one more time, with feeling
one more time, with feeling.
November 4, 2013 at 1:17pm
almost exactly four months ago, a car hit me while i was walking across the street in California. this accident changed my life but not necessarily just in the ways you might assume it would.
the accident happened the day before a planned week-long foray into Yosemite National Park. my backpack was packed and ready- i had even prepared a bear cannister filled with REI ready-to-eat meals.
it happened some time in the middle of the afternoon. i didn’t even know what hit me. after my chin hit the ground and i tried to get up but found that i could not, i rolled over and closed my eyes.
after a few moments, i opened them.
as i was noticing i was on my back against the hot pavement, the sunlight suddenly seemed extremely bright and everything was moving incredibly slow. i reached upwards with both hands, grasping for someone or something to hold. i couldn’t hear anything yet. i was still in shock. would i be able to walk again? i decided in my head that it was ironic that i was on my way to go do heavy deadlifts with loren and neeraj. would i ever do deadlifts again? would i ever visit Yosemite on my own two legs?
a stranger with brown hair speckled with highlights of grey took one of my hands in hers. her name was Andrea. she asked me my name, and smiled warmly. she asked me if i had tears in my eyes because i was upset or hurt. i responded, “both.” she asked me more questions- where i live, what i do, where i was going. i asked her if she could keep holding my hand, and she said that she would not let me go until she saw that i was safe. she assured me i’d make it to yosemite, even though i could not move either of my knees at the time. i remember thinking, with a sinking heart, that what she said would be impossible. i asked her if i looked badly hurt, and she reassured me that i would be okay, even as other passersby covered their mouths in shock and horror. Andrea’s smiling face was the lighthouse that kept me steady and as calm as i could be.
another stranger named Vicky with short, spiky hair shifted my backpack under my head so it wasn’t on the pavement and kept my neck from moving too much. a man walked over, wearing sunglasses and a suit, and said he was a doctor. he smiled as he checked a few things and looked me in the eye. “you are going to be fine. see, you can wiggle your toes!”
the paramedics came to do an assessment. Andrea did not leave my side. she called the people i asked her to call. i started to cry as the paramedics put me in a cervical collar. i looked in Andrea’s eyes, and she nodded reassuringly. As I was placed on the stretcher, she rushed over to my side and whispered again right before I was taken away on the ambulance, “I promise, I promise you are going to get to Yosemite this weekend, and you’re going to be just fine.”
it is most probable that i will never see any of them ever again.
i arrived in the ER. the nurse cracked jokes with me, and i told her that at least now i can cross “getting hit by a car” off my bucket list. she laughed and told me that i should cross off “getting put in the washing machine while it’s on” because it feels about the same. i said i would make a note of that, and that i was glad that one was out of the way too.
i kept still on the hopsital bed for some time that seemed interminable, waiting for a doctor and contemplating my pain. i couldn’t move my knees. i focused on feeling grateful for the pain. i decided that the pain was a miracle, because that meant, well, that i could still feel something. loren and neeraj came to visit me in the hospital. they apologized for being two hours late but i was crying with happiness that they had come at all. they sat, both holding my hands, crying and laughing with me. aptly, loren talked to me about the beneficial effects of seratonin while neeraj talked to me about how bodybuilders recover because they believe in themselves.
we left the hospital finally, past midnight. before exiting, i planted a smile on my face and took an extra happy photo with Neeraj so that my parents wouldn’t be worried about me. loren insisted on driving around for longer than necessary to look for pharmacies and grocery stores that were still open. eventually, loren and neeraj carried me up three flights of stairs. loren even planned a day trip to Yosemite, and we drove there and back in one day- making Andrea’s promise come true.
my friends helped me crutch down to the Merced river so that I could put my feet in the water. and as we drove back to San Francisco in the middle of the night, i felt unspeakably moved as we all stood in the darkness of it all, watching the stars above us.
over the course of the next weeks, friends came to see me at home, wrote me emails, brought me food, pushed me in my wheelchair, drove all the way from places like LA to see me and take me to the airport, texted me about all the Lost episodes I was watching, patiently waited for me to crutch slowly next to them while walking to places. one of the directors at my company called to see if i needed him to bring me groceries. the CEO of my company walked around on my crutches to make me laugh. my family took care of me. my doctor taught me how to regain flexibility and strength. people applauded for me when i danced the Wobble at a dance party while on crutches. strangers offered to help me carry things while i was walking on crutches.
i am deeply touched by the amount of care and goodness of heart that exists in this world. i thought about the times that i get lost in the petty concerns of life. about work, about relationships, about what to eat for dinner, about the fact that we have to walk *so* far to get somewhere, about bad customer service, about how slow the internet is, about stormy weather, about how shitty the selection of movies on Netflix can be, about how much it sucks to exercise, about flight delays, about being emotionless because it’s less scary than being vulnerable, about not going somewhere or doing something because we are afraid.
in all these collective humbling moments, i realized that we have little room in this life for that attitude. that the art of living is not necessarily in our ability to take what we cannot control too seriously, but in our ability to embrace laughter and positivity at things that happen.
that at the end of whatever life we have lived, wouldn’t you want to avoid having to tell yourself, “one more time, but this time, with feeling?” as Cheryl Strayed puts it, “Whatever happens to you belongs to you. Make it yours. Feed it to yourself even if it feels impossible to swallow. Let it nurture you, because it will.”
this too-long-winded story is not about an accident, nor about the aftermath of pain and fear. i may still feel frustrated at things, sometimes. but the fact that i can stand up when i get out of bed, that is a miracle. the fact that i can walk, dance, bend my knees, and yes, do deadlifts, is a miracle. i can choose not to ignore the fact that the kindness of people, whether strangers or family, is glaringly apparent in everyday life. the fact that that truly good hearts still beat on. and the fact that friendship and a good sense of humor can save your life in more ways than you know.
this thank you is long overdue: thank you, with all of my heart, to my friends and family who helped me through this time with everything from words of encouragement to much, much more.
it’s true that i could spend the rest of my life being afraid. to live, to spill myself open, to love, to run using my damaged knees, to wear tango shoes and do boleos, to walk out into intersections in Oakland. but the desire to heal is almost more important than the healing itself. and i tell myself: the desire to live fully, well… build it, make it yours, and this time, with feeling.