You see, before Laurent's accident, one of his strengths and talents was communication. He was a gifted speaker and people just loved talking with him. It was actually one of the things that drew us together when were dating. We connected right away and could engage in deep discussions rather quickly. When he discovered how mediators use their gift for communication to help people resolve conflict and come up with solutions in their lives, he jumped ahead full steam. In fact, at the time of the accident, he was a senior at the University of Utah majoring in Communication with the plan to continue on to become a mediator. In all of his plans for the future, he fully expected to use his ability to speak as a foundation for his career and family.
What a cruel irony he experienced when after the accident it became apparent that his gift of speech and communication had been one of the casualties of this event. With his aphasia came months and years of speech therapy as he tried to rebuild his language abilities to communicate with his family. At first we thought it would just take time and then he could go back and finish his degree and become a mediator. As time passed, however, we realized this was not going to be the case.
At this critical crossroad an important decision had to be made. We could either sit down in the middle of that intersection and cry while looking at the path of "could-have-been" or we could try to decide on a new path and venture down an unknown road. I think in the end we did some of both. We grieved the lost life and the plans we had made and then fortunately wise friends and speech therapists nudged us to look at the possibilities that a different road could bring.
Laurent and I sat down and took stock of what talents and abilities were still intact after the injuries. One of those gifts and strengths is his gorgeous tenor voice. Those of you who have heard him sing, would agree that he was given a special gift through music. We decided that he would find some way to use music to find fulfillment and help others with that gift. I believe we set several goals at the time. He wanted to continue to sing and perform for people. He wanted to join the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and he wanted to share his thoughts and feelings through music.
The first goal was easy. Just a couple of months after the accident and though unable to speak in complete sentences, he sang for community events and church services. He also sang "How Great Thou Art" at his grandfather's funeral and has continued to provide peace and comfort for many families when their loved one passes away through his golden voice.
The second goal took more than a decade to complete. He tried out for the choir in 2003, (five years after the accident), but did not pass the rigorous theory test. Rather than giving up and deciding that his disabilities prevented him from being in the choir, he went back to school taking one theory and one voice class each semester. (This was definitely not the fast-track to graduation.) Seven years later he tried out once more for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and this time passed that difficult test with no disability accommodations and completed the audition process. Tears of joy and gratitude slid down our cheeks the first time we watched Laurent sing with that beautiful choir, knowing the work, determination, and tender mercies that had made that day possible. We can't describe what a tremendous blessing it has been for Laurent to be able to be a part of that incredible organization and have the opportunity to share his feelings each week through music.
The realization of his second goal has actually now fielded additional opportunities for his third goal of sharing his thoughts and feelings through music. As people with traumatic brain injuries or other challenging situations have heard about his experience, they have asked him to come and sing for them and share his story through music. The benefits have been twofold as they have lifted others around him as well as buoyed Laurent up on those darker days when the burden of living with a brain injury feels exhausting and wearisome. Singing for others reminds him that he contribute to life in so many ways. He may not be able to help others in the way he originally planned, but he can enrich the lives of those he meets through means he had never before conceived. Thriving with a disability means focusing on what one can do rather than what one can't. It's finding joy and satisfaction in reaching out to others and bringing them peace and comfort in their difficult times. I think we can all learn from him, whether we have a visible disability or not. Find your strengths and let them thrive so you can be you and you can be" be-you-tiful"!