Last month I was zooming along on my e-bike, on my regular morning commute, when my tire hit a slick patch of black ice.
Before I could process what was happening, I heard the harsh smack of my helmet hitting the pavement. Surprised, I jumped up, twisted my handlebars back around and rode the steep hill up to my office. My headlight was dangling from the frame, my right pinkie finger was tingling, but from what I could tell no blood was dripping from under my helmet.
I rolled my bike into the elevator where two people crammed in along with me. Feathers were leaking from my down coat, and dirt or gravel was smeared across my glasses. Embarrassed, I told them I wiped out, but that I was all right.
Only, I was only kind of OK.
When I got to my office I took off my helmet and coat. The right side of my forehead was bruised and swelling fast, and the sleeve of my shirt was covered in blood. Until then I hadn’t realized there was a gnarly gash in my forearm.
I went into a friend’s office and said, “I need a mom.”
Without hesitation she bandaged my arm and gave me a bag of ice for my head. My wife bought me a change of clothes and my spare helmet (I have three). Having had enough concussions from my previous time as a soccer player, I knew what to look for. I wasn’t nauseous, my pupils were fine.
“Better out than in,” my friend quipped about the lump on my head.
I went to class and taught for five hours, changing my shirt two more times during the day.
Then I rode my bike back home.
There’s an old saying that many credit to a Chinese proverb that goes like this: If you get up one more time than you fall, you will make it through.
Life has thrown all of us over the handlebars before, and in those moments we have a choice. We can lay on the pavement, defeated. Or, we can get back in the saddle.
It reminds me of when I was a child and got bucked off a horse. I had been gifted lessons from my mom’s boss and one day I turned the horse, Prince, a little too close to an electric fence. His rear got a zap, and up he went on his hind feet, throwing me to the ground. My foot got hung up in the stirrup and for a few yards, the horse dragged me through the dirt before my foot finally fell free.
Like the trainer taught me, I dusted off the dirt and hopped back on Prince. It was the only way to overcome the fear of falling off again.
This time – much like a clip-on bike pedal – I made sure the balance point of my foot was in the stirrup, instead of my toes facing downward.
Whether it’s our own mistakes that cause us to fall – like brushing a horse against an electric fence – or we’re faultless like hitting a hidden patch of ice – there’s a lesson to be learned.
For me, it’s been about my reaction. Instead of frustration, or anger I’ve become reflective and patient with life’s mishaps. It’s allowed me to transform difficulties into fuel for spiritual progress, rather than defeat. Instead of “Why me?” I find myself saying, “Yes, this is how it is,” and use it as an opportunity for gratitude and growth.
I crashed my bike. I’m sore. I busted my light. But my bruise will fade, my gash will scar – no major permanent damage. I learned I have people around me to make sure I’m OK. For as long as I can pedal, you’ll see me riding up and down the Pullman hills. And for all of that, I’m grateful.
Tracy Simmons, a longtime religion reporter, is a Washington State University scholarly assistant professor and the editor of FāVS News, a website dedicated to covering faith, ethics and values in the Spokane region.