“Are you okay?”
I’ve just flown over the handlebars of my bike to avoid being hit by a car, landing on asphalt at 15 mph, my shoulder taking the brunt of the impact. I’ve dragged myself and my bike to the curb. This kind man has materialized out of nowhere to help. I tell him I think my shoulder is broken, but I won’t know for sure until the shock wears off. Five minutes later I know for sure.
I’ve broken my collarbone.
As the pain sets in, a completely unexpected and entirely salvific thought enters my head: What are you going to learn from this? Immediately, I know the question isn’t about what just happened. It’s not about the importance of bike helmets or the consequences of riding a little too recklessly. It’s about all of the pain and loss and limitation in the weeks to come.
By the time my wife arrived at the scene to take me to the emergency room, the question had morphed into an even more specific one: What is it that only this could teach you?
It taught me that I can endure lonely emergency rooms and painful x-rays on my own, because in the age of COVID-19, my wife could not accompany me for that part of the journey.
Later that evening, when I was forced to let her help me with my shower, I learned that I am really bad at letting other people take care of me. I learned that I resist it because it is vulnerable. I learned how to stop resisting it.
I learned that my kids want me to be strong and aren’t quite sure how to relate to me when I’m weak. I learned just how strong they can become when they need to be.
I learned that my friends like to be with me even when I’m broken.
I learned that my lack of time to simply be present and to relax is entirely a figment of my imagination. In reality, there has not been a lack of time to take care of myself but a lack of will. Once the decision was made for me, I learned there is all sorts of spaciousness in my life. I learned to settle into it once again.
I learned that at about 8 o’clock on a June evening in our neighborhood, when everything on the ground is in darkness and shadows, there is sunlight still touching the treetops. I learned that if I look at that long enough, it’s a reminder that I don’t always have to feel the light on me, as long as I can trust that it is somewhere up above.
I learned how to take the lid off of the peanut butter with one hand.
I would never choose to go through this again, but I would also never want to give back the very good lessons I’ve learned. So, I guess I will gratefully keep them both. And when the next thing in my life breaks, I hope once again the first thought to enter my head will be,
What am I going to learn from this?
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Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.