As signs of winter deepen, our yard could be mistaken for a small mammal petting zoo. We have already had one serious bout of ice and snow, but in our yard, it’s raining squirrels. At any one time, dozens of them rush around as if it’s Black Friday, pushing and shoving, barking at each other for the last discounted acorn on the shelf. These rodents have a heyday tearing up the landscape, so I trap them and cart them off to the Candy Cane Forest where they can look furry and cute and strip the bark off woodland trees to their hearts delight.
After releasing one varmint, I was headed back home when a horizontal streak of lightning flashed by me. The wind chill was only twenty-four but sliding into the lane ahead of me was a man. Yes…a man on a motorized wheelchair. Shirtless and helmetless. Who was this wheelchaired superhero? Had I missed the checkered flag? From what I could tell, he was in a race with himself and winning, taking the pole position, head lowered, leaning forward.
While I often stare as drivers across the city violate traffic laws willy-nilly, here was a half-naked wheelchaired man with no fear and no apparent knowledge of the speed limit. Watching his devil-be-damned attitude, I had to wonder how he ended up in the wheelchair in the first place. Was he running from the law? Was he late to a wedding? Was he one of those daredevils that drives into a tornado while the rest of us are driving away from them? Most importantly, had I missed an email designating me as the pace car? I had to know.
But I was too slow. As smoke poured off his big wheels, Morgan Freeman’s iconic line from Shawshank Redemption came over me: “You either get busy living or get busy dying.” From what I could tell, Flash was making a bee line towards death if he didn’t either slow down or get some clothes on.
Normally, my pervading thought would be empathy and compassion for the wheelchair bound, but I didn’t feel compassion at all. I had horrible PTSD from an experience in a car, when, on the Fourth of July, a formation of Blue Angels fighter jets approached me over a country hill and almost caused my airbags to deploy. (By the way, my family was riding with me and was only saved by diving out of the car into a cornfield).
Here, I realized I was witnessing a man who laughed in the face of dangerous adventures. Volcanic potholes? Laughable! Construction hazards? Ridiculous! Semi-trucks? Watch out! Shortly after I spotted him again, bright red from windburn, he roared through a double row of moving cars with a huge smile on his face, made a raised defiant fist to a texting driver, and then blasted into an intersection bringing a herd of hybrid cars to a complete and silent halt.
This was not a man who played the victim. There was no sad story here, and no one looking for pity. This guy had his Big Wheels, he had his moxie. He had come out of nowhere like a meteor from interstellar space, burning up our limited atmosphere on a historic path to fulfill his destiny. His Earth knew no bounds, and as far as he was concerned, well, “Houston, we don’t have a problem here.”
After I pulled over to take my anxiety medicine, I observed him deftly shank a sudden wheelie next to a telephone pole, stopping only inches from a pedestrian WALK button, which he punched so hard it stopped all cable service in the surrounding area for at least a couple of hours. When I’m walking about town, I can never get one of those buttons to work for me, but after watching him, I think I can now. All you have to do is hit it as if you want to kill it, and that red button WILL STOP TRAFFIC!
Now, before the signal turned green, he took off again on two wheels as if on a wild mustang. On a pole connected to his wheelchair, a tall yellow caution flag waved furiously, signaling that he was ready to jump back in the fray and possibly a national news cycle. Something moved me deep inside, and I had a strange feeling I was in a scene from Braveheart, as if my own courage had laid dormant for years. If my sunroof had been opened, I might have stood up and recited the Pledge of Allegiance or sang God Bless America. Instead, I broke into a spontaneous applause, one handed of course, while keeping my other hand free to give him an encouraging thumbs up.
But he never saw me. He was on a mission. This was a man on a high-speed race with adrenaline, who rounded corners on two wheels, and who wasn’t going to let a fast ride on a cold day be wasted because his shirt was still in the dryer. We’ve all seen this guy. We know him and we move aside when we see him coming. Why? Because we are making room for the turbo-lane he’s creating for himself out there in Braveheart. He’s fearless. He’s seen Shawshank Redemption and heard the line, and he is getting busy living.