“…Maybe I’ve been missing what’s it’s about/ Been scared of the future, thinking about the past/ While missing out on now…” Macklemore’s “Good Old Days”
Life tends to throw you off cliffs. Normally metaphorically, but I had the experience of the downward free fall off a three or four story cliff and lived to tell the tale.
The sublime force of gravity pulled me towards the earth as I stepped over the ledge, mistakenly plunging my foot and body into nothingness. Watching the student on a bike in front of me, I neglected my own sense of heightened awareness on the bike and when I intended to stop, I fell instead.
Blurs of brown, green, and black flashed before my eyes as I tried to make sense of what was occurring. In those moments, I saw nothing more clearly than my own thoughts. Everything else blended together. My hands were poised above my head as I willed myself, “Don’t hit your head, don’t hit your head, don’t hit your head…” But I didn’t and at some point in the fall I began to accept the fate that the landing was going to hurt and that my nine lives might be up. Instead of a rush of emotions and memories that one might associate with dying thoughts, I felt acceptance. My fate rushing towards me as gravity pulled me closer and closer to the ground and I accepted it.
The last thing I remember from the fall was a screaming voice in my own head, “Grab something!” and I reached out my hands and seconds later slid to a stop still in an almost upright position.
I walked away from that fall with a broken nose. That was it. So many things could have gone differently, but they didn’t and I am still learning to accept that.
The student behind me grabbed my bike before it dove off the cliff after me, saving me from the impact of a thirty pound metal frame. My pack was stocked with a roll of gauze to stop the bleeding from my nose. There was a trail down to the bottom of the cliff that my co-workers and friends were able to walk down instead of risking their own lives to come down the cliff to get me (though one tried before the trail was known to her), and we had so many chaperones on the trip that one was able to drive me to the ER so I could get stitched me up. 15 kids, 8 chaperones.
I accept that I neglected myself when in the presence of students, for that’s what teachers sometimes have to do.
I accept that my hobby is dangerous and that my talents might not always protect me from that danger.
However, I struggle with that gamble: immediate gratification vs. longevity of life and quality of health. Enriching experiences or a life on the couch?
I struggle with encouraging high school students to develop the same passion for mountain biking, for twitter, Instagram, video games, and Netflix can be a cancer for a growing mind filling it with self doubt and lust. Mountain biking involves exercise, life lessons, an appreciation for the earth, but it also involves an element of danger.
I struggle with my choices the day of the field trip and allowing another adult to lead the ride, for those trails would not have been on my list.
And I struggle with nightmares, for the rush of emotions and memories are now more powerful than they were in those seconds of total free fall. They usually fill my thoughts as I close my eyes.
Variables. So much could have changed the outcome of that day. It could have ended worse than it did, or the trip could have gone off without a hitch. But it didn’t. Instead important lessons were learned by both myself, my colleagues, and my students.
This much I know to be true of everyday life: variables are difficult to control and affect our everyday lives by minute and grandiose measures. I can’t dedicate anymore time wrestling with this memory of the past, for it has already informed so much of my future; four weeks have gone by without revisiting the saddle of a bike and I don’t want to waste anymore weekends thinking about what I should have done differently, because I would rather practice it.
While my center of self might be in a different place now, the circle is pretty much the same: same family, same friends, same interests, same daily routines, different approach. Plan for the variables, especially with students, and always ask that leaders be transparent with their plans. I will never blindly follow, nor cross my fingers and hope for the best because it involves something that I love. The magic of my passion should never eclipse my logical judgement. I can’t be exceptionally lucky forever, so I should be exceptionally logical.