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Soulful Sundays: Metamorphosis (Part I)

"Change is inevitable. Growth is optional." -John Maxwell

“Life is simple. Everything happens for you, not to you. Everything happens at exactly the right moment, neither too soon nor too late. You don’t have to like it…. It’s just easier if you do.” -Byron Katie

In the last post, I shared a story about a traumatic accident that I had when I was twenty-three. In brief, I was rock climbing on the side of a cliff in Boulder Canyon, Colorado with one of my friends, when our safety equipment failed. My friend was above me, he fell, hit the ledge that I was standing on, and instead of falling in towards the wall, he rolled backward toward the abyss. I went with him. The immediate result was a concussion, a broken mandible, a C2 hangman's fracture, a fractured humerus, a hairline fracture in my hip, and six or seven minor spinal breaks. The long-term result was a metamorphosis in how I was approaching my life.

The first and predominant emotion when anything traumatic happens in life is regret. For months afterward, I replayed the events of that day, running through every possible scenario. And frankly, it left me more confused. What I found was a mixture of things that went wrong and things that went right. For starters, I wasn't even supposed to be climbing that day. I wanted to go hike Long's Peak (one of Colorado's most famous mountains over 14,000 feet) but I didn't have a partner to go with so I wasn't motivated enough to wake up at 4:00 A.M. to go do it. So I slept in and chose to climb with my friends instead. But, what if I had gone to Long's Peak and actually died? Fourteeners are notorious for being unpredictable and kill several people every year. What if I had been one of those? You never know. Even driving up to go climb Long's would have been riskier than rock climbing when you consider car accident statistics.

Another pairing of regret and providence from that day is the actual route we were climbing. Our folly was that we had a false sense of security from the very beginning. Modern climbing is generally pretty safe when compared to other sports, and, especially when compared to how it was in the past. There are surprisingly few minor or catastrophic injuries, the equipment is highly sophisticated, and most of the variables are known on the more popular cliffs. We were on a well-established route, climbing it exactly how countless others have before us. My friend even climbed up and put his full body weight on our equipment two times in a row before he fell on the third. He fell to a ledge that should have arrested his fall, but he fell backward and not forwards. Regrettably, we didn't have a backup anchor in place. Our backup was the ledge, the familiarity of the route, and our trust in our ability to handle any difficulties that came about. The same confidence that makes a good climber also makes a stupid climber when taken too far.

The providence of that day is that we were both young, in excellent shape, and climbing in a well-trafficked location. The list goes on. Our third friend (who wasn't climbing) was an EMT. Boulder Creek was at a historic low water level that August due to the drought that was plaguing the Front Range that year, so we didn't land facedown in the water. Someone driving by on the road in the canyon saw us fall and stopped to call an ambulance (and actually got reception). We were rapidly transported to Boulder Memorial Hospital, which had just weeks before been certified as a Trauma 2 center and could perform the surgeries that we needed. None of our injuries were bad enough to kill or permanently disable us. Our rehab went smoothly, and we were both climbing again within six months. Yes, you read that correctly. We both went back to climbing.

The weeks succeeding our hospital stay is what began my metamorphosis into a new perspective. As I was reflecting on how stupid I had been on that day of the fall, I was overwhelmed by a deep feeling of unworth. For one, how could I have been so careless? For two, who was I without climbing? I had put an unhealthy percentage of my sense of identity into my physical health, and more specifically into climbing. Without it, I felt adrift at sea. I went through a fair amount of cynicism at this time. I saw climbing as a masochistic endeavor that I was only drawn to out of a deep hatred of self. I saw it as an escapism from my stressful family life. However, I also saw it as a way towards self-mastery to offset all of the unknown and uncontrollable parts of my life. Either way, I felt lost. I had trouble talking to my friends. I wanted to hide from the world. I had low motivation to return to acupuncture school to finish my degree. Things were not looking good.

Luckily, we were injured during my summer break from grad school, which gave me four days after I got out of the hospital to get myself in shape to start class. If I couldn't handle my course load, however, I would have to take a year off until the classes were offered again. Almost everyone I talked with recommended that I take the slower option. I resisted at first but came to accept taking the year off as my fate. And then something miraculous happened. It started to rain. And it kept on raining. The amount of rainfall that came down on the Front Range in September of 2013 reached unprecedented amounts. It was a so-called 100-year flood. The creeks and rivers overflowed, wiping out the very road that we were saved on a few weeks prior. The city shut down for two weeks, including my school. The event was overall a tragedy for the people who lost their homes and their lives. For me, it was a Godsend.

For the sake of time, I will have to continue this story next week. See you then...

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