I’d never been an athlete. While other kids learned how to follow-through with a baseball bat or how to throw a perfect football spiral, my buddy Jeff and I were learning how to be Tom and Huck on the Mississippi. And my buddy Rory and I were learning how to give “airplane rides” to a never-ending line of giggling neighborhood kids.
Still, I’d acquired a few gymnastic skills. Before our swimming pool was installed, Dad had set up a lightweight trampoline on our patio and, even better, built me a set of high bars. I didn’t develop much arm-strength–I just liked to spin and fly–but years of paperboying had given me surprisingly muscular legs. And those were undoubtedly the key to my nailing the hands-free-backward-falling-land-on-your-feet crowd-pleaser known as the Death Drop. After which I stood and screamed, “I did it!” roughly 800 times (give or take a few hundred). Eventually my rubber-band trampoline got so stretched I started hitting the cement and my high bars got so wobbly they began throwing me into neighbors’ yards. Don’t get me wrong, I loved our new swimming pool.
But, oh, I missed the high bars.
And our junior high school had a set! So, between classes, I’d head straight for the bars and often gather a crowd. First, I’d do some lesser tricks—Propeller Spins, Cherry Drops. Then I’d finish off with a series of hands-free spins ending in my signature Death Drop. Which always received a satisfying round of applause (like “applesauce,” sweet and easy to swallow)!
But one skinny-legged debunker kept saying, “Anyone can do that!” He insisted I was just defending my rep when I tried to dissuade him, and finally climbed up onto the higher bar. “Don’t!” I shouted as he threw himself backward. His knees gave way immediately and he shot head-first toward the ground. Instinctively, he stuck out his hands, but his elbows hit the ground first. The crowd started to laugh, but their laughter ended abruptly when they saw the geyser of blood. It was coming from the area inside his elbow (ironically called the “humerus”) amid two teepeed-up pieces of broken bone!
With his fast-reddening sweater wrapped around his arm, he was rushed to the nurse’s office. It was the first time I’d ever heard the term “compound fracture.” I hadn’t even known such a thing existed. Compound fractures have long-term effects, I’ve since learned: nerve damage, weakened joints, and worst of all, depression and anxiety.
I’m praying for that boy even as I write this. But I’m also thinking about someone else: Less than a year after that incident, at a driving range, I clumsily swung back a golf club and compound-fractured my cousin Larry’s nose!
I’d long-since forgotten about the incident when, thirty-two years later, on a Thanksgiving day, he told me he’d never forgiven me for doing that to him. Life gives us broken bones, and sometimes compound fractures. The former can be as strong as ever, they say. But the latter are different. They need time. And patience. And sometimes, as in the case of my cousin…
Love and forgiveness.