One-Legged Mountain Biker

mountainbikerVisiting Sedona, AZ, recently, I was impressed by many things.  I was inspired by the artists and artwork in Tlaquepaque Village, as well as in other venues around Sedona.  The drive through Oak Creek Canyon and Coconino National Forest was breathtaking and so peaceful.  And anytime I can witness a gentle stream surrounded by prodigious trees, I am a happy girl.

Despite my gimpy hip, we did some hiking.  Our group consisted of myself, my two older, stair-step sisters, and our 80-year old mother.  I kept up with mom – no record setting for me.  After my first shot of cortisone a year ago, I recognize my own mortality – or at least that of my hip.  Careful, measured steps took me through this wondrous terrain, the sun looking different than I’d ever seen it.

We took photo breaks, chatted up other hikers, and processed along the path.  While many hikers were younger, there were a fair number older than our group, too.   On the way back, we were passed by several mountain bikers.  My sisters and I were mid-congratulations on completing the three-mile trek when another biker flew past.  He wheezed ‘hey’ to us and I stopped in my tracks.  As his dust settled, I elbowed my sister. “Look!”  I whisper-shouted.

This specimen of the human body, this athlete, this biker.  Had. Only. One. Leg.  No prosthetic on the other side, just riding uphill on the trail with ONE LEG.  Peddling his lungs out with ONE LEG.  Navigating the rocks with ONE LEG.My sisters and mom and I marveled, immediately reassessing our athletic prowess and taking it down a few notches.

I see Mr. Mountain Biker as a metaphor.  Everyone has struggles – physical, mental, emotional, or some combination thereof.  It’s so easy to get tunnel vision when it comes to your own strife.  Easy to spend time planning your own pity party.  And the wallowing…..don’t forget about the wallowing. Right now, I can list a solid seven ailments with which I am afflicted. Certainly, they’re minor compared to those of others – perspective is everything.  Oh, and hang, on, let me check…yep, turns out I have TWO legs.

The next time I’m feeling embittered about my mind’s or body’s failings, I’m going to call up the image of Mr. Mountain Biker.  I rather doubt he was there to serve as my example or my inspiration.  Probably just there to ride his bike.  Even so, he reminded me that, even on those days when it feels like you’re up against a ten percent grade, keep pedaling.

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Heartbreak and Resilience

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January in Nebraska can be very hard.  From a practical standpoint, it is cold, and bleak. The wind is relentless. Deeper than that, however, are the reasons that January is often difficult anywhere in the world.  The hoopla of the holidays is over, but winter remains. Less light, more cold, and increased isolation influence our days.

A good friend, and school counselor, often reminds me that the good thing about life is that it’s always changing.  As adults, we can find comfort in this certainty.  Children, though, struggle to remember this fact.  They and their underdeveloped frontal lobes are steadfast and certain that today’s tragedy will remain, unchanging, forever.

And so another young man, after grappling with this unwavering sorrow, has died by suicide.  It was a student I hadn’t seen for several years.  We were not exceptionally close, but not for a lack of trying on my part.  He was resistant to my woo, independent and, he believed, fiercely capable.  How he ended up in my reading tutoring program was a mystery to him – he felt it was an error.  Jeff believed the data I had collected was terribly flawed.

His father traveled extensively, gone for weeks on end.  His mother was quite ill, and so Jeff was left to his own devices.  He did okay for the most part, though it was apparent he didn’t have the guidance he needed.  Jeff came to school in some oddly matched outfits. With great conviction, he told wild tales of being in the rodeo as reason for his absences. Personality?  This kid had it.  Overconfident?  Unapologetically so.

Jeff gave many of us a run for our money.  Teachers use phrases like ‘squeaky wheel’ and ‘high flyer’ as metaphors for students who are going to leave their mark.  Jeff was such a student.  His independence and attitude actually made me fairly hopeful for him.  Even though he was a couple of years behind as a reader, he appeared to be equipped with a set of skills that would take him far.  His spirit and determination.  His charm.  His ability to spin a yarn.

Unfortunately, these talents were not enough to buoy him.  Jeff’s impulsivity and lack of foresight got the better of him.  What was temporary, he felt was permanent.  He didn’t see options for himself, and couldn’t envision what hope next week might bring.

As a teacher, I take this tragedy personally.  Yes, it was years ago that I knew Jeff.  But still….what did I miss?  What could I have done differently?  What skills could I have given him that would’ve helped him to still be walking the Earth?  I don’t know the answers to these questions.  But the questions weigh on my heart.  The grief will pass because life will get in the way of it.  I can only know that Jeff is at peace, and continue to try to create deep and meaningful relationships with every kid in my path.  Whether they want it or not.