Week before last, I was immortal.
Just ten days ago, a very skilled doctor drove a slick quick catheter up my groin and deposited a chemically impregnated state-of-the-art stent in the main artery of my heart, and I woke up knowing for sure that I'm not immortal.
Now, I'm a Professional Stent Driver.
My brothers and I were the first kids in Arizona to race "CanAm" dirt bikes. I guess Canadians are speed/power freaks, because these bikes were so over-torqued that you could pull a wheelie in fifth gear. I rode the big 250. It weighed three times what I did. Brother Number Two rode the smaller but way-powerful 175. My third brother rode the weenie-little-screamer-woosie-125.
The older brothers raced hell-bent, never looking back. Speed, distance and height, more than broken arms and legs and collar bones, mattered most. We never got better than a second-place trophy. We were too busy picking ourselves out of the dirt and mud to ever win first place but hey, cool, wow, we got air man, we got air.
Our younger brother hated pain. As we crashed and burned and broke our bones, our little brother on his baby-waybie-bike developed an uncanny, almost impossible sense of balance. He always finished the races and started pulling first place trophies. He rode smarter than us because he hated pain.
He figured out that the best race drivers are those who finish the race.
That brother is now a super-successful family practitioner of medicine in Utah. He goes helicopter skiing once or twice every year and always makes it down the mountain alive. It could be that he still hates pain, but I think it's because he's figured out that it's more important to finish the race than to run it full tilt until your heart explodes.
I remember this one time my brothers and I were bushwhacking up a steep long incline, tires belching gravel and cactus and Gila Monsters as we gnawed our way up. I goosed it the last ten yards to take the top first and shot up and over a road that was pasted on the top of the hill like some flat desert snake. One brother laid his bike down on the road taking some scratches, leaving some skin. My younger brother, the doctor now, drove to the top of the hill at just the right speed and stopped clean. He looked up as his oldest brother got lots and lots of air.
I came down and down and down, because the mountain ended at the road then fell fast away down the other side. I came down and down and down and finally landed in a tangle of metal, plastic, sweat, shrieks and a broken collar bone.
Take the advice of this amateur, now turned Professional Stent Driver. Not one of us knows exactly what's on the other side of the hill, what valleys and cliffs and deep rivers and holes and ruts and huge boulders are lurking to make our big ride the ride of our lives. But I promise you, all these things are waiting.
Sure, ride hard, ride fun, climb fast and snatch some air, but finish the race.
Win the race by not having to finish first.
Stop along the track sometimes. Take a breather. Take off your gloves and feel your skin. Take off your knee pads and kneel down in the sand. Take off your helmet and look all around you. Listen to the quiet with your motor turned off. Appreciate the place wherever you find yourself.
And avoid pain whenever you can. Pain sucks.