Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The car accident

My middle sister's stopped by a few times in the last couple of weeks. I say 'stopped by', because each time has been a visit of less than 24 hours. Nevertheless, we manage to squeeze a lot of conversation in during that time. Monday she, my younger brother and her younger son were here packing up their packs for a back-packing trip in the North Cascades, about 45 minutes northeast of our home. All their camping goods and instant food made me think of the days when my dad (a scout-master) had food and equipment laid out all over our front yard and scouts swarming over it like teen-aged mosquitoes, preparing for the long hikes they took every summer. LD still uses the pack Dad bought her too many years ago to count (she can't stand throwing things away) and her 18-year-old son has graduated to Dad's last pack, still in good shape after all these years.

Today they're on the second day of a 35 miler, up beyond the fog of Bellingham, up where the air is pure and the views clear. Three of my siblings LOVE hiking like they love to breathe. My older brother only misses this trip because he's across the world in India working. Two of us--RE and I--like to watch them go, and are happy to see them return. It's always been that way for me, at least. I get why they love least in theory. But it seems like a whole lot of pain for a whole lot of discomfort and for what?

Oh yeah, for the glory of getting there. For the views, and the being and the campfires and sleeping in tents and everything up close and personal in creation that we usually only see from a distance. If we're looking at all. Yeah, I get it. I did grow up in this family, after all. But the suffering in it is too much for me. Too much now, of course, but it always was, even before the left side of my body began to betray me.

I'm a wimp, you might say. But each of us is made of different things, and that's okay.
However, the other day my sister, LD, and I got to talking about the accident that was the genesis of my relationship with pain, so I've been thinking about it a lot since.

I was seven years old. SEVEN. Yep, it was 49 years ago. We lived in Ypsilanti, Michigan because my dad was a PhD student at the University of Michigan (and he was in the lab that day, working). It wasValentine's Day--a Sunday (our family was not church-going in those days)--and I'd gotten a new, fuzzy red coat that I wanted to show my friends, who were playing across the street. So I ran over to show them. Then remembered that I wasn't supposed to cross the street without asking. So I went back across to ask my mother. All this I remember (or at least remember remembering, if that makes sense. I've told this story a time or hundred) From here on, I remember nothing. On the third trip, apparently I darted out from a parked car and a car struck me, hitting me squarely on my left hip, not breaking it, but opening my skin so that the bone was visible, and pushing the hipbone into the backbone. When my mother (and a huge crowd of neighbors, I'm sure) got to me, I was holding on to the bumper and repeating, "I'm sorry, Mommy, I'm sorry, Mommy."

Our next-door-neighbor, a cop (off-duty) drove us to the hospital, lights blaring. I don't remember this, either. I have very vague memories of being in the hospital, one of talking to a cop about it. Out of the corner of my memory, I can see him, and think his name was Officer Mike. It might not have been. My mom also always talked about finally getting a hold of my father. She'd been rock steady all afternoon, but the moment she heard his voice, she fell apart and could hardly talk.

I remember being home. For a long time, I laid on the couch with my hip bandaged, draining. Sometimes exposed with a hole cut in a sheet so it could get air. It was a nasty, nasty-looking mess, but somehow, every time my mother opened it, I had to look at it. I remember how white the bone looked. Even now when I see bones I am reminded of my own hip-bone and its porcelain color.

I didn't go back to school until the wound healed. My sister and I were figuring it out the other day, and determined (with my vague memory) that it was about 6 weeks to 2 months. When I went back, it was like it was my birthday. I got the special seat cover on my chair, and at an assembly that week, I went up on the stage and everyone clapped for me.

So it was a big deal, I guess. Children don't know these things exactly, of course.
Here's what I know: the doctors told my parents that I would likely had trouble with my back when I was older. But they had no MRIs, no CAT scans, nothing more than X-rays to see into bodies in those days. So there was no way to tell how my nerves had been affected. Squished.

And for a long time--32 years--I felt fine. There were times when I'd wonder why my left leg ached, but it would go away. And then, finally, it didn't. It didn't in my arm. Now my neck. All on the left side.

All because of that accident 49 years ago.

LD and I talked about how a momentary thing like that changes a life. One quick dart from behind a parked car, and here I am, incapacitated to a large degree. In constant pain.

And yet, when I look at it all, I think of what wasn't that day. I think of how God was with me. A bit higher and I'd have been hit in the chest. Or the head. He was present in that mess. And present in the messiness of the healing, even knowing that the scar on the outside (which, of course, I still have!) wouldn't be the worst of it. He was in me in the years of physical health, when my body did exactly what it was made to do. And He's been VERY present in me in these long years of pain.

I won't lie. The pain grows increasingly difficult at times. There's a loneliness in living with such pain every second of every day, a loneliness in knowing that my actual health is good and that, perhaps, a long life still stretches out in front of me. But though I know the context is different, what rings true for me are Paul's words in Philippians 1: 20-21-- "I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain."

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