The actual lesson from the bike crash


[What I had for breakfast today: jasmine rice, an egg, and beet greens. And I had the same thing yesterday--but I chased it with a DOUGHNUT, eaten with a good friend, and man did I enjoy that chocolate glazed.]

This was such a beautiful sight.

A couple of weeks ago, I crashed my bike while riding to work. I'm not sure what happened, and it wasn't really a big deal, but I bonked my head hard enough that it seemed wise to buy a new helmet, plus I got some intense road rash on my knee and shoulder. 

The scrape on my shoulder was particularly uncomfortable, enough that I had to curse a lot every time I got in the shower or changed my shirt for the first few days. Kamal winced when he saw it and insisted I wear sleeves--"I don't like seeing your boo-boo," he explained--and I couldn't blame him. It was pretty gross. 

The boo-boo, just nine days ago. Today it's barely visible!

Today, thanks to the remarkable ability of time to heal all wounds--along with a lot of antibiotic ointment and Vitamin E lotion--the road rash is almost entirely gone. But for those first few days, I was a terrible, terrible patient. I whined, I cringed, I felt sorry for myself. I thought about how to prevent road rash from happening again. 

"Maybe," I suggested to Adam, "I should start wearing more protective gear when I ride my bike. Like, maybe if I'd been wearing a jacket or something besides a sundress, I wouldn't have gotten so banged up."

Adam didn't even look up from the bread he was kneading. He scowled into the dough. "Come on," he scoffed. "You've been riding your bike forever, in far less appropriate outfits than that one. This is your first accident since you were a kid. Change what you wear on your bike if you want, but not because you fell off it this once."

Since it happened, I've been wondering what the lesson is for me in this accident. I've come up with some possibilities: maybe it's the universe reminding me why a helmet is important. Maybe it's telling me to be more careful. Maybe it's telling me to be less vain. Maybe it's telling me I shouldn't ride my bike anymore, or warning me against, God forbid, a bike accident while riding around with Kamal. All the lessons I thought up were grim warnings and grave reproaches. 

It took Adam frowning at his dough to make me realize: The lesson is just that accidents happen. The lesson is that one accident in a long history of safe bicycling is the norm, not the exception. The lesson is a big one for me and my anxiety. 

Because, yes, I struggle with anxiety. Since before I knew how to ride a bike, I've been an anxious person. I've collected a whole kit of tools for dealing with it, and I do a pretty good job most of the time, and have, in no small part as a direct result of coping with my own, been able to help a lot of patients deal with their anxiety. But when an accident happens, or when somebody under our roof is sick--when I'm not in control of my health or the health of my family--the anxiety starts digging in its cold little toes. 

And Adam, who is pretty much always right, is right again. Righter than he realized, maybe. Because managing anxiety isn't believing that the world is a safe place. It's acknowledging that the world is dangerous, that life is precarious, and moving forward anyway. It's finding the balance between being paralyzed by fear and deceiving ourselves into total passivity. It's remembering that the California sun on your shoulders feels good as you pedal yourself to work, and also that wearing a suit of armor makes for a slow and unpleasant bike ride. 

Vigilance is helpful; hypervigilance hinders. We try not to fall down, but we all do sometimes. We don't want to see the boo-boos, but we know they happen, and the great gift is that most of the time we know how to fix them. Every human is made of soft and vulnerable stuff and the world is hard and poky. 

When Kamal was born everything around me was lit by love. At the same time, the risks contained in the world multiplied by a thousand. The most illuminating love and the most crippling anxiety both arrived in my life along with my child. And this is the world we live in: equally full of catastrophes and miracles. At any moment we can fall head over heels in love or be struck by enormous loss. What anxiety makes us forget is that the loss and catastrophe are just as random as the love and the miracles. The bad stuff isn't aiming for anyone. The good stuff is all around. All we can do is roll around in it and take our lumps where they come, and then heal, over and over again.