Yesterday, one of my greatest childhood fears came true. M and I had both rode our bikes to work and met up after to ride home together. About three quarters of the way into the trip, I had a serious lapse in judgment. The next thing I knew, I was being catapulted into the air, over my handlebars, and head first into the pavement. Actually, I wasn’t entirely aware of all that, I just know that is what happened. My recollection is something like this: bike comes to halting stop, I feel my right foot catch on something hard, then my left elbow makes impact and somehow my face is not touching the ground but I’m in some weird contorted push up position, I see my sunglasses go flying off to the left and skid across the pavement, and then, in what seems to be slow motion, I feel my bike fall on top of me. And for whatever reason, my thoughts were this: first “did my sunglass lens pop out?” then, “something in my arm has to be broken,” and lastly “how is my hand not gushing blood? it feels like it should be gushing blood.” I rolled onto my back and somewhere during this sequence, M came running up in a panic, and I think I recall him asking if I was ok. Trying to reassure me (and I think in disbelief), he exclaimed, “your face isn’t scratched!” I laid on my back in the middle of the trail wincing, trying to breathe, and feeling myself for injuries.
I didn’t have many thoughts during that whole process. It was one of those moments where I was truly in the moment, experiencing it as it was- not exactly how I wanted to reach a meditative state. At some point, I managed to realize what was happening and felt an incredible urge to move into the grass. I propped myself up on my hands and knees and crawled into the grass, plopped back on my back, and stared up at the sky. I could feel the tension in my head building and by the time I stood up, realized it was from holding back tears. I looked up at M and simply stated “I’m going to cry now” before I burst into tears. It was weirdly calculated and calm.
I hopped back onto my bike and forced myself to pedal the rest of the way home. The rest of the ride was full of an internal monologue and replaying what had happened- embarrassment, trying to make sure my elbow wasn’t dripping blood down my arm, becoming more and more aware of what hurt, feeling dizzy, wiping away tears,wondering how exactly I landed and if I hit my head, and generally feeling disoriented about the whole thing. Then in an odd moment of clarity, something really obvious occurred to me- I threw up my arms and landed on my elbows and hands to protect my head without even thinking about it. It was an instinctual response. I didn’t fly over my handlebars and think: ok, now throw up your hands and try not to hit your head. I felt a wave of relief wash over me and then supreme gratitude that in some moments, my internal analytical critic shuts up and just lets my body do its job.
My story about flipping over my bike handlebars didn’t come from when I was 8 or 10, but I did finally get that fear out of the way (or at least realize that it’s not as bad as I thought it would be). And I think the lesson I took from it is a bit different than the one I would’ve taken back then.
Sometimes, life moves really fast and throws you into situations that you don’t see coming. Sometimes, they end in pain and they can be really scary. But it’s worth it to remember that somewhere, deep inside, you know what you’re doing. There is always an instinctual sense of how and where your body is twisted in space and time, even if you’re not consciously aware it’s happening. When you trust that your deepest self is there to protect you, you can go into situations with a little less fear, knowing that even if you fly face first into the pavement, your hands will always be there to catch you.