What I do remember was being pumped to be a college freshman at a small church college in the Midwest; living in the dorm (not at home) and eating dinner with a thousand other starving plebes. Credit course or not, one of the first things I did was audition for the schools all-men’s choir…60+ college guys from all kinds of backgrounds who sang like the Mormons on a good day. But before you punch my nerd card, you should also know we were headed to the Bahamas during Interim (Jan classes) to provide a local missionary with a burly (and free) workforce…a new definition for ‘sweat equity’ when it came to building God’s Kingdom on earth. And did I mention it was in the Bahamas? In January? Looking back, the Bahamas in January might have had some small influence in my decision to sign-up.
Three things I hadn’t counted on:
- We were there to work during the day and do concerts at night. To make all that happen, we each had assignments. Mine was dish crew, cleaning up after each mess hall meal. After a few non-air conditioned days, it began to dawn on my fellow mess rats and I that tanning/touristy stuff wasn’t going to happen any time soon (I should have read the brochure);
- No Marriott. Instead, we were housed in an old mission building in one of Nassau’s worn out and generally forgotten ghettos up behind Government House. We couldn’t count on the electricity to stay on for any length of time, but we did have water three-hours a day. Paradise Island? Nowhere in sight;
- Three nights later (Jan 9 = Drop Day (aka D-Day)), I slid off the building’s flat tropical roof and hit the filthy street some 50 feet below (no sidewalks where we where living).
To this day, I have no memory of the fall itself. I do have a vivid memory of walking into our room that night and saying something about wanting to go out on the roof for awhile to catch the breezes (not an uncommon practice). I can remember walking across the room, towards the big french door type window and then – nothing.
It was almost three weeks and already in my second hospital, before I started fading back into consciousness like some kind of opening chapter in a surreal Stephen King novel.
That’s when I started hearing the stories of how the ancient mission had exploded into life as I went screaming towards the pavement. Case in point, Curtis.
Story goes it was Curtis who flew down the fourteen flights of iron stairs, raising the alarm. And like the stories where the mom lifts a car off her kid, Curtis reached the 3” thick timbered door guarding the mission’s street entrance and ripped it right off its’ oaken frame in his scramble to get to me. Within seconds, everyone else and my dad (our director) were right behind him and out onto the darkened street where I lay.
Curtis wasn’t the only hero that night as dozens of my ‘brothers’ immediately fanned out across the darkened slum, each one trying to find a phone in order to call for help.
I also remember being told about my ‘ambulance’ driver being shocked when he realized I was white. From what I understand, he came dangerously close to being stoned on-the-spot when he started apologizing to my mob… “If Dispatch had known my race, they would have sent the ‘other’ ambulance”.
I was dying.
Culture shock/rage notwithstanding, the guys moved me to a wire stretcher and into the back of the Toyota long-bed pick-up that was to be my ambulance. With my dad and a couple of pre-med majors in the back trying to hold me down, others had jammed themselves in the front seat, screaming out the front window like sirens as we careened through the narrow backstreets towards Princess Margaret Hospital.
Within the hour, most of the group (who I had only known since September) had found their way to the hospital. Old Miss Taylor and some of locals we had been helping were there too; each one standing in a hospital corridor with arms outstretched to donate blood. In God’s infinite wisdom, I am both lucky and grateful that blood knows no other color than itself.
From a factual perspective, I broke just about everything. I was bleeding from everywhere with my bones seeming to take turns sticking out through my clothes. I still sport a slightly bent-up forearm where splinting at all, was far more important than any text book symmetry. When it was all done and said, I ended up spending months recovering in three different hospitals. I quit counting surgeries somewhere after 20 or 25.
You have no idea how little I have spoken of any of this since it happened. Nothing gets my teeth grinding like hearing people comparing injuries as if it were some twisted competitive form of ‘Name That Tune’. I’m sorry, but there’s no glory to be gained by having a broken leg that’s worse than your friends. There is no courage in getting hurt. The courage comes later.
“He may die before morning.” I didn’t.
“He may well be paralyzed .” I’m not.
“He’ll never be able to leave a wheel chair.” Watch me.
“He may never walk.” I do.
“He may not regain the use of his hands.” I did. Once my jaw was rewired (again), I re-learned how to pick up and hold a golf pencil in order to eventually mark the X’s on my own hospital menu. Choosing your liquid menu from a hospital kitchen…now that’s just a cruel joke, but I didn’t care. I would angrily motion to my nurses…“GIVE ME THE PENCIL!”.
What’s the point in telling you all of this?
Bad things happen to good people.
Marks, scars or rings in the trunk of a tree…they’re all the same. They denote actual events. Together, they all come together to inform our here-and-now. No experience? No smarts. But the rings in a tree don’t define what the tree is or the benefit it brings to its particular patch of the forest. The tree defines itself by being itself. I’d say that over thousands of years, they’ve got this one figured out.
- Fear is a gift when you think of it as a fuel gauge for just how much resident courage is laying dormant in your Soul. To paraphrase Eleanor Roosevelt, “To fight a bull when you are not scared is nothing. To not fight a bull when you are scared is nothing. But to fight a bull when you are scared…there, that is something”. That my friends, is Courage. I can’t explain it, but I’m so grateful that we Humans just seem to come wired with a ready reserve of Courage in each of us. It also seems to be inexplicably relational…little fear, no need for much courage. Big scare? Big Courage on its’ way!
- Courage is one of the best renewable resources we may have because it’s contagious. Little kids find the courage when they sense calm in their parents. Three-weeks later, they are the one encouraging the little kid who lives next-door that the trip to the doctor’s office isn’t all that big a deal. Their new-found courage is catching.
I caught mine from my dad, from Curtis, Old Miss Taylor and the scores of people who stepped up when I fell. My nurses (and they were legion), my docs, the physical therapists and the extended community ‘back home’ were all profiles in their own version of courage. Seeing their bravery was like someone depositing courage into my own emotional bank account. And time after time, I drew on that account…and yet people said I was the brave one. While I thank my well-wishers, I’ve got to ask, if my dad could love me like he did (and he did), how could all that change when I came out?
Don’t be like the proverbial rube who stands on the sidewalk, watching the piano falling towards them. In my case, I was the piano. And I needed all the King’s horses and all the King’s men to mend me back together again. But eventually, they did and I stood up. Turns out my courage was inside, all along. All I needed was someone to show me where to look. Look inside. There’s never been someone exactly like you. Someone who needs a deposit of courage may be needing yours right now.
Mark it down. You will fall down. But like you always knew down deep, it isn’t the falling or even the sudden stops of Life that matter. What defines you is getting back up.
Go grab a golf pencil!
Illustration and Photo Credits: Humpty Dumpty Book Cover http://www.museumstorechildrensbooksonline.org/pdshoppro/shop/item.asp?itemid=522 Government House: Mike Burton http://www.flickr.com/photos/scmikeburton/2776743208/ Shattered Door: mjw4745276 (UK) http://www.dundjinni.com/forums/forum_posts.asp?TID=935&KW=door Princess Margaret Hospital: http://www.phabahamas.org/hospitals_overview_pmh.php Golf Pencils: http://justwrite.com.au/justwrite8/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=924
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