As a habit, I like to venture into my TED talks app every once in a while, to see what new intriguing topics people are talking about. I find the talks to be manageable sound bits from professionals, experienced human beings, and really brilliant people who know their stuff. I always find gems on there.
This is one of their shorter talks I ran into this week. It’s only about 5 minutes, and it’s worth listening to. For me, it was timed especially well.
You see, on Friday of last week, I witnessed something that still upsets me. I’ve no doubt seeing this made my back tighten with stress, and contributed to my ensuing weekend of back spasms and robotic, pained movement. I watched a guy and a girl on bikes and wearing helmets, come sailing down Market Street, carefree at 11am on what must have been a vacation day. It was sunny, not too hot, but that sunshine-y feeling disappeared.
I heard a scream, and a clunk, and looked out the window in time to see the guy, about 20 yards ahead of the girl, and the girl was face down behind him. Apparently her bike wheel got caught in the streetcar tracks – which if you have ever done that, it’s a recipe for disaster. There is no pulling the bike wheel off, and very often the rider goes right over the handlebars. This is exactly what she did – head first into the curb. Thankfully she was wearing her helmet. I can’t emphasize enough how they should be worn by all cyclists. I cringe whenever I see a cyclist with iphone earbuds in their ears, listening to music, instead of traffic. But I digress…
The guy managed to get her off the streetcar tracks, and onto the center island. The panic and desperation in his voice when he yelled, “Call 911!” still gives me goosebumps. When the ambulance arrived, not too much later, they had to put her in a neckbrace and on a stretcher. Looks like she really wrenched her neck. It also looked like she may have broken her nose, as she had blood running down her face.
Having survived many a bike crash, I know the dread and anxiety when you think you’ve injured yourself, especially when it’s your face/teeth/neck. A skinned knee or a broken arm is practically getting away unscathed. When it’s your face/head/neck/back, the immediate terror and shock is only the beginning.
So when I watched this TED talk, I found myself with chills again. Paramedics and EMT’s see people on what is possibly the worst day of their lives. Some medical emergency that no one saw coming changed everything in an instant. One minute, you’re racing down a trafficless main street with the wind in your hair, the next, you’re face first into a curb across streetcar tracks wondering what the hell just happened and thankful for that stupid helmet.
What the speaker says is true – when people are going to die, there is no sugarcoating it. They deserve honesty. Don’t give them false hope. If I’m ever in that position, I prefer the honesty. I need to come to peace with what will eventuate, and there may be a calm that relieves anxiety. At least let me have that.
I think anyone, whether they find out they have malignant cancer and it’s terminal, or their baby will have down syndrome or another birth defect, or some other insanely difficult event will change their life, deserves to hear it like it is, so they can make the most informed choice about how to go forward. Give them that choice. Don’t take the power of choice away from them.
Your closest friends deserve honesty as well – arguably more so than others. Don’t tell your friend, “he’s gonna call,” or, “she totally flirted with you,” if you can already sense that he/she is just not that into him/her. By assuming we can’t handle the truth, you demean us, you take our power to control our own reactions. How can we build resiliency and handle life’s curveballs if we don’t know how to deal with the truth? Often I joke that ignorance is bliss, not certainly not in this case.
Let them remember the beautiful children they brought into this world, the friends whose lives they touched, the partners they love but probably never said enough. Let them come to peace, share the regret, seek forgiveness, and know that their life meant something to someone.
In those critical moments, before we cross the threshold into the afterlife, or whatever it is you believe in, let us control what we can, accept what is changing and let go of what will never be.
This girl’s accident was not fatal, luckily, but every day, I can still see the white sweat towel on the center island. For the last 6 days I’ve caught it staring at me like the glaring eyes of a death we all must face at some point. I think this weekend, I need to go out and remove it from my field of vision, if not throw it away. I’m sure she doesn’t want to remember that.
There are so many better things to remember when you think about how short life is, and how much time should be spent dwelling on the past, creating a future, and living in the present. Honor yourself and others with honesty – everyone at least deserves that.