Tuesday, November 9, 2010 arrived with a clear early morning that promised to become a chilly, sunny, and typically autumn day. I zipped my coat, buckled my helmet strap, unlocked my bike, and headed off to work. A few minutes later, a garbage truck crossed a bike lane to make a right turn. I was in that bike lane. The tires of the truck crushed my left leg and caused other internal injuries. An amazing team of trauma surgeons saved my life, but they had to amputate my leg to do so.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Confucius.

In July 2011, I set off to walk a thousand miles as an above-knee amputee in my new prosthesis. The journey has held more twists, turns, and detours than I ever imagined.

I reached Mile 1000 on March 30, 2013.

But of course, that wasn't the end.

I'll keep walking!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Finding Your Brave

Mile Marker 3000:

At the top of the 10-meter platform in the heat of the Arizona sun, I couldn't imagine diving off.

In diving terms, the 10-meter platform is called the TOWER -- higher than a high dive -- and my cousin Brett was the champion of it.

The summer after college, my friend Linda and I drove cross-country in my mom's minivan (without cell phones or Google Maps, of course!).  We stopped to visit my cousin Brett in Tuscon.  Two years younger, he was about to start his junior year as a competitive diver at the University of Arizona.

His winnings at 4 a.m...
He hitched a ride with us to Las Vegas, gambled all night, and then caught an early morning flight to get back in time for diving practice.

That was just Brett being Brett.

Nothing was off limits.  As a kid, Brett specialized in rollercoasters, spinning rides, and a tilting, twisting terror on the Ocean City boardwalk that we called "The Green Ride."

In the yard, Brett launched himself from the tippy-top of swingsets and climbed the skinniest branches of the tallest trees.

Once, visiting our grandparents in Florida, he even jumped off a porch roof!

Tracy, Mark, Brett, and me --
an uncharacteristically tame moment
(probably watching Fantasy Island!)

We were close with our cousins, Brett, Tracy, and Betsy.  We saw each other so much, we were really more like siblings.

What were we wearing??

With Brett around, there were always high jinx.   We made-believe we were runaways, and he was our rich Uncle Charlie.  Or we played jokes on our neighbor, pretending Brett was actually twins; sometimes we called him "Brett" and sometimes "Jimmy."

We watched in awe as he pulled one daredevil act after another.  Always suave and sure of himself.  Always singing a catchy tune.  And always with a mischievous Brett grin just before he leaped.

"It's just Brett being Brett,"  we told each other, rolling our eyes most of the time.

Secretly I admired his bravado.

Carlie's "Flat Stanley"
visited Philly
As we grew, distance divided us.  But we stayed close in a way that faraway cousins could be.  We made phone calls on birthdays.  He reached out when his daughters needed help with school projects.  We saw each other for a sprinkling of family events.

At Mile Marker 610, he called from Arizona for a long distance walk around the block.

But you never know where the journey will lead.

As I reach Mile 3000, Brett slips away.

Lexi's on top,
like father, like daughter!
One minute he's driving to pick up his daughter Lexi at diving practice.  The next, he is at the hospital.

The symptoms, the illness, the surgery.  It all comes on suddenly and takes Brett with it.

Inside a week, there are phone calls and airline tickets.  Voice mails and text messages and photos.  Our family rallies together for an ending that defies courage, and sense, and any kind of justice at all.

It feels like my cousin Brett, who always found his brave at the top of the world, has been thrown off a 10-meter platform into raging waters below.

He faces it the bravest way he can.

Across the country, my life in Philly rolls on.  A fractured foot.  Limited activities.  It seems like the same old stuff.   But I view it from a different vantage point.  I see the smallness of my own discomfort.  Where day-to-day complaints are trivial and temporary.  Life is fleeting.  We're lucky to be here at all.

To mark Mile 3000, I thought I might return to the corner of 5th and Washington.  Park my car next to the bike lane and hobble along the sidewalk on crutches, to the place where my world changed.

But it turns out I don't have to go anywhere.  There's enough loss right here.

In his work as a radio professional, my cousin was known as "BTM" or "Brett The Man."

To his daughters, he was simply "Daddy."

But to me, he will always be remembered as "The Kissing Bandit,"  "Brett Boy,"  rich "Uncle Charlie,"  imaginary twin "Jimmy"...

And of course, "Just Brett being Brett."

Back on that July day in 1991, my friend Linda snapped this photo of the two of us -- Brett and me -- at the top of the tower.  Then Brett turned around and executed a perfect hurdle, a graceful flip, and a rotating descent into the sparkling pool below.

As for me, I took the stairs.

I may never go off the high dive, but I will always think of Brett when I need to find my brave.


1 comment:

  1. Rick, I'm catching up on your blog posts and I'm so sorry to hear about your cousin. This was a beautiful tribute to him.