I have known Joel Metzger for perhaps 20 years and was told I needed to meet this resilient thriver and hear his story of rebirth following a traumatic event that forever changed his life.
When we wake up each morning, we generally don’t imagine that this day could be our last on the planet. We go about our business, interacting with family, friends and co-workers, “clocking in and clocking out” on the job, assuming that another 24 hours will be granted to us or that they will be predictable.
Joel was one of those who likely didn’t question that belief. He is a consistent presence in our community and I had heard over and over throughout the years that he was the ‘Unofficial Mayor of Doylestown,’ since as he walked through town, he seemed to know nearly everyone and greeted them warmly. His sense of humor, intelligence, creativity and love for those in his life are among his gifts that didn’t leave him on that day.
He was “the foreman of a cabinet shop that manufactured components for private aircraft. On the side, I was a semi-professional puppeteer, directing my own troupe.” On that auspicious day, he had submitted his resume to puppeteer Jim Henson because he wanted to make a shift in his career. Little did he know that he would need to shift gears at an intersection that would also bring about a multitude of decisions he needed to make about navigating the roads that lay before him.
Please share about the pivotal event that turned your world upside down and inside out. How long ago did it happen?
Many years ago (over 30), my life almost ended with a car crash. Actually, in many ways it did end. I suffered a head trauma and spent two months in a coma and nine in hospitals. I must point out that this is all because of a drunk driver.
A head injury has indescribable impact and mine was a very severe one. The brain is a pretty important organ that’s right smack in the center of our personal universe. I lost every physical ability, was like a new-born baby for months, my wife left me, had to relearn how to speak, walk, and work a new career. My personality changed. I was moved to a new city. My ability to think is still challenged. I have major memory and balance problems.
What was the biggest lesson that emerged?
Everything changes. The rug can be yanked out from beneath you. And yet, we can know a constant foundation.
Who was the man you were before the accident and who are you now?
Before the accident I was already on a path of learning what part of me is strong and central. I had been experientially examining this for ten years at that time. So, the injury was a practical demonstration of what I thought about and glimpsed. It was an acid test. Theories quickly flew out the window. Only what was solid and absolute could help.
If you could speak to him in a “what I wish I knew when I was you” manner, what would you say to him?
The very best can come out of what seems like the very worst.
How has inner awareness helped you to heal?
I could say a lot about that. Feeling stability inside is extremely important when your world shakes. This is needed when I walk (physical balance), as I my health improves (healing and imagery), as I go through the ups and down of living (always staying afloat), on my journey towards where I want to be (keeping my eyes on what is true), and more (including this lifestyle of being single and seeking a partner!).
How would you describe your life now?
Blessed! I am very focused on my project of expressing some of what I’ve learned.
Please talk about The Piece We Need.
The Piece We Need is my expression about Inner Strength, “the piece we need to face serious challenges”. This is a series of videos with animation and commentary.
I’ve been creating a series of videos about the inner resources we all have. There are now two compilations on Vimeo On Demand called Inner Strength and Inner Beauty. I encourage people to watch these videos if they are interested in my message.
What is the takeaway message in it?
We have access to a source of inner strength, and we need to learn to held on to it solidly, quickly, anytime. I say “we”, but I really mean me. It is very personal, and I only want to talk about myself. I say “inner strength” but really mean a whole carpetbag of inner resources. My life is a process of basing myself more and more on myself.
Some who have experienced trauma live in fear of it occurring again. What keeps you living day by day in the midst of the unpredictability of life?
My breath. It’s my role model!!
I have enjoyed viewing Joel’s videos which highlight cartoon versions of himself and the other characters in them, over the past few years and find inspiration in the ways he consistently turns inward when it would seem natural to seek external validation to make sense of the world. From this observer’s perspective in many conversations with him, it came to me that when he experienced the Traumatic Brain Injury, his sense of spiritual connection seemed to deepen and appreciation for life has grown incrementally.