Making Your Own Reality: A Survival Story (WestBow Press, 218 pp., $33.95) by James P. Meade, Jr. is a story of pain, faith, love, and healing and of how a young pilot reconstructed the pieces of his shattered brain into a new reality for himself and many others around the world.
James P Meade, Jr., was born in January 1947, all but died in May 1967 in Vietnam, and was reborn in July 1967. Today he is alive and well, with a PhD behind his name.
Meade begins by citing a passage from Corinthians. The reader might expect that this would be a “God miraculously pulls the victim back from death” story. God and miracles are given plenty of credit, but the story is also one of loving, intuitive, and brilliant people sacrificing to help a young man rebuild his life.
An Army brat, Meade left college to become a helicopter pilot and served in Vietnam with the First Aviation Brigade. He felt it was wrong to be in college while other young men were fighting and dying in the war. He disagreed with his mother who said he was entering the military to make his father proud of him. Meade believed that his father was proud of him before his decision to enter the Army.
The reader doesn’t have to move very far into the book before it’s clear that flying helicopters was going to be one step toward his bigger mission in life. Helicopter pilots had one of the most dangerous jobs in the war. Meade, in fact, was shot down three times in three months. The final time he and his copilot crashed, a rotor blade crushed his skull and all but ended his life.
Meade was unconscious for ten weeks before he awoke. His traumatic brain injury was so severe that he had no memory of who, what, or where he was. He couldn’t even recognize his own body parts. When doctors removed the casts from his legs, he was surprised that he even had legs.
During the early part of the author’s convalescence, his father, Command Sgt. Maj. James P. Meade Sr., spent innumerable hours helping his son develop motor skills through practice and a technique called “imagery.” Then SMAJ Meade himself had to leave his son’s bedside to serve in Vietnam.
Three years after the helicopter crash, James Meade’s younger brother David, a Special Forces soldier, died in Vietnam. Soon after that his parents divorced.
It is so easy to write that Meade would go on to enjoy a happy marriage and successful academic career. However, that would bypass the amazing process of life-long convalescence. Despite continuing health challenges, Meade never misses an opportunity to share his faith in God, family, and friends.
Meade wrote this book at age sixty-five, which allowed him to include a plethora of wisdom gained through his ordeal. If I had highlighted every personal, chord-striking comment he makes about life, I would now have a book with nearly all yellow pages.
Although the author frequently includes God in his narrative, Meade’s thoughts are not simply pious platitudes for positive thinking. I believe that anyone who studies his insights and practical suggestions for life will feel uplifted.
At first, this reader was a puzzled by the back-and-forth chronology of events. But after having read the entire book, I believe the technique protects the reader from grasping too much pain at once. By giving a broad overview of events and progressing to detailed rehabilitation work, the author creates a sense of balance and hopefulness through his darkest times.
This book is an excellent source for profound and practical Sunday school lessons, including the following insight, which would serve us well to contemplate before we rush into minor acts of violence or into war.
“It seems possible that most people want to live in peace, but it also seems that most (yes, most) people think that the only way peace can occur is if our opponents feel exactly like us. Most people also seem to believe that the truest and most perfect form of democracy is our own.”
Proceeds from the sales of this book will go to the Dr. James Meade, Jr. Foundation, which helps support brain-injury organizations.