I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, December 12, 2010


At this moment, early in the morning before the sun, I am listening to the sound of the rain falling. It's been doing that all night, since we are in the middle of a Pineapple Express. The picture shows what is called an "atmospheric river" bringing warm rain from Hawaii, and as you can see in the picture, it's aimed right for the Pacific Northwest. Yesterday SeaTac had the all-time record rainfall for the date, and they expect the same to happen today. North of Seattle, it's supposed to be wet and warm, but most of the serious flooding problems will be south of us.

This kind of rain hits our part of the world every few years, and it inevitably causes flooding, which I suspect has already started. But that is not what I wanted to post about today.

Yesterday I went by myself to see the movie 127 Hours. If you haven't heard, it's an autobiographical movie about the guy who cut off his own arm after becoming trapped in a Utah desert. For five days. Last night as I began to slip into sleep, I thought about one part of the movie that keeps coming back to me: his hallucinations about the rock that pinned his arm, that the rock and he were intertwined from the beginning of time to meet at that moment.

The concept of destiny intrigues me, as I consider some of the accidents I've had in my life. In 1981 I was bicycling down Boulder Canyon on the first day of summer. It's a 17-mile-long descent and I was really enjoying myself as I sped down the canyon. I was sharing the road with cars, of course, so I moved as far to the right as I could as they made their way around me. Bicycles are common on this road and most of us know how to share.

There is a tunnel through the rock towards the end of the descent, and I would usually ride right through it, but the traffic seemed a little heavy and I worried about not being visible, so I slowed to a stop and waited for a break in the traffic. I got back up onto my bike and started through the tunnel, not moving very fast at the beginning. I was standing on my pedals trying to pick up speed when I was struck from behind by a truck.
Here is a picture of the tunnel. You can see it's not very long, but everything converged just right for me to be invisible to the driver, eyes not adjusted to the dark yet (when my accident happened, there were no lights at the top of the tunnel). I was thrown free of my bike up into the air and landed a few feet away. The driver saw me just before impact but was unable to stop before hitting me. He did, however, stop immediately when he realized what had happened.

I lay there unable to move and knew I was hurt, with no idea how bad it might be. I remember that my first instinct was to wiggle my toes, and I felt them all moving, so I knew that I was not paralyzed. The driver stopped traffic in both directions and somehow (they had cell phones back then, I guess) within fifteen minutes an ambulance arrived. The details are hazy now, but I remember a woman giving me a shot of morphine in the back of my hand, which seemed to calm things down quite a bit. When I was moved to the backboard, even with the shot I was in a lot of pain.

Next thing I knew, I was in a hospital bed, flat on my back, and x-rays showed a fracture of the last thoracic vertebrae. It was amazing to see shards of bone pushed into the tissue. I was very lucky, there was no damage to the spinal column and they left the bone fragments to be absorbed by the body. I remember the incredible pain a few days later when they tried to get me to sit on the side of the bed. I fainted. But they got me fitted for a back brace and within a few weeks I was back at work while wearing the brace. It kept me upright and out of pain; I was only in discomfort when I tried to wean myself away from it.

I had no permanent damage, other than a misshapen vertebrae. That particular place in your back, T-12, is not needed for carrying weight on your back and is not involved in the pelvic region, which would have meant quite a different story for walking. Since there was no permanent injury, I received a small settlement and many visits from the concerned driver of the truck. My bike was pulled completely under the truck and demolished. When I saw it, I was horrified to think how it would have crushed me! I would not be writing this, obviously.

So here I sit, listening still to the rain, and thinking about destiny. I was fortunate, but so many different elements had to align for this accident to happen. And more than that, for it to end up being a positive, rather than a negative, experience. I was able to buy camping equipment and take a six-week-long trip to Peru that fall, hiking in the Andes, having wonderful experiences that I could not have afforded before the accident.

When I was watching the movie yesterday, I remember actually feeling a huge sense of relief when Aron Ralston had finally freed himself from the rock, minus his arm. He wasn't home free yet; he had to rappel down a cliff face to reach possible rescue. With one arm! I was mesmerized by the fortitude of this young man and will head down to the bookstore today to get his book. I'm not quite ready to stop thinking and experiencing what he went through. His destiny changed completely with that experience. Since I was in Boulder when it happened in 2003, I remember well reading stories about him becoming an inspirational speaker and writing a book the next year. He had hallucinations about a son during his experience, or a premonition that he would have one, and this year his son Leo was born. He met his wife two years after the accident.

The convergence of circumstance changes lives every single day. Sometimes it is tragic and horrible, and sometimes it is sublime. And sometimes it's both.


Grandmother Mary said...

This is a thoughtful post about the phenomenon of what another blogger I follow calls serendipity and how our lives can be shaped by it. I was wondering how the truck driver's life was changed. I saw a National Geographic special about this young man and how he lost his arm. Amazing story!

Linda Reeder said...

"sometimes tragic and horrible...., sometimes ..sublime. ...sometimes it's both" What a skillfull ending to this piece!
I have not experienced the tragic and horrible convergence, or really even the sublime. My life has been a slow, steady journey of self-realization. But destiny brought me to Seattle, and destiny brought a young man to teach across the hall from me, and that young man became my life mate, and that has made all the difference.

Anonymous said...

You also had a terrible accident while sky diving. I have never experienced such physical trauma. But, psychological and emotional trauma? Yes! I won't go into the details here, but suffice it to say that had I had an abortion and not given birth out of wedlock, I would never have married David (not the baby's father).

So the best decision I've ever made in my life was to keep Maria.

Buz said...

"You are my density... I mean, my destiny."

Wow, how can I not remember this accident? I know I was in the Air Force, in Austin, TX, still married to Dona, and Trish was only a year old. I know I was wrapped up in my own young life, but still... I should remember this.

Donna B. said...

WHOA! What a spell binding post DJan! I too am going to get Ralston's book. I really enjoyed your review on the movie on your other blog, DJan-ity.

I enjoyed the information on the Pineapple Express too, but destiny is a phenomenon I have thought of a lot throughout my life.

Once again you have inspired me to write about destiny and I will link my post to your's. ( I am still working on scanning those old pictures of my pets to finish my post on pets, also inspired by you.)

I consider it a nice twist in fate or destiny when we became blogging friends...you inspired me on the first post of yours I read....

Great post DJan, really a thought provoking, inspiring post.

Mel said...

Sublime indeed. Your post was indeed very thought provoking and inspiring. I've always felt that everything in my life, good and bad, led me to where I am now, so I never wish to change the bad, because I believe I would have missed the good. I am so grateful you were not more seriously injured in the accident - you are a very lucky woman to still be here. And did I miss the post about the skydiving accident? Do tell....

Norma Jean said...

You never know where things in life will take you. It is amazing to look back at things that happen and realize how differently they could have turned out...but didn't. For whatever reason.

I consider myself so lucky to have survived some of the things that have happened to me, but realize you have led a charmed life. Everything happens for a reason...

Bragger said...

I've always been fascinated by the series of seemingly small events that add up to a huge one. If I had not been married to an ogre, I might not have met Hubby. (The ultimate revenge - marry the jerk's friend.) I'd love to hear about the skydiving accident. I had a couple of close calls when I was jumping (of my own making), but I never suffered a significant injury.

The Retired One said...

I saw him on the news right after it happened...what an amazing young man. Such courage!
The will to live is very strong in us, and he certainly showed that. Your experience sounds awful! thank goodness you survived with injuries that were not permanently disabling....and look, just look how you have celebrated living since!!

Gigi said...

I remember hearing about that guy and being utterly amazed by what he did.

It's a miracle you are okay after an accident like that! Everything happens for a reason and helps us to become the people we are today.

Jo said...

Djan, Oh My Gosh...! I had no idea you had been so seriously injured. You are so active -- much more so than people half your age.

It's all a coin toss, isn't it? Accidents happen so quickly, it truly is in the blink of an eye. And suddenly, nothing is ever the same.

I'm glad you survived, and you're okay.

Whitney Lee said...

Interesting. The movie really does sound fascinating, but I think i'm going to have to read the book instead. Your accident sounds awful. I can't imagine the fortitude necessary to get back on your feet. I've never had to deal with anything like that, fortunately. I'm not certain I'd do so well as you. Hiking the next year?!

I'm not sure I believe in destiny or fate or whatever term one uses. Then again, maybe sometimes I do. Perhaps life is like one of those books with several endings. You know, the ones where the ending changes based on which choice you make along the way. Maybe there are lots of pivotal moments that we don't realize were pivotal but that forever change the scope of our lives.

I absolutely love the last paragraph. It really resonates for me.

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

Djan - this is a wonderful post. We would love to repost it. I think this is one of those stories where we realize we live in a multidimensional universe.

#1Nana said...

I also ponder destiny...and at what point it is determined. Turn right, turn left, does it make a difference?

I can't bring myself to see the movie. I just don't want to imagine what he had to go through.

Your rain was snow in the mountains just north of us...it was an adventure driving home from Christmas shopping in heavy snow.

Brizdaz (Darren) said...

I saw your comment over at the Synchronicity site and came over to read your story about destiny,and after reading it and reflecting back on my own life,I would have to pretty much agree with you on your view on destiny.
I also think Rob and Trish are right in saying that it deserves to be re-posted on their site and now I can't wait to see "127 hours"when it hits screens in Australia.
Thanks Djan.
Cheers / Darren

CiCi said...

You bring up an interesting concept of destiny and how much we control or sway our own destinies.

Sally Wessely said...

I loved your post. Your synthesis of the two event to create a theme of destiny was very well done. You gave me a lot to think about.

Stella Jones said...

You've certainly seen life from the inside out haven't you D-Jan. I hope you never have any more accidents like the one you described!
Blessings, Star

Robert the Skeptic said...

I guess I have a different take on Ralston's story. His survival story is indeed remarkable; having amputated his arm to escape death. Yet he chose to go hiking in the wilderness alone and not even tell anyone what he was doing and where he might be, so no one knew he was missing so no one was looking for him.

People routinely die, or kill someone else, as a result of choices they make,, often with little mindfulness. For me the line between destiny and stupidity can often be indistinct.