The author before he smashed himself into a car.
I regularly ride a road bike for exercise. It has dropped handlebars that keep me flexed at the hips, craning my neck to see ahead. I always wear a bike helmet – mine has a short visor. It has a small mirror attached to it.
Over the years I’ve figured out a four-mile loop and a six-mile loop that I ride regularly for training. What am I training for? I’m trying to get my speed and endurance back up so that I can comfortably ride on my bike club’s rides. Their rides are 25-30 miles at speeds around 17 mph. Two weeks ago I did a 22 mile training ride at 15.7 mph, so I’m getting there, but not quite.
Last week I was out on one of my neighborhood training rides. I was on the third loop, and I spotted a car in my mirror. I expected the driver to pass me soon. Then I smacked into the back of a parked Geek-Squad VW and was thrown through the back window.
This was not the most mindful thing I’ve ever done. I was dazed and bloody but did not lose consciousness. I had no broken bones, and I had feeling throughout my body. I knew the essentials were all right, but I did need to go to the ER.
Although my mindfulness practice didn’t keep me from hitting the car, it certainly came in handy during the 8 hours I spent in the ER being evaluated, scanned and stitched up.
If you’ve ever spent time in an emergency room, you know that it’s an experience to try your patience. For the amount of actual contact time with the medical staff, there is a lot of time spent waiting for the next thing to happen. It’s an easy time to focus on one’s self as the most important being in the universe – to expect, even to demand, immediate attention.
I reminded myself that I was getting the attention I needed. To that end, I focused on my breathing, on relaxing my muscles that wanted to go into shock as I lay there in the neck brace staring at the ceiling. I called it “hibernation-mode.”
Staring at the ceiling, I thought about the Taoist story of the farmer whose horse ran away. His neighbors said, “Such bad luck.” He said, “Could be.” The next day the horse came back with three wild horses. His neighbors said, “Such good luck.” He said, “Could be.” The next day his son, trying to tame one of the horses, was thrown and broke his leg. His neighbors said, “Such bad luck.” He said, “Could be.” The following day military officials came to the village to draft young men for the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. His neighbors said, “Such good luck.” He said, “Could be.”
It’s difficult to have an experience like I had – riding a bike at full speed into the back of a parked car – and not ask, “How did this happen?” The truth is that I have no idea how it happened. I’d been on the road hundreds of times, knew that cars park on the street, always watched for cars backing out of driveways, for street traffic, for runners, other cyclists, cars. I know I was mindful of the car behind me, but totally missed the Volkswagen that parked there five minutes earlier.
All I know is that it happened the way it did. Maybe I missed a worse fate down the road. I’m dealing with it as mindfully as I can and extending my gratefulness practice by being thankful that if it had to happen, it happened the way it did. Reminding myself that it is, what it is.
Bad luck, or good luck? Could be. I don’t know.