Monday, September 26, 2011

Acceptance, Ha Ha Ha

Many decades ago, a friend of mine and I undertook an epic road trip on two ridiculously underpowered motorcycles. Kevin had a Yamaha, and I rode a Kawasaki, and the plan was to travel from Maryland to Quebec, then down to Miami and back.

It was the journey of a lifetime, one of those events that define youth and ambition while ignoring the pure silliness of doing something for which one is notoriously unprepared. We had no sleeping bags and so slept under picnic tables and in open-all-night Laundromats; we were bitten, scalded, soaked and stopped by the police a number of times, though never charged. We took outrageous risks, drafting 18-wheelers in the dead of night, racing locals down small town main streets, eating dubious fast food—mostly deep-fried—and gathering a trove of memories. Although both Kevin and I would have loved to do so, we never seduced any ladies, nor rescued families from burning farmhouses. No one considered us handsome wayward heroes and in fact, once in Bangor, Maine, and the second time somewhere in Massachusetts, we were asked to leave town by vaguely amused local sheriffs who had better things to do than deal with vagrants on small motorcycles. 

The trip ended badly. On the return leg, while riding late at night through Great Bear State Park in upstate New York, I hit an eight-point buck. I cartwheeled through the air, landed and skidded on the pavement for 60 feet.  My ruined motorcycle followed closely in a shower of sparks. I distinctly remember having a near-death, out-of-body experience during which I saw my face framed by the bright orange helmet I was wearing, and I heard myself say very calmly in French, “Je vais mourir.” I’m going to die.

I didn’t. Miraculously, I survived without so much as a broken bone though every sinew and ligament in my body was strained, sprained or scraped. The nurses who cut my shredded jeans off were amazed at the lack of blood. Even the ER doctor shook his head in disbelief. The hospital was used to handling human/animal encounters where the humans got the short end of the deal, but the only casualty that day was the stag. I was told that it had been butchered by a hunter and the venison sent to a local orphanage. Charles Dickens would have smiled.

I spent a week at Ramapo General Hospital. My father wired money so Kevin could rent a truck to carry us and my ruined motorcycle back home. It was an inglorious homecoming. It was also the first and frankly only time I’ve come close to feeling completely mortal.

I am at that point again for quite different reasons. This coming Friday I’ll undergo a biopsy. I’ve been told to bring documents stating my preferences should I be left brain-dead, incapacitated and otherwise unable to take care of myself. I suspect this is standard hospital behavior, and the procedure will probably turn out to be routine. The truth is, the fears have been mostly generated by my doctors’ reactions to the diagnosis (“Hmm, there are lesions,”) than by anything else.  It’s been difficult to get hard information from the medical folks—the urologist who did the original cystoscopy looked at the monitor, saw something he didn’t like, uttered “We’ll have to do a biopsy,” and left the room. I’ve undergone a battery of tests but it will be a few days before I understand the results; right now I don’t know if this will be outpatient surgery or not. And something strange has happened: I am no longer worried about the other issues that used to consume me. Whether I have money or not, as of this moment, is immaterial. The other medical stuff, the diabetes and high blood pressure?  Pfft. The useless people who refuse to return my emails or phone calls? Screw ‘em. I don’t care.

So in fact, an amazingly liberating thing has occurred: I’ve been freed of the daily anxieties by an event over which I am powerless to do anything except practice acceptance. Pretty cool, huh? I think so.

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