Today is a very special day for me.
But forget sending the obligatory sweets, wine and flowers — it’s not my birthday. No, It’s much better than that. July 26 is my “second chance” birthday — an annual celebration of the worst and best day of my life.
For the last 21 years, I have spent this day being mindfully thankful for each breath I take, while marveling at both the sunshine and the raindrops, and while feeling the ground below my feet. It’s a day when I give thanks for the body in which I live, while honouring the scars that mark it.
It’s a day which I almost did not survive. A day full of screaming ambulances, horrible phone calls, and wailing parents, siblings and friends. A day of fear and sadness. A day with so much emotion attached to it that it’s still hard to put into words on paper, even for a writer.
But for this anniversary, I will try.
It started off like any fabulous summer day. An adventure was ahead of me and two friends in the form of a long, rural, highway bike ride. We were 15. We had plans. We had earned the trust of our parents, and we were off.
Our destination was a crystal clear stream we knew of, one where the sun only shone in small specks on the water. A pristine, dark, piece of nature. The perfect place to sit and ponder life on another oven-dry, Okanagan day.
We would set out before the morning got warm, eat our picnic lunch at the creek’s edge, and pedal back in the searing sun. Once back home, we would dunk ourselves in some deep pool of the Kettle River, likely in an abandoned beaver dam along the river’s untamed banks.
But that didn’t happen.
They tell me we did make it to the stream. We did enjoy our lunch, and we did turn around. But we didn’t make it very far before the day took a tragic turn. A speeding pickup truck lost sight of us, as he drove into a dip in the curvy highway. I must have lost sight of him, too. Not knowing where the other one was, we each moved into the opposite lane of the shoulderless highway.
We were both careening down the wrong lane of asphalt on a beautiful, hot, summer day. And that is where we met. My back tire met the driver side of his front bumper. My bike flew away, instantly crumpled, and my body hit his engine hood, the window, the ground. I don’t know if I lay lifeless or screaming. My friends were too traumatized to ever tell me what they saw.
I was not wearing a helmet. He was driving 113 km/hour when he hit the brakes, and me. My shoes blew off. The paramedics cut away my clothes. My mom drove out there, 20 kilometres from home. She thought I was dying, and her heart broke. She had just turned 37, the age I’m turning this November, on my real birthday.
I couldn’t imagine losing one of my sons right now.
An impossible thought.
But it can happen so fast. Literally in the blink of an eye. It can happen within the time of a quick glance at the cell phone. A look into your passenger’s eyes. Grabbing something off the floor.
It can be your fault, and it can be someone else’s, or it can seem so unavoidable that you’ll never understand how it happened. If you survive, you’ll long to know why. You’ll talk to God. One day, you will realize you are equally strong, and vulnerable.
I can’t remember most of that day, and certainly don’t remember the accident. I remember thinking many times that if I waited long enough, some of the memories would come back.
As the physical injuries healed through the years, I realized the memories don’t even exist. And that’s a wonderful gift. I’m so thankful.
So, today I’ll be doing anything of my choosing, to celebrate and to make good memories. I may read all day, or indulge in a day of art. I may spend it cleaning all the cupboards in my house, or jumping into the lake with my family. I may sleep on the grass. I may hike a tall mountain.
Whatever I choose, I will do it as safely as possible. And thankfully.
I hope you all enjoy a safe summer, too, and many more.
Jessica Peters is the editor of the Agassiz-Harrison Observer.