I don’t know how the universe works

6 09 2017

September 2, 1977, was kinda rainy. My friend, Stan, and I spent part of the bicycle ride that day riding “tail,” which meant we agreed to be the last of the many riders. That way, when the repair truck or sag wagon got to us, the driver knew they could turn around in their multiple trips back and forth to ensure all DALMAC riders were serviced as needed.

So, I was among the last of the riders that day. And with only about two miles yet to go to where we all set up camp, I remember riding over a set of railroad tracks. The next thing I remember was waking up about a week later in a hospital. I had been hit by a drunk driver. And it was bad.

Fast forward to the trial. There was plenty of snow on the ground in Roscommon so it had to be February or March 1978. Still on crutches, a man approached me in the hallway. “You’re Jim DeLine, aren’t you?” he asked. Then his tale went something like this:

I can’t believe I’m here talking to you. I can’t believe you’re standing here. I’m a paramedic and I saw you get hit. I just happen to be driving on that road and I saw you get hit. By the time that I pulled over to see if I could help, the three people in front of you were hit. You need to understand my training. I need to tell you. I did not help you. All I did was move your head because you were face down in a puddle. Then I went to help the others. You have to understand my training. Triage tells us to help those who will live. I’m sorry but I really don’t owe you an apology. There was no way you were going to make it.

I get it. It makes sense. I told you it was bad. So bad, in fact, that the ride’s organizers, knowing my dire condition and presumed destiny, announced to the other riders that evening that I had died. Several years after “the accident,” I was on a blind date and as we shared all the usual introductory banter, I told her that I went on occasional bicycle tours. “Have you ever been on DALMAC?” she asked. Well, sure. “Were you on it the year that guy died?” Yep. I’m the guy.

Three days in a coma. Four months in the hospital. When both your tibia and fibula are fractured, there is nothing to keep your leg muscles from contracting. I lost four inches in my left leg. Messed up on the side of the road on a rainy day? My bone infection required so many antibiotics, that for months after my hospitalization, my sister and roommate were giving me injections twice daily. My collar bone was broken in some ball-and-joint way that precluded a cast. My shoulder movement would be limited for the rest of my life. Did you know that it was not uncommon in 1977 to go on bicycle tours without a helmet? Yep. So, my head was pretty scarred up and the concussion / Dilantin drugs kept life pretty fuzzy for a while.

But I’m a lucky guy. Dr. Lanny Johnson, the orthopedic surgeon, lengthened that left leg back out to about a half inch of where it should be. Whenever I buy shoes, I get a half inch of extra sole added to the left one. Few people notice. The bone infection went dormant and has remained so for forty years. At the airport, when the TSA agent tells me to raise my arms above my head, they don’t really care that my left shoulder refuses to cooperate. I’m a lucky guy.

But why? They say, “Well, I guess it just wasn’t your time.” Or, “God must have wanted you around because He had a purpose for you.” I don’t know. I don’t know how the universe works.

Maybe this story belongs under the “Faith” category of my blog. Though I do not stay awake nights developing my theology, I am a faithful person. I believe in both God and science. Science says the universe probably began with the Big Bang. The Bible tells us it was created. Same thing. I believe in ghosts and spirits. Do I understand how they work? Nope. But I believe that I have a spirit and you have a spirit. When my physical body gives up, my spirit will go on. Will it go to heaven? Well, I’m not really sure what that is, but I hope so.

There are universal truths. Murder is bad. Kindness and love are good. Those to whom much is given, much is required. I lived through a bad accident. Much was given to me. I pray that I am living a life of appreciation for all that has been given me. That I am giving back. That I have accepted the grace that was so freely offered.

Can I get an “Amen?”



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