In its final moments, letting go is as easy as going to the post office.
Which is to say, it's not easy at all.
At Mile 3229, I say goodbye to my bike helmet.
It shouldn't be this hard. It's just a helmet. As a skater and cyclist, I've had several over the years. Yet this one is different. It's the one I was wearing on November 9, 2010.
When I tell people about what happened to me -- about the accident and my injuries -- I talk a lot about that helmet. Why? It's the one sweet spot in the story. The happy part. The star and protector all rolled into one.
"I was wearing my bike helmet." I always say. "I had no head injury."
It's a like a magic spell I learned the day I woke up in the hospital.
After the accident, my brother Mark kept my helmet. I imagine he took it home with my bloodstained clothes, in a plastic drawstring bag labeled "Thomas Jefferson University Hospital."
He never said much about it, but I knew it was safely tucked away.
Then last January, my good friend Shelley passed away.
Like most bike commuters, Shelley had been in some minor fender-benders. She would recycle her old, injured helmets into garden planters. They'd dangle from tree branches in her backyard, overflowing with soil and flowers. Like many things she touched, Shelley turned those broken helmets into something beautiful.
This past spring, I find myself thinking of my own damaged helmet. I hear that Shelley's community garden will be dedicating a special section to her, anchored on all sides by Shelley's bike helmet planters.
I decide I'd like my helmet to join them.
I tell Shelley's family the idea. I promise to send my helmet as soon as I can. Then I call Mark and he delivers it to me right way.
I carry the blue and white helmet into my apartment where, oddly enough, it's never been. (The last time we rode together I lived in South Philly.)
I hold the helmet in my hands. Examine it tenderly.
I expect it to look hurt, but its surface is clean. Not many scuff marks. No large cracks or bruises. The only sign of distress is an indentation on the left rear corner. For all we went through, it performed admirably.
I place it on my head. Fasten the buckle under my chin. We fit together just like we used to.
I look in the mirror. Try to feel what it felt like to get on my bike that morning. To ride away from my house. To pedal north in the Moyamensing bike lane. And to turn left on Washington Avenue.
Objects have history, and this helmet is a witness. What does it remember of that day?
As I hesitate, spring blooms into summer.
The helmet moves from my dining room table, to a living room chair, to the coat hooks on my wall, and finally to the desk in my office. It does not go to Chicago.
I find a thousand reasons to avoid sending it. My right foot is fractured. On crutches, I can't carry it to the post office. And the box I have is too big. So it remains on my to-do list for more than 3 months.
Really, I'm having trouble letting it go.
That helmet is a remnant of my life BEFORE. It reminds me of early mornings and breezy bike lanes. Of potholes and puddles. It reminds me of a time when I could simply hop on my bike without plans or tools. Without fear or worry. It reminds me of long, full days and busy, fun nights. It reminds me of FREEDOM.
I miss all of that. And it's hard to let go.
For months, I hang on to the helmet. I don't think about it every moment, but sometimes I pick it up and hold it. Then I set it down again, gently, in its too-big box.
Summer fades into fall. The time of year when moving forward feels like pedaling into a headwind.
But my foot is healed, and I have no excuse not to go to the post office.
So I channel my inner Shelley.
I fill the empty space in the box with future flowers: yellow daffodils and orange narcissus and a rainbow of tulips to brighten Shelley's garden this spring. With the bulbs inside, the box isn't too big anymore. My helmet nestles in perfectly, like it's ready to join the garden.
I'd like to say I left for the post office right then and there. But I didn't. I was in a hurry that day, and I didn't want to be in a hurry. I wanted to take my time. I wanted the time to be right.
At Mile Marker 3229, it finally is.
That morning, I have my last visit with the orthopedic doctor. He says my stress fracture is healed enough to resume "normal" activities. He doesn't mean the "old normal." He means the New Normal. But it's still a step forward.
I decide it's a good note to say goodbye on.
So I drive to the South Philly post office. As I pull into the parking lot, I whisper to the box in the backseat, "These are our old stomping grounds."
I open up the car door. Step out. Carry the box inside.
I take a second to hold it close to my heart.
Then I set it on the scale.
And let go.