If you'd asked me one decade + one day ago, I would have said definitively that the way to survive a motorcycle accident was to never get on one. This is the truth, to some degree.
But then, I hadn't yet heard the story of my gynecologist's close friend who was driving a convertible when a motorcyclist next to her was hit and catapulted into her car, nearly killing her.
I hadn't yet heard the stories of people who veered out of the way of a motorcycle crash only to hit a wall themselves.
I had, however, ridden on a motorcycle, sitting behind friends and one high-school boyfriend who hid his bike from his parents. I'd felt the rush of flying down Lincoln Avenue, the relief of easing from one corner of Corvallis, Oregon to another. I'd felt the wind whip against my face and the comfort of holding tight and burrowing into the driver in front me. And it felt good.
Remembering that it felt good is why I didn't judge my brother for buying his own bike when he moved to Virginia. He needed that feeling himself. I got that. I told him to be careful. But that was weeks before June 29th.
Ten years ago today, I may have told you that the way to live after you've made a minor incorrection and driven off the road and flown head-first into a field is a helmet.
Certainly, it was a helmet that saved my brother's life in the wake of a motorcycle accident. It was cracked in half, matching the fractures in his skull and jaw, framing horrific road rash, knocked out teeth, blood everywhere. Without it, who knows if he would have survived the Medievac airlift, nine days in a coma, months of intensive rehab. Who knows?
Any little turn that day or in the agonizing weeks that followed could have resulted in an ending for my brother. In some ways, the story did stop there. My brother is a very different person now, and we all were shaped in those hours of waiting and praying and gasping for our own breaths every time he did.
In order to move on, we had to focus on the light. We had to have faith. We had to feel the prayers lift up our bodies as well as soothe our spirits. We had to make the very best decisions we could, even when it was hard -- take him off the morphine, call the eyewitnesses, sell the Vespa still sitting at his house, sit tight. We had to focus on the days ahead, beyond the ICU to my wedding, his return home, the day he'd go back to school.
But all of that easily could have been different. The ICU nurses whispered to us honestly that they felt the presence of some bigger spirit at work amidst the technology and tubes and medications and brilliant brain surgeons. They said they saw that patients with family present seemed to thrive more often. And they admitted that very often, there was no logic or connection to who lived and who didn't.
It was tentative. We saw that. We held it deep in the pit of our stomachs.
Somehow, through whatever powers and precision and people and expertise that intervened on June 29th, 2002, my brother lived. And lives on. No matter how many years that pass, I will never release the miracle of that. I don't think I can forget how different it all could have been.
A decade ago plus two days or two weeks, well into the hot July that weighs down Virginia, I may have said it was faith that saved my brother from his motorcycle. Minutes later, I might have told you it was the collective energy of friends and family and strangers asking the universe to let him be one who survives. In another moment, I very likely would have said it was finding laughter inside the pain. Some other time, I might have credited sheer luck.
Who knows why my brother survived a motorcycle accident? But he did. He is so alive.
I don't need the answer to that question to be thankful for the good grace of the helmet, the hospital staff, the people who dedicate themselves to solving the mysteries of the brain, to every single person who sent up a prayer just for him, for my family who held tight.
On this ten-year survive-iversary, it's time for me to release some of this story, to let the pages fall back to previous chapters. While we celebrate his life and all that has unfolded in the time since that one June 29th, it's just fine to wave off the whys and how tos. It is OK to not know, just feel thanks.
More on Seth's suvive-iversary is here
and also here