Hi guys, it’s been quite a while! I’m now an official senior in high school -- and so I have of course been extremely busy doing the usual shoving freshmen down staircases and such that is my hallowed duty. I’m kidding, though I’m pretty sure everyone at school is terrified of my imposing -- a very solid almost 5’5 and for once not transparent white -- physique, all thanks to the bike ride.
All kidding aside, I did have some actual reasons for putting off a post (you may have been able to detect a hint of foreshadowing in the dramatic title, of course). I really have been busy -- but I also just didn’t want to write about the aftermath.
When we planned this ride, I knew that there was a very good chance arthritis would get in the way of completing the ride. What I didn’t expect was that the effects would come later -- and not in my knees or my shoulders, but in my hands. A combination of leaning on my handlebars for nine days straight and the already-built-up stress on the joints in my hands from three years of playing the marimba for long hours in band has made my hands next to useless..
They don’t hurt as bad as one might expect, but pain is merely something that’s temporary -- it’s surmountable, you know it will end sooner or later. The problem isn’t pain -- it’s that this built up stress from mallets and piano and writing combined with what we believe to be a little bit of ulnar neuropathy (something that happens often to long distance cyclists: too much pressure on the ulnar nerve makes your hands weak and numb) and arthritis swelling has built up into something I can’t just fix.
First I was frustrated with my inability to do little things, like opening bottles or turning doorknobs or typing at a normal speed. But these I could handle, these were minor inconveniences that I assumed would go away soon enough. However, when I picked up mallets and found myself entirely incapable of playing, barely capable of holding the mallets in my hands, with every kid in my section looking at me and wondering why I wasn’t leading them like usual -- I sort of started to panic. This built up on itself until the inevitable teary eyed confession to the kid next to me (much to his credit, he was quite a gentleman about it) that I can’t play like I used to -- at least not for a while. I got myself back in control after this and decided that a few good nights’ sleep and fervent prayers would fix everything in a week or so.
Unfortunately, everything was not fixed in a week or so. I told myself I was being emotional about it and that everything would be fine, but when the deadline I had so generously extended for God arrived and my hands were no better, I started to feel panicky again. I decided that playing a bit of piano (it doesn’t require that much hand strength, it’ĺl be fine!) would make me feel better.
This scheme backfired. Horribly. I could play a little -- but only a little. My hands simply wouldn’t respond, and the fingers were too weak to push the keys down about 50% of the time. At this point I decided the wisest course of action would be to slam down the piano lid and demand of The Universe why the hell this was happening to me.
I’m not exactly sure why this ¨handicap” has had such an emotional effect on me beyond the fact that it was just too much. Pain is annoying but finite, and after the bike ride ended I kind of expected to slide into my senior year with this triumphant thought that "Hey, I did this bike ride, I can handle whatever this year throws at me!" Discovering so soon that suddenly I can’t play music like before has been something of a punch in the gut to me and I believe more tears have been shed over this than anything else epic ride-related.
Now -- I didn’t want to write this post because most everything I’ve written so far has been a sob story -- but it’s the honesty that those who stuck it out for me and supported me deserve. I wanted this to be a triumphant story, with a happy ending that people could derive hope from. I didn’t want to drop what felt to me like a bomb on the great things that happened this summer, and the ways people found encouragement in them. The thing is -- this ride, and the training before the ride, and the aftermath I’m coming to terms with now -- are a story. There’s triumph in a story (the prince gets the girl, the dragon is slain, I get to eat 487 pounds of food in Oconomowoc) but there is also pain. And if the characters in the story don’t come to terms with their own weaknesses as human beings, then usually it’s either a dumb book or Ernest Hemingway is writing frustratingly depressing disillusionment novels again.
My hands don’t work right now, and that’s been something that has pained me and worried me more than I would like to admit. But I think it’s really made me confront the near paralyzing fear of failure I hadn’t realized I have (which is going to come in super handy this year in AP Calculus).
Anyway, thank you once again for keeping up with my general nonsense -- and cheering me on when the hard times inevitably rear their ugly heads. Every time I’ve given someone that panic-stricken look these past few weeks when I run into another wall, everyone has been nothing but kind.
But even if these setbacks are permanent, I’m going to be okay. While I was sitting in the car the other day, kind of half worrying about how I was going to get myself and my section through our first performance (this coming Friday) and half paying attention to the music I was listening to, a particular lyric in Colton Dixon’s ¨You Are¨ stuck out to me, and has since become my mantra:
¨If I had no voice, if I had no tongue
I would dance for You like the rising sun¨
I’m lucky enough to be in possession of my tongue at the moment, but it still rings true to me.
Thank you for reading,
Ed. Note: This is the Sherpa. Bethany sent this to me two weeks ago and I held off publishing it because she had an appointment with her rheumatologist coming up (and then my day job got really busy and I procrastinated just a little). Anyway, her doctor has been great - a short course of prednisone has helped and they are looking at additional therapies. She continues to lead her percussion section (who won an award this past weekend at their competition) and continues to be, well, Bethany. I'm sure she'll have a new update soon as more news is coming, we hope! Thank you for supporting this special girl that my bride and I get to call, "daughter."