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Letting your guard down

I walked into my son’s school this evening to see a teacher who I haven’t seen in over a year.

He left rather suddenly, so I never felt comfortable about asking what happened. I hate that I didn’t. I was a little surprised not to get a letter introducing the new changes in staffing, but I never questioned it. Another guy, who I always really liked, just slid into his spot. So when I saw him today, I blurted, “Hey, what are you doing back?”

Well, apparently he was recovering from a traumatic brain injury due to a mountain biking accident – in which he was wearing a helmet. Of course I felt like an idiot. First of all, I was embarrassed not to have even known. Second, he probably was under the impression that I DID know, but that I was surprised to see him functioning again. It was that bad.

He stood there in front of me looking all together, absent of obvious scars or disfigurement, so I pressed on. What I saw was something a little different in his eyes and facial expression, as if this was his identical twin.

I’m not privy to his mountain biking skills, but I know that he’s an athlete and more than familiar with outdoors sports. When I asked him what happened, he of course didn’t really remember. The brain has this beautiful way of forgetting horrible events. He remembers that the trail wasn’t that big of a deal when he flew over the handlebars – that there was a rock or something. He was with a friend and heading back to the parking lot, nearly done with the ride.

That’s when those accidents happen. I have those friends who get into wrecks when they’re doing something big for the camera, or doing some sort of showman trick when they get banged up, but even THEY know that a wreck is 90% possible as they’re getting ready to throw caution to the wind. They might lose a spleen, a tooth, or break a collarbone. It’s the accidents where we are NOT paying attention, that end up altering one’s life, turning one into their identical twin.

It’s when we’re no longer paying attention to the now, but to thoughts of the cold beer in the cooler back at the car, or to which Mexican restaurant we’ll head to, that suddenly life is forever changed. It’s on that flat piece of road where we are confident to let our minds wander for a moment.

He damaged the side of his head and his brain stem. He had to relearn walking, talking and swallowing. He spent a long time in physical therapy and rehabilitation. I was embarrassed to be part of this small bike community and even smaller school and NOT know. I felt bad that despite my own responsibilities in my overwhelming life that I never even bothered to ask what happened to this guy.

It won’t happen again. I hope it also makes us all more conscious on that part of the ride when we’ve checked out before our feet leave the clips. How many times are we on the bike without a helmet because it’s no big deal to grab it real quick, and do a wheelie or two?

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