It has been exactly 19,531 days since I flew through the air across a motel pool, did a flip and landed on the concrete, fracturing my skull, losing most all that day from my memory, and getting rushed to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles by my frantic parents, my dad driving and my mom slapping me across the cheek to try to keep me awake while en route.
Those slaps are one of the only two images that managed to stay with me of that day. The other is of walking through an alley on the way home, my late and beloved brother by my side, coaxing me along as I sniffled in a semi-daze, miserable as can be.
I don’t know whether my mom’s slaps managed to keep me awake till arriving at the emergency room, but once I did go out I stayed that way for some 36 hours, until well into the next evening, when I awakened unknowing where I was or what had happened.
When I tried to sit up and move to investigate, I discovered the most curious thing: my foot was tied to metal bars on the side of this alien bed. Before I could even try to make sense of that, my dad emerged from the shadows across the room and leaned over to comfort me.
The image in my memory is of it being night, the room dark, pale slivers of light peeking through blinds. I don’t know how long my dad had been in that chair across the room, how he had passed the time or what kind of prayers he had been offering or promises he had been making to his God above through those 36 hours, but I can only imagine his relief at seeing me stir, open my eyes, and tug on my bound foot.
I remember a nurse coming in, assessing me, then untying my foot while kindly explaining that sometimes when kids awaken from being unconscious, they panic and try to run away.
I stayed exactly one week in that hospital, the attending physician, whom I still remember as “Dr. James Patterson,” relating to my parents that although my condition had been serious, that condition would have been “deceased” if the injury to my head had been an inch or so to either side.
The fates had conspired this way: I was at a birthday party for Steve, a neighbor kid whose mom had fled from her husband and taken up residence at the local motel, just a couple of blocks away. (As a 9-year-old, I thought it was the coolest thing that Steve got to live in a motel with a pool.) Probably to give her son some shred of normalcy, she arranged for a birthday swim party.
There was a diving board, and according to my brother, the kids were rotating through it like mad, as kids do. But then a motel guest decided to join the mix, and I was behind him waiting at the base of the diving board while he bounced up and down on the end. He was a beefy man, and as he bounced hard one last time to achieve maximum height, the bolts at the base of the board broke loose, creating a catapult effect that sent me flying across the pool, unfortunately not into the water.
I can’t say I have thought of that moment on every one of the nearly 20,000 days that have passed since, but reflecting back in the aggregate, I am well and regularly aware of the great good fortune that has been mine to be able to bestride this earth, exulting in the sheer pleasure of existence.
It all could have been so different. An inch here, an inch there.
As I was relating all this to my massage therapist Lindsay the other day after she had asked me to refresh her memory about any broken bones I had suffered, she remarked, “Ah, so you were catapulted back into life.”
And so I was, back to this blessed and sometimes difficult life, in which I have been repeatedly awakened, after “comas” of varying lengths, to face puzzling questions (“Why is my foot tied to this bed?”), ever new knots and locks to pick at and conundrums to straddle. (“Why is thus and such the way it is, and what do I think and do about it?”)
Nobody gets out of here alive, but in the days of life bequeathed to me since August 22, 1960, I have often thought what a bonus each of them has been, how the catapult of that day almost short-circuited all that I have since beheld and held dear.
And how, truly, given the utter precariousness of life, the way it can break your heart and your bones again and again, every one of these days is a bonus, a gift, a grace, an unearned and precious prize for which we do well to give thanks—every day if we can remember to do so, but certainly on this day.
This very day before Thanksgiving Day, with the blessings that it brings.
A special note of thanks on this day to all the talented and generous photographers whose work has so embellished and enlivened the words poured onto these pages over the months.
Rotating banner photos (except for books) top of page courtesy of Elizabeth Haslam, some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing, see more at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lizhaslam/
Books photo by Larry Rose, all rights reserved, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dove photo top of page courtesy of Michael Johnson, Kailua Kona, Hawaii, some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing, see more at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kahunapulej/
Diving board photo courtesy of Bret Arnett, Hilliard, Ohio, some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing, see more at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bretarnett/
The stone carving pictured above is part of a work depicting Mary Magdalen, sculpted by Eric Gill and residing in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Photo courtesy of Abrinsky, of Everdon, Northamptonshire, UK, some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing, see more at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/abrinsky/