You say it’s your birthday
It’s my birthday too, yeah
They say it’s your birthday
We’re gonna have a good time
I’m glad it’s your birthday
Happy birthday to you.
You pick your friends, not your relatives. Isn’t that what the old adage states? Another version of the same saying replaces “relatives” with “family.” I disagree with that version as I believe family has nothing to do with genealogy but with the quality and type of relationship shared between you and another. But, that may be a topic for another post, or at least later in this post. This post is about Birthdays.
Today is my Birthday. I sometimes refer to it as my Second Birthday since it is not the day on which I first came into the world, but it is the day I choose to celebrate being in this world.
I am three years old.
April 8 is the third anniversary of one of the most difficult and traumatic but also most pivotal days of my life. I’ve written about my accident before but it was such a seminal event I will share more today(and possibly repeat myself a bit).
I’ve questioned whether marking this day so significant is a healthy way to move forward and to heal emotionally and spiritually. The answers I’ve gotten so far tell me that is healthy. I’m celebrating life, celebrating what I’ve learned, and celebrating personal growth.
So, about the accident.
I don’t remember it.
The accident and about 3 hours of time surrounding the before and after are completely erased from my memory. But, because I had witnesses, including my husband and a friend, I know some of the details. My injuries and scars also tell me some of the details. So, I’ve been able to piece together those bits to create a memory of the event. I can speak and write about the event as if I do remember it, but believe me I don’t.
I’m not going to go into all of the details here, but suffice to say that bicyclist vs car doesn’t end nicely for either if the cyclist is traveling downhill. I crashed hard into a car door that opened in front of me. I dented the door but also hit the pavement with quite a bit of force, breaking 3 ribs and a collarbone, damaging every finger on my right hand, splitting my elbow open to the count of 20 stitches, and yes, hitting my head .
As a side note, I do believe I’m here today because I WAS wearing a helmet. That dear helmet saved my life as I know it. I’m a bit sentimental about that helmet; although it is no longer useable, I still have it. Even with it on I was severely disoriented for a couple of weeks. So if you ask me, I’d ask you to please wear your cycling helmet too…but I digress.
Back to the story. After scaring the shit out of Mr. Mudlips for a few seconds I regained consciousness and actually talked, asked and answered questions, and calmed the driver while I waited on the pavement for the ambulance. The EMTs came, scooped me up, took me to the ER, the ER docs did their scans and prods, and stitching, and I was wheeled into a room. That’s about when my memory started functioning again. I vaguely remember being lifted onto the bed.
I remember knowing some things but also not knowing other things. For example. I knew that certain parts of my body were unscathed: my face, my legs, for example. I knew that I had a broken collarbone, I knew that I was dizzy and nauseous. I knew I was going to be OK, and was calm. I didn’t know how I got that way.
Over time a picture of what had happened emerged from the fog. Because my husband and friend were in front of me when the door opened, they didn’t see the impact, only heard it. Their first sight was of me on the pavement. I can picture that too. I can picture lying broken on the street, the smell of asphalt, rubber, and motor oil mixing with my own adrenaline. I can see and hear the voice of the driver. Her face is furrowed with worry; I was telling her, “It’s going to be okay.”
So, here is where I come to why I celebrate this day:
Reason #1. What a gift it is to learn that in a moment of crisis, intense pain and uncertainty, I didn’t become a bitch. In contrast, I looked to take care of those around me. I’m strong-willed and don’t suffer fools easily BUT I also know that deep down I’m really a caring and compassionate person. Through the days that followed the event, I also learned very well the depth of my strength, both physical and emotional. I knew that all before the accident but now I haven’t a shred of doubt about who I really am.
Reason #2. I learned who my real family was. Not only did I make some conscious decisions about who in my circle of friends and family were called, but I was also fortunate to see who came to my aid on their own. Mr. Mudlips did things I’ll always treasure. I a saw side of him and our relationship that I’d never really seen before. Close friends became even closer. People I considered casual acquaintances did extraordinary things extending support. Those friends, co-workers, and relatives, will always be my true family.
Reason #3. I learned how to take care of myself. Sure before, I ate well, got lots of exercise, took several weeks of vacation a year. But, I also pushed myself quite hard, sometimes too hard. Even immediately after the accident I had the poor judgement to return to work less than a week later. It should have been two weeks, even three. Now, I know the consequences of that. In order to heal, I decided to eat a very pure and healthy diet and I was restricted to very easy exercise for over 6 months. As a result, I’m healthier and stronger now than I was before the accident. I eat even better and exercise in a way that doesn’t wear me down. Overall, I’m much healthier.
Reason #4. I learned that memories can be lost. This is one gift of the trauma that I’m still figuring out. But, let me just say that losing, or repressing, memory is a fascinating thing. Even though I’ve created an image of what happened there is no memory to assure me that it really happened. I have evidence but no actual memory. I take that as a gift because the brain and its functions are such an incredible mystery to me. Just as the complexities of a nebula are outside of the limits of my comprehension; this event has shown me that the human brain and the realities it interprets and creates are equally difficult to understand. And I like that. I like being fascinated by things I can’t figure out…now or ever.
Reason #5. I now know that careful people make mistakes. No matter your skill, knowledge, abilities, or intentions, sometimes events transpire in an order that leads to tragedy. My identity prior to the accident was tied to being a skilled and safe cyclist. After years of serious cycling, teaching bike skills and safety, I took pride in my abilities. After the crash, my identity wavered a bit, but I now know that one goof, does not a person define. I also know that no matter how skilled or how careful you are (and both the driver and I will tell you, and you should believe us, that we are VERY careful people) it is still possible to err. Evidently, I erred in wanting to be courteous to an oncoming car by giving it room to pass, thus moving into the door zone of the parked cars on the curb. I knew better but slipped this once. The driver KNEW to look in her mirror for traffic, especially bikes, that might be coming before opening her door. Evidently, a long day at school and it’s easy to forget, just once. Two really careful people met forcefully because of those little mistakes. It’s not who we are, it’s just something we did on that day. So, I have a bit more compassion for people and the mistakes they make, I think that’s a good thing.
Those are the big 5. I have a million more little reasons and a couple of big reasons that are even too complicated for me to articulate. The bottom line: that day changed my life. It was a force in shaping me almost as much as all the years before, and nearly as much as my DNA. So, it is logical to me that I set this day aside every year for introspection. Today, I’ll be taking time to: be thankful for what I’ve learned, think about where I am and where I’m going, and celebrate the gift of life.
Happy Birthday to ME! Time for cake!