On August 5, 2000 I set off to ride the Greylock Century Ride, a grueling 100 mile ride through the Berkshire Hills of Western Massachusetts. I had already gone up and over Mt. Greylock, the highest point in the state, and up the famous “Hairpin Turn” on Route 2, “The Mohawk Trail.”
At mile 33 I found myself off the road in a drainage ditch (I found out later they are called “paved waterways” and are designed to keep then snow melt off the road.) The waterway led to a grate. It was too steep to ride back on the road or onto the shoulder so I literally went head over heels onto the pavement, still clipped into my pedals.
The damage to my body, I learned after trips to two hospitals, was a badly separated shoulder, a broken rib, a contused lung, and multiple abrasions to my arms, legs and side (cyclists call it “road rash.“ What I didn’t learn for three more months was that I had an undiagnosed severe traumatic brain injury (TBI).
I had surgery to fix my ruined shoulder, the road rash finally healed months later, the rib healed, the lung healed, but the TBI remains with me to this day, although I have adapted to my “new normal” and have learned to live with it. If you want to know more about the day of my accident I gave a paper on it to the Monday Evening Club called “I Lost My Marbles on the Mohawk Trail.”
In September of 2004 I came to the realization that my disability made it impossible to remain a parish pastor, and I sadly resigned my pastorate of 22 years and went on long-term disability and SSDI, thus ending may thirty years as a pastor to congregations.
One of the ways I lived my new normal was to continue my ministry through my writings. I started this blog in 2009, and I have written about the things I care about, one of which is TBI. One of the first pieces I published here was called “I Have a Brain Injury.”
My first devotion for the UCC Daily Devotional was called “What’s Your New Normal?”
My “New Normal” is what my doctor told me to think about my life, and not compare it to life before the TBI. I have found this helpful, and a good way to think about one’s faith journey, for we are always faced with changes and new challenges. I have recently repurposed the devotion to help think about our new normal after this pandemic. That piece is called “Imagining Our New Normal.”
I will be remotely preaching on this topic this Sunday, August 9, at South Congregational Church in Pittsfield, and next Sunday, August 16, remotely at The United Congregational Church of Little Compton, Rhode Island, where my daughter is the pastor.
Finally I want to say that I am most grateful to my wife and family for the support they lovingly gave me through some difficult years. And I am thankful for God’s grace and vast love for me even when I didn’t feel it or acknowledge it. On the Tenth Anniversary of my accident I wrote a piece called “Disability and Grace.”
I ended that piece with this reflection:
The scripture that speaks to me most about disability comes from the vision of John the Divine as reported in the 21st chapter of Revelation. John looks up and sees a new heaven and a new earth, and a New Jerusalem coming down from God out of heaven. He says, “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”
I take comfort from this promise that God’s ultimate intention for us is a community where we don’t suffer pain or death or loss. That would have to include disability. No more sleepless nights, no more depression, no more chronic pain, no more anxiety and fear, no more shame. No more of all the things that beset us in this earthly life. Quite a vision!
This horizon of hope often allows me to bounce back from my set-backs, to experience forgiveness for my failings, to face the challenges and complications of each new day, and to enjoy the quotidian little (and sometimes not so little) graces that visit me unbidden and unexpected.
(Photos: 1. On a BCA Wednesday Ride. 2. In front of the Monterey General Store on a ride)