Last month, the day before Thanksgiving, I was pumping gas into my car, or trying to, anyway. After a few tries, the gizmo still wasn’t working. I was annoyed. I turned to step over the hose and head into the station to get an attendant.
Suddenly I heard an eerie sound: it sounded just like the thwack! of a baseball and bat making contact. But it was neither bat nor ball, it was the sound of a human head—mine—slamming into concrete. I’d tripped on the hose, and I was face-down in blood.
It’s so easy to forget, but this is exactly how life operates. One second you’re standing upright, absorbed in a petty annoyance, and a split second later you’re lying prone on concrete, bleeding profusely and marveling at how utterly and instantaneously your reality has changed.
People have asked me, “What lessons did you learn from having your head cracked open on a filling station pavement?” I ponder this.
Lesson #1: Concrete is hard. Also, be careful how you step over things. These are two parts of the same lesson, and it’s a good one.
Lesson #2: That stitching thing they do at hospitals, that’s amazing. I’d never been awake for stitches before. It makes me immensely grateful that we have doctors, antiseptics, and hospitals. (Of my six stitches, Ana successfully removed five, ten days later at home; the sixth was coy, and I eventually ended up having the local doc coax that one out.)
Lesson #3: Life is shockingly fragile. And, astonishingly resilient. I was flabbergasted to find myself so suddenly, unexpectedly and irrevocably at the center of an emergency room event. And equally flabbergasted, just hours later, at how little damage had occurred, and how quickly recovery came on the heels of trauma.
No concussion. No swelling. No pain medication at any point, not even a Tylenol, not then nor in the days that followed. (A horrific ugly yellow-purple shiner by day #4, but that soon vanished.) And now, three weeks later? You wouldn’t even know it had happened. The scar is half-hidden behind my left eyebrow. At the hospital that night, the triage nurse looked in my pupil with a flashlight and said, “Do you feel confused?” I replied, “No more than usual.” That’s still true.
How human beings are built to heal—it’s astonishing.
Then again, we have a friend who has a cousin, a fellow my own age, who fell the other day, slipped on the ice and went down on his head. Bat, baseball, trauma—and no recovery. Two days later, he was gone.
It is both terrifying and marvelous to contemplate how it is we actually live each day: suspended in thin air, without a net, between the two poles of frailty and resilience. We know frailty will ultimately win out and declare our mortality. So while we’re here, we throw ourselves into creating works, connections and footprints that will stay on past our departure, declaring our resilience.