March 20th, the Spring Equinox. It marks the 20th anniversary of a bicycle crash I had in Houston when en route to my first class after Spring Break. The twenty-year mark heightens my annual need to reflect on what I learned from the ordeal. I don’t see it as a loss, because all I really lost was several weeks of my graduate education. I did acquire some minor musculo-skeletal deformities. But what did I really gain?
Jacques Lusseyran was blinded at age 8, and two weeks later he realized he could still see the light. In Against the Pollution of the I, he wrote:
I saw neither sun, nor plants, nor the faces of those around me with eyes. But it was enough for the warmth of the day to touch me, for a tree to appear along the way, for a voice to call to me, and immediately those beings and objects came to life on the inner canvas…
He emphasizes the importance of awareness, and attention, and explains that we know the world not only through our eyes, but through pressure, through things invisible.
The universe consists of pressure, that every object and every living being reveals itself to us at first by a kind of quiet yet unmistakable pressure that indicates its intention and its form.
This French Resistance leader and survivor of Buchenwald, elaborates on a “state of being,” whether one provoked by voices, stones, mountains, or a depression in the bottom of a lake.
Permit me to say without reservation that if all people were attentive, if they would undertake to be attentive every moment of their lives, they would discover the world anew. They would suddenly see the world is entirely different from what they had believed it to be. All science would become obsolete in a single moment, and we should enter into the miracle of immediate cognition.
As I reflect upon my storyboard of the bicycle crash, what I remember intensely is the feeling of being cooped up inside, isolated from nature—the startling into awareness of imprisonment, as I transferred from “the coop,” Ben Taub Hospital, to a better coop—Methodist Hospital.
I bit my lip as I got onto the stretcher. The EMS guys rolled me down the hall. I squinted at the brightness but peeked around it to see busy people, mostly white coats, coming and going. Most not looking at me—just another sick one, half dead-like, one of the helpless ones we fear observing too closely.
The door to the outside soon came into view, tears seeped out again, my being having not felt outside air for nine scattered days. The cool and wind and clouds massaged my battered psyche which had feared more and more throughout the endless day that this time would never come. The tears acknowledged that hope had indeed won, even if only temporarily.
I’m in the ambulance eagerly staring out the back window at the leaves on the trees blowing in the wind, like an alien, never having appreciated their green, flowing freedom.
As I’m gently wheeled up the ramp entrance to Methodist, tears start to come again, as I think where I’ve been, and feel the open space endlessly available around me.
And a similar awareness when I flew out of the Methodist coop.
One week later and minus a chest tube, being wheeled in a chair to Methodist’s front driveway, I looked outside through the plate glass window at the comings and goings of cars and people waiting for their rides. The tears began to pour for the first time in days, as I thought about joining the rat race, for the first time in my life thankful that I could.
What did I learn? Back then, the take home point was that all the “busy” things that I assumed mattered in my graduate school life, didn’t. That “when it’s all over, what matters is here, as it always was, and always will be,” (I wrote a month after the accident).
For twenty years I thought the bike crash gave me an epiphany about life. But today, looking for poetry I wrote after the crash, I came across my prolific writing the entire year before the crash. Most of it was a downer:
Life’s too short, or so they say. Seems too long if you ask me today.
Many were untitled, but the ones that are, and the first lines of the others, give a sense of my emotional state: Asymptomatic Death, The trick to life is so unclear…, Callous, Trapped, and Stick’n It Out:
You’ve gotta wonder about people who have stuck it out into their 60s or 70s. That took one helluva lot of determination, and then some. Determination or guts, or something. I don’t know what…because I don’t think I have it.
But them…they’ve earned the right to do whatever, stand around and be fat, smoke all day, to act as if they don’t know what’s going on, to stare at their grandchildren, to stare into space, to stare into your eyes…whatever they damn well want to do, they’ve earned it.
I can hardly make it through another day, but they managed somehow. Will I?
And then, there is the undeniable prescience of this stanza:
Life is lost, so much of the day is not life. The moments of life are sparse and scattered. The hours of voidness widely splattered upon the path of false justifications, infiltrated fears, embedded insecurities drooling out insipidly of the mouths of clones.
Only in our mortality, do we somehow see the possibilities we missed, the adventures betrayed, the chances to live a life of LIFE.
The depressed me was questioning, seeking, reaching for something. I knew what mattered was “now,” but I was blind to it, to Lusseyran’s pressure. I had to be physically and temporarily incapacitated and imprisoned—without nature, to jolt me out of my numbness. Hospitalization healed my blindness. It made me see what I had been missing all along.
May you sense Spring as well as this chicken family! (click the Spring link)
Lusseyran, Jacques. “The Blind in Society.” Against the Pollution of the I: Selected Writings of Jacques Lusseyran. New York: Parabola, 1999. 29+. Print.