This Day Matters
It was a chilly Friday afternoon. To be precise, the date was February 17. Our high school baseball team was finishing the first week of practice. Though the sun was brightly shining, the temperature hovered around a very breezy 35 degrees. Our coach, a former minor league baseball player, was a strict taskmaster who seemed to believe the most important skill required for this sport was an ability to run long distances. Many on our squad were confused and wondered if we were actually training for the cross country team.
Each day during this week, we were required to run from the locker room of the high school to the parking lot of the middle school. Once there, our coach could be found waiting for us as he leaned against his red Ford pickup. Coach said nothing. He simply extended his index finger and pointed in the direction from which we had arrived. Every day, we ran nearly six miles from the high school to the middle school and back again. With pained expressions, we made our way through the first week of baseball practice having never thrown, caught or hit a baseball.
Oh, but this was Friday! This was the final day of a very long week. Perhaps, for this reason, we were not grumbling with the same degree of intensity as we had on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. In fact, our pace seemed a bit faster this day as we were eager to greet the upcoming President’s Day weekend. As we made our way along the sidewalks, the gap between each runner grew wider and wider. It was not long before I would look over my left shoulder and see only my best friend Matt. The other players had fallen several hundred feet behind. Matt and I played the outfield. We were not as big or strong as the other players, but we were the fastest on the team. Each day, during this initial week of practice, Matt and I had been first to return to the high school and this day was to be the same. However, what happened only a few moments later would forever change the course of a predictable afternoon and the rest of my life. As I quickened my stride, hoping to stay in front of Matt, it happened.
Friday afternoons have a way of changing our regular habits. Perhaps, because it is the last day of the work week and the first day of the weekend, we become eager to complete our tasks and enjoy the freedom which comes on Saturday and Sunday. One man, trying to get home so he could take his wife and kids to a basketball game decided to pass a school bus on a residential street. He made a terrible decision! As the man passed the school bus he found himself directly in the path of an on-coming vehicle. Rather than slow down and move back behind the school bus, the driver jerked the steering wheel to the right. Now, he was driving his car on the sidewalk!
Matt did not see the car, nor did I. First, the car struck Matt. A second later the vehicle would hit me. I have no memory of the impact. What I do remember is waking up three days later in the Intensive Care Unit of a local hospital. Surrounded by white sheets, white pillows, white curtains and bright lights; my first thought was to wonder if I was in heaven. Then I heard a voice calling out to alert the doctor. I was awake! As I tried to raise my head to see who was in the room, I felt very weak. Next, I saw a cast on my right arm. The cast covered my arm from just above the elbow all the way to the palm of my hand. Only my fingers and thumb were visible. I pulled back the sheets to find another cast covering my right leg from below the knee and over my foot. The left side of my face was bandaged, along with my left thigh. Though it seemed like hours before I reached a conclusion, I finally recognized I was in a hospital.
From out of nowhere, my mother and father appeared over me. This was the first time I had ever seen my father cry. Because my dad is made of steel, I knew the situation must be very serious if he was brought to tears. My mom struggled to speak, but she was able to say; “You guys were hit by a car”. A feeling of shock came over me as I asked; “Guys, what guys”? My mom began to stroke the hair on my forehead and let me know Matt had also been hurt. As I tried to sit up to see if Matt was also in this hospital room, I realized my bed was the only one there. Asking no one in particular, I said; “Where is Matt”? My dad struggled to say just two words, but those two words were as difficult for me to hear as they were for dad to speak…”He died”.
I could feel the tears rolling down my cheeks. Matt and I had been friends since we were four years old. He was my best friend and he was also the first person I ever knew who would die. Now, more than 35-years later, I still cannot put in to words the grief and sorrow I felt on a gray February 20. Why, I wondered, was I in this hospital instead of Matt? In the minutes which followed, I learned the extent of my own injuries. My right elbow was shattered, my Achilles tendon was severed, my right ankle was broken, muscles and tendons throughout my right leg were torn. A small piece of wood, from a telephone pole, had pierced the left side of my face near my eye. I had broken ribs, bruises, scrapes and a serious head injury. For the rest of the day, I stared blankly at the ceiling pausing only to cry and feel sorry for myself. Feelings of guilt consumed me as I wondered why I was alive and Matt was gone.
The next morning I awoke to see my mom and dad sitting beside the bed. My dad asked if I would like to see two visitors. I raised my head while also asking who had come to see me. It was Matt’s mother and father. With tears in their eyes, they approached my bedside. What Matt’s mom said to me has stayed with me all these years and still impacts my outlook and decisions to this day. Only a few days after losing her own son, Matt’s mom leaned over me and wrapped her arms around my shoulders. She moved her head back and looked directly in to my eyes. From a distance of two inches she said; “You make this day matter. Never let a single day go by without looking at the sky, a bird, a tree or the sunset and know how wonderful it is to be alive”. Though we have talked many times in the days, weeks, months and years since then, those words spoken to me so long ago echo in my mind every morning and throughout each day.
My parents were told I would never walk without a cane. They were told I would never run or play baseball again. They were told I would have limited feeling in my right forearm and hand due to nerve damage in my elbow. They were told I may never be able to clearly speak due to the trauma of a brain injury. Yet, by early June I had rejoined my summer league baseball team. The following season I was back in centerfield and batting leadoff. I would go on to play football in the autumn and basketball in the winter. Today, though I am hardly a competitive marathon runner, I do cover two miles (or more) nearly every day. When I find myself feeling down or sad, I look at my scars and remember the words Matt’s mom said all those years ago.
Each one of us has experienced setbacks. I am not special or unique. We all work to overcome our obstacles and move forward. No, I am not special, but I am so very fortunate.
Let’s make this day matter for everyone.
Safety Tip of the Day: Please…Slow Down and Stay Alert
The two most frequent causes of road accidents are speed and distraction. We all know speed limits are in place for a reason. Further, we know it is not safe to: text, eat, drink, apply cosmetics, read, watch videos or shave while driving. Let’s slow down and stay alert.
I do not take credit for this story. I do not know it’s author. But I do love it’s message and wanted to share it.