91: Fear of Falling

91: Fear of Falling

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Time to Thrive

Fear of Falling

Four wheels move the body. Two wheels move the soul.

~Author Unknown

“Thank you for not running me over,” I said as I lay bruised and bloodied in the intersection with my mangled bike on top of me. The man looking down at me had just hit me with his car and I was thanking him for not running me over. In reality I was thanking him for not destroying my goal of proving my independence. I was planning a bike trip in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. I was both terrified and thrilled at the challenge.

Biking in the Rockies wasn’t the typical midwestern middle-age mom jaunt, but I had to prove to myself that I was more than just a typical middle-age woman. I had a great life, but something was missing. I needed to explore the part of me that was independent from my husband and kids. When a friend mentioned going on a bike trip together, I enthusiastically signed up. The fact that I hadn’t done anything like it before was part of the allure.

Living in the flat Chicago area, I was anxious about my stamina cycling uphill and terrified about speed going down. My biggest fear was hitting the ground after I’d hurtled down a mountain road out of control.

Three weeks before the trip I was biking on a paved path that runs between a busy street and a channel. Cross streets with traffic lights disrupt the route every half mile. I saw the green light as I approached the intersection. As I was crossing I glanced to my left and saw a car rushing toward me. There wasn’t time for me to move out of the way. The car smacked me, I struck the ground and the car stopped.

“I’m sorry,” said the man who hit me.

I was bruised, but hadn’t broken any bones. I was still focused on “I’m going to bike the Rockies.”

“Thank you for stopping and not running me over,” I said. “Didn’t you see the red light?”

“Yes, but I went anyway,” he said.

His response was so unexpected that I asked again. “Didn’t you see that you had a red light?”

He repeated, “Yes, but I went anyway.”

I thanked the man again for stopping. I was aware of how incongruous it was. He ran the red light and hit me and I kept thanking him for not running me over. All I could concentrate on was that I was still going to be able to leave my comfort zone and bike the Rockies.

The man was concerned about the blood flowing from the superficial cuts on my arms and legs. I was aware of pain in other parts of my body — where his car hit my arm and hip; where my torso twisted and hit my bike; where the gears cut into my leg, where my anklebone smacked the pavement. Biking gloves saved my hands from being pierced by the stones on the street, but my left hand ached. My helmet softened the impact to my head.

“I’m okay. My son can pick me up,” I said. I wanted to say “Thank you for not killing me. Now go away and get out of my life. I need to bike the Rockies.”

The man said he’d pay for the bike repairs, gave me his name and phone number and left me standing on the side of the road.

The next day I left the repair estimate on the man’s answering machine and asked him to call me. He didn’t call. Had he decided that he shouldn’t have given me his name? Shouldn’t have admitted guilt? Was he afraid I was going to sue? Had he forgotten about the accident? Had he been driving drunk?

Now I regretted that none of the bystanders had taken the initiative to call the police. I wanted the man to get a ticket. I wanted him to go to court and admit that he ran a red light and hit me. I wanted it to be on his driving record. I was still focused on biking the Rockies, but now I was mad at myself for letting the man off so easy.

I speculated about the man’s reaction if my three sons — two of them 6’3”, one in his police uniform — knocked on his door and said, “You hurt our mommy.” I wondered how he would have responded to my phone message if I had mentioned that I was a lawyer.

The man cheerfully answered when I called again and said, “I’ll mail a check.” He didn’t ask, “How are you?” Why hadn’t he called me back? Did he tell anyone he hit a lady on a bike? Did it affect him at all? Did he respond to his friends asking, “What’s new?” with “I ran a red light and hit a lady on a bike?” Did he continue, “No one called the police and she thanked me for stopping and not running her over?”

I focused on the freedom I felt in being hit by a car but still being able to go on my trip. The multi-colored bruises on my arms and legs were wonderful conversation openers. When I said that I was hit by a car, I felt compelled to explain to everyone — family, friends, acquaintances, strangers — that I didn’t do anything wrong. A man ran a red light.

When I picked my bike up from the store I forced myself to go for a ride. My arm and leg throbbed each time they were jarred when I rode over an imperfection in the street. I approached intersections with apprehension and looked at every car as a potential enemy. I also felt a bizarre sense of freedom in knowing that even if I did everything right, I couldn’t control what happened to me.

Three weeks later I rode my bike in the Rockies. Most of the time I was cycling on long mountain roads with rare cross streets, so I didn’t have to worry about being hit at an intersection. Vehicles could only strike me from behind or sideswipe me. I would stay to the side of the road, but there was nothing more I could do about it. Each time I heard the roar of a heavily loaded logging truck approaching I anticipated the aroma of freshly cut wood that I’d enjoy as it passed. I inhaled deeply and enjoyed the smell as I struggled to maintain my balance so that I wouldn’t be blown off the road by the backdraft. With my elbows bent close to my side and my head down, I picked up speed as I hurtled down the mountain roads. The speed was exhilarating. I knew what it felt like to fall off a bike and hit the pavement. I’d done it and survived. The man who hit me had liberated me. He released me from my fear of falling.

I was free and independent as I soared down the mountain roads, no longer afraid.

~Karen Gray-Keeler

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