
I was stretched out on the bed, my body was stubbornly refusing to do all the things I’d spent a lifetime teaching it to do, and a big chunk of my skull had been placed in a freezer.
You may be thinking, Wow, that is oh so Zen, or even, Those must have been some seriously strong painkillers, but this sentence really was going round and round my head from the second I regained consciousness. I don’t think it’s ever quite left me. I had a sudden sense that everything we think, say, feel and do echoes for an eternity, because we’re all connected.
I was in a completely unfamiliar state of mind – hazy, yes; numb, certainly; dopey and over-medicated ...? Well, I’ll leave that to you. But I have no doubt that my spirit had shifted.
I learned later that while I was in the coma, Kate had been reading to me from two books by Catherine Ponder that had been recommended by a friend: The Healing Secrets of the Ages and The Dynamic Laws of Healing. I had to laugh at the thought that these were Christian books about mind–body connection and healing, given to someone with a Muslim background by a friend who was Jewish! While I never related to the religious side of the books, they do discuss ideas that have been tried and tested across the world and through the ages. That new sense of connectedness gave me a strong urge to reach out and promote the act of forgiveness. I realised that when you carry anger, resentment or hate for yourself or another, you’re the only one who gets harmed – it’s like holding on to a piece of burning hot coal.
I thought back to the anger I’d held on to over the film festival debacle. Before I had my stroke, I was feeling out of control, hurt and extremely stressed and angry. I thought I was about to explode, and guess what? I did! Modern Western medicine and ancient healing systems – like Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine – all recognise the health implications of stress, anger and other negative emotions, and I’d seen their effect first-hand. I may not have understood the extent of the damage, but it was as clear as it could be that I would have to approach any new challenges with a new outlook.
In that moment that I changed my attitude, my world changed, too. I made a mental note, then and there, to never judge another person by how they dealt with their own catastrophe. I also felt an overwhelming urge to be open-hearted, to love (in a non-herpes kind of way) and to forgive. All the negativity that had led to that head explosion – it had gone. It was amazing. I still wonder exactly what happened to me in those blank weeks.
When you carry anger, resentment or hate for yourself or another, you’re the only one who gets harmed.
Even as I was feeling soothingly connected to the world, I was also suddenly and intensely aware of death – in a way I never had been before. I was lying in a hospital, hoping to all things holy that I would make it through, and I felt this wish for survival as a distinct and seismic shift in emotion. I was so frightened by my mortality that my focus shifted far away from the chaos of day-to-day trivia. My mind was being filled with the bigger-picture questions of what my life really meant.
Jeez, I thought to myself. I guess this is what they call an epiphany.
To borrow an old but ever-relevant line, ‘No one has ever laid on their death bed wishing that they had spent more time in the office.’ And the question that entered my mind next has followed me around ever since: If my time on Earth was to come to an abrupt conclusion, what would I want my lasting legacy to be?
In that moment, I made a pledge to myself that if I was ever faced with a true moral dilemma I would make a decision that I could always stand by with pride. I thought of my son from my first marriage and of what kind of model I was for him. Telling my child what to do was one thing, but it was my own behaviour that held the most sway. Trapped inside my head and doing some pretty brutal self-assessment, I thought back on who I’d been for the past few years. I didn’t like what I was seeing – not one little bit! Wow, I thought, talk about room for improvement.
I knew one thing for sure: I wanted to be worthy of an epitaph on my gravestone that said more than just, Here lies Ade: loving, loyal and adoring partner and father – and one-time member of 'The Hellfire Club’ dance club and bondage centre. (I only went for a drink, I swear!)
So there it was – the question I would turn to whenever I faced a tough dilemma. What’s the legacy I am leaving?
This is an edited extract from The Little Book of Hope by Ade Djajamihardja and Kate Stephens, published by Affirm Press, $19.99.