If you have never been to a Special Olympics event…you might want to go…and bring the kids. You’d be hard pressed not to feel moved by the joy and enthusiasm. On occasion I photograph dances and proms for adult day care facilities. I met Cameron at several of these events. He’s a memorable guy. He laughs too loud. He tells me “he knows it’s annoying and that he’s working on it” and then he laughs some more. He tells me about his massive drug use which led to his subsequent brain injury. He wants to share his story in the hope that it might save a life. He’s obviously very bright and very high functioning. He’s one of the most positive people I have ever met.
I asked Cameron to write for me and he said yes. I soon realized that that wasn’t going to happen. Another time I was to watch him surf at a Special Olympics practice…I never found him. He later let me know that “ if you want to hang out with me you have to interface with my mom. She’s more grounded than me. And how are your kids?”
Cameron talks about his injury. “I nearly died. It changed me to the core of who I am. My brain actually hemorrhaged. I nearly bled out. You see this on my forehead, that’s where they went into my brain and shunted the fluid.
I live everyday of life with severe retrograde amnesia. I have a hard time forming new memories. I don’t let that hold me back. I live a beautiful life. I have everything I need and everything I want. You know, wanting more than you need is an illness.
If you want more than you need you are going to suffer and I am free of suffering.
All my wisdom comes from my brain injury. It was a blessing.”
When we met I was just so blown away by his insights. The following statements are his words with a little bit of editing from me.
I’ve learned that whatever problems I face during the day when I wake up the next day they don’t seem nearly so bad.
I don’t have to solve them. I just don’t let them hold me back.
When I was young I was hyper awkward. I didn’t know how to connect to other people. When I got high it solved that. I felt like I fit in. I didn’t feel lonely. I thought I blended in. But I didn’t really have any friends. Which is sad but true. I was miserable before the brain injury, on the verge of suicide. My brain injury was meant to happen.
Life is a gift. If you live that way you’ll feel fulfilled.
It’s a big and common mistake to let other people define who I am. I know who I am in my heart. I’m aware that people think I’m weird. I’m a weirdo I smile. Whatever you think about me is none of my business. If I worried about what other people think of me I’d never leave the house.
I am the luckiest man I know. I live everyday of my life in harmony with the world.
I’m sober, I don’t smoke cigarettes and I’m clean and sober. I was a terrible drug addict, that was the reason I was in prison.
When things are easy you don’t learn and grow. When it’s tooth and nail for your own life, you find out who you really are.
I had a spiritual experience and became a totally different person. I had a chip on my shoulder and I don’t know why. My life is surrounded by people with disabilities and I am the light in their world. I can show them that they can overcome their disabilities, which is a good position for me. I have every reason in the world to mope or whine but I choose not to do that. I realize that I have life by the balls. I love it because it’s my right to be as happy as I can and pull the rest of the world up to my level. (Cameron lives in a group home and some of “his families” have profound challenges).
My mom is my hero…. she is an amazing woman. She started Kids in Distress. She has dedicated her life to saving children. She is selfless to a fault. He sighs…she feels guilty and I don’t understand why. She hasn’t done anything wrong. That’s a waste of time.
She can’t fix me. Everyone thinks I’m broken. I’m a whole happy functioning person.
Reading is fundamental. I read ferociously (he laughs) I mean voraciously. I love fantasy, history and the classics.
I love Steinbeck, Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau and I love Hemmingway. He’s so amazing. He looked and acted a lot like my father. He was a fisherman, overweight, alcoholic and a womanizer. He was very young when he died. He never got sober. He didn’t see value to life. It was very sad. He was funny and full of life. He died before his time.
I’d like to tell young people not to do drugs. If you don’t do drugs you can live a long and happy life. I would tell young people to get a job…find a purpose. Drugs didn’t make me happier they took a bad situation and made them worse.
I park my car near the beach. “ We’re going to the beach? I LOVE THE BEACH! Do you know I used to work on bicycles? Would you rather ride a bicycle or skateboard? No, you probably can’t ride a skateboard. OH!!! You should learn! I love to ride skateboards. They are fun. I can surf too.”
Cameron finds joy everywhere. He’s a gift to me.
Note: When I sent this to Cam’s mom for her blessings she wrote this to me.
My son makes me smile and your copy makes me cry. The good tears a mother feels when her child returns from a storm. This made me smile. She also adds one more quote from Cameron. “Drugs are an effort to end fear but are the small death before the big one.” Wow.