April 12, 2012. Three weeks to go.
My head hit the dash and my life flashed before me. Even though it was a minor car accident in Boston, as I sat up stunned, my only thought was, “I can’t die now. I haven’t spent enough of my lifetime eating chocolate.” It was a strange final thought to have, if it was going to be my final thought, but all I could think about was how my only regret in life was all the chocolate I haven’t eaten.
I was with five other staff from my afterschool program, on a field trip, taking 16 of our high school students to explore the historic areas of Massachusetts when a careless driver rear-ended us. Our passenger van was the middle vehicle in a three car bump. We had two bulk bags of M&M’s conveniently in the front seat, so as I turned to ask the teens if they were ok, I started consuming the chocolate candies absent mindedly. I brought the chocolate with me into the Massachusetts General Hospital Emergency Room.
April 27, 2012. Ten days to go.
The doctor asked me, “So, you were in the car accident and then what?” I said, “I took some ibuprofen and then resumed normal activities.” By normal activities, I meant that I ran twenty-four miles the following seven days and did one twenty-five mile bike ride; I meant that I ferried sixteen high schoolers through three states, slept on the floor of a church for four nights, and danced off for four days to cross borders on a 14-hour round-trip road-trip across Canada with two friends; I meant that I resumed my life until the pain came. The pain came a week later. He said, “Stop walking. Stop running. I’m serious.”
I had whiplash, bad, but I didn’t feel it for seven days. The D.O said my spine had pulled as I flew forward into the dashboard. I could feel the searing in my sciatic nerve with every step I took. I looked at him with a white face, grimly, and asked, “But can I keep biking?” I had gone into work crying that morning. I told my co-workers, I’m scared I won’t be able to bike my tour in New York City. They said, Go to the doctor. The doctor replied after examination, “As long as you don’t have pain, it’s ok. It’ll keep you active.” He might not have understood the smile that lit my face.
February 2, 2012. Three months ago.
I was blogging how in my body is my own liberation, how the running makes me feel free, and I run so that I am connected, my whole soul. I run and I stretch and I breathe the air. Suddenly, I was in pain every day. Taking a step or walking up the stairs wracked me so I had to grit my teeth and walk carefully. The only time I could move my legs pain-free was on a bike—A strange thing, due to the fact that my pain comes from lifting my leg on my own, whereas on a bike, I push my foot down and the momentum brings my leg back up for me. At the same time, for the first time, I began to learn how my body could no longer be liberation but limitation. Or is the limitation my mind? I was in pain walking, but is walking what’s important?
I could see the little boys in wheelchairs learning to play baseball. I remember the years I helped with Special Olympics at my school and one time, I spent the day with a little girl who just wanted to play the games and she got a participant ribbon every time and her face beamed. I spent those moments with her, all the events, shared lunch, and she taught me the joy of just moving. To scramble forward, sloppily and happily, and it didn’t matter who she impressed—the full and precious joy of conquering the moment. To me, she was queen. I remembered college and my sorority sisters who helped with Girls on the Run. I thought of soccer teams and trampolines. We just want to be able to move freely. It was like my dad, talking in that thick voice that means he has tears inside him the morning of the bike ride when he sees the people who are doing the 40-mile ride on hand bikes, he tells me, “I am so inspired.” They and I, we can still bike.
May 5, 2012. Night before.
I ate two bowls of chocolate ice cream the night before my bike ride because I still believe that every day needs more chocolate.
May 6, 2012. TD Five Boro Bike Tour event day.
Slightly before 7:45A.M, the tour begins, and I ride through the explosions of fire. The air. The morning. The city. Through Central Park. Along the East River. People stand along the sidewalks and cry cheers. Deep into the ride, somewhere along a cracked part of pavement, a man stands and he calls to the riders, “Salaamu Alaykum.” “Wa ‘alaykum us-salam” I call back because he comforts me. My dad used to live in Saudi Arabia and he says Insha’Allah when he’s hopeful. I know that song. Along the way, there are singers and musicians, the river, the pace, the glory. I think, what a joy ride here with all these people. 32,000 bikers from all fifty states and sixty-one countries. Here’s where we feed off each other and the moment is alive. A man I pass tells me, “Nice bike.” I say, “Thanks.” Yes, I’m the chick in the mountain-type bike, the bike I bought when I was twelve because I wanted a bike like my big brother’s and I’m biking 40-miles after raising one thousand and driving five hundred to get here and I’m passing you and you said, “Nice bike.” Thanks.
Then, on the Queensboro Bridge, right in front of me, a man bit pavement, an explosion of blood and he rolled and didn’t move. I pulled over and ran back to the bloody man, lying still on the pavement, and he struggled to move for the first time and I saw him collapse. I cried to the marshals nearby, “Do you need me to call someone?! Can I call 911?” The man finally sputtered up, not to his feet but dragging himself, weak, bloody, “I’m fine,” He said. “You’re not fine, sir,” said the marshal in a tense voice, struggling to move the man out of the way of the bikes going by. “You’re bleeding all over the place.” His face was torn, his skin ripped and still parts of it on the pavement. Why do we do that? We say, “I’m fine” when we’re not.
I began to talk to the man who had stopped with me: “Do you think they need our help?” They called 911 and the man was dragged to the side. We could see medical help running up the ramp. They didn’t need us, so we—with grim stares—got back on our bikes and biked on. Somewhere inside me, I needed to know if the man would be ok. He would be in pain, I knew. But would he be changed forever? I told my mom later, “The reason I have the video in my mind of him hitting the pavement and it won’t stop playing is because I couldn’t help. I couldn’t know if he was ok.” This is why I want to do humanitarian work, to work with trauma, why I raised the money for Doctors Without Borders because I want to know the people will be ok.
After eighteen miles, I stopped to find my older brother who started at a different time than I. Once he found me, we biked on. We flew. The morning was beautiful. Queens. Brooklyn. Then the Verrazano Bridge and Staten Island. We pulled into the finish and wished it wasn’t over. We’d covered 40 miles in just under three hours of biking.
At the end, I kept reminding myself: Others gave this moment to me. My supporters, my friends, my family. They made the flying possible. That support allowed me to wrap myself in the day and know they stood behind me, each lent a ligament, a muscle cell, so I pedaled strong and laughed and whooped and said, “Good morning!” and “Nice hat!” to strangers and cheered a little girl wobbling on her bike, learning to ride along the way with her dad, and I smiled.
4P.M: I’m biking home from the Subway to my parent’s place in Forest Hills, Queens when my tire catches in a groove and I put my right foot down to catch myself and my bike from falling over completely. My ankle rolls and ouch! My dad tells me later, as I ice it, “It’s like running a marathon and then slipping in the shower.”
I say to myself, it’s just another thing to heal. Life is made of things that break. I believe that if you’re living life right you’re in a constant state of healing. If you’re healing constantly, it means you’re letting things affect you, with an open heart, unguarded, nothing to disconnect you from the people around you, no paralysis, just risk (the way the wholehearted live, says Brene Brown). You should always be healing, from break-ups and injuries, from rude strangers and rejections. It means you’re risking things and trying to fix things. Risk the accident. Risk the injury. Be affected. It means you’re living.