When I was 26 I was driving my motorcycle up the street, about two blocks from home, when a car missed a stop sign and T-boned me doing 55kmh (30mph for you imperial types). It changed the course of my life, as near-fatal accidents are wont to do.
And I will be forever grateful.
It was just an accident, one of those things. She was from out of town and lost, looking for the regional hospital, late for an appointment. It was bright and sunny. A big, white cube van was travelling in the opposite direction to me, on the side of the road from which she was coming, The van missed sparing me by about a foot, her car whizzing past its rear bumper, the light color of the van perhaps making it less visible to her searching, distracted eyes, the van hiding her from me until it was way too late.
In emergency I apparently told jokes while they prepped me for surgery, in between throwing up and passing out. I was a minor hospital celebrity for months. The surgery that day was the first of eleven over the next three years, some big, some smaller, some in my home town, some in
. I learned cool names for things: Acetabulum and trochanteric femur (neither of which should ever be shattered if at all possible), multiple compound fracture, osteomyolitis, Hoffman external fixator, Portacath central lines, hip-to-knee Mercedes incision. Vancouver
|If you look real close, you can even read my name - don't tell them I stole the x-ray though|
If you learn the lingo, the doctors pay more attention to you – take you seriously.
I learned much of the usual near-death stuff too: Life is short and fleeting and ridiculously precious; pain is temporary, and when it isn’t you can either let it make you mental or stronger, occasionally both; people handle tragedy and trauma different ways, but how they handle it doesn’t always tell the whole story about them.
For me alone, I learned that almost any amount of pain is better than to be made dumb by drugs. I could not wait to be off the morphine pump. I went from accident to T3’s in five days. The morphine stole my mind, and I could not forgive it that insult. That’s maybe just me though, I get that.
I learned that, while shit simply does not happen “for a reason”, we can impose reason on anything if we really want to. For me, the accident didn’t change much beyond the length of my left leg, my range of hip flexibility, and the parameters of possible strength for that leg. Everything else can be overcome. After the accident I took up climbing, martial arts, hockey (I play goal – I’m weak on the low glove side, but I compensate), and returned to writing. These things aren’t why the accident happened; They happened after it, in spite of it, to prove that the accident didn’t define who I would be.
If I was inclined to believe in that “a reason for all things” argument, the writing would be, possibly, the only circumstantial proof in support of it. I was forced to go back to school, to university, which I had skipped after high school. Uni led me back to writing. The return to school was the best thing to come out of the whole mess.
But whether you argue design or “shit happens”, it’s what we do with it that counts. It’s what happens after we wake up that defines us, not the accident or the injuries or the staples or the scars. They shape what happens, but we impose the reason and order and purpose and wildness and joy and everything else that is only a potential, the possibility of a possibility, when the trauma happens.
In this sense, trauma is much like waking up every day. We get to impose our spirit and will. Every. Fucking. Day.
I was reminded of this today when a Twitter friend informed me that she was creating a new blog and a new Twitter account. Melissa, my friend, is doing this because, in some fundamental way, she’s more now than the old account and blog can define all by themselves. She’s moving forward from a trauma that has shaped who she is, what her first blog and account were about, and onto new adventures and joys and frustrations and triumphs.
Her choice inspired me and made me smile.
I know other amazing people, both in RL and online who, like Melissa, have transcended far more serious injuries than mine, and who bear scars that run much deeper than my fleshly ones. They fight paralysis, or cancer, or traumas that make my broken bones and scars and really cool x-rays looks small in comparison. And still, they aspire and ascend and are beautiful doing it.
We all have scars; that’s just life. And... scars are beautiful in their own way. I call mine my "portable wealth".
We are not what has happened to us, as much as it may affect the path we take. We are who we choose to be, and who we will choose to become. Any time I doubt that, I check the scars and remember how far I’ve come from there. Or I see someone like Melissa and the amazing things she’s doing for herself and others.
The evidence is all around us. Nietzsche was right.