I was broken

Michael Snee

For years, I was known as our football team’s triple-threat man – I’d get threatened three times before getting my lights punched out.  No, seriously, I usually played center, the person who hiked the ball where my lack of speed was not a great liability to the success of the team.

One day at football practice I was filling in at the position of defensive tackle. The offense ran a play in my direction, which featured me as the main obstacle in the ball carrier’s path. There was a collision between me and about four of them. Down I went, driven backward into the ground. This was not unusual. However, this time, I arched backward, bridging over a teammates helmet. Ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch!  I felt something in my back give way.

My teammates lifted themselves off the contorted heap, walked away and regrouped. I just lay there, looking up through my helmet’s face mask as guys stepped over and around me. Weird. The scene was spinning and I heard the coach yell, “Snee, you can get up now! The worst is over!” Still, I just lay there, not in defiance of the coach, but because something inside told me to stay down. Soon a group of coaches surrounded me, looking down, then conceded I could be hurt. One left to phone the paramedics and finally an ambulance drove onto the practice field. The paramedics, with some help from my teammates, scooped me onto a stretcher, uniform and all, and loaded me through the gaping doors then strapped me in. They were professionals and asked questions like, “Where does it hurt?”

You might think an ambulance service with well-trained paramedics, who are delivering a spinal trauma patient to the emergency room, would give that patient a gentle and smooth ride. Not so. I never knew that an ambulance ride (my first) could be so rough and bumpy. Everyone inside was hanging onto those chrome stability bars to keep from rolling around and flying out the back end. It was intense. I could feel every frantic swerve, sudden braking, pothole, drainage grate, asphalt repair, and curb being struck for those 6 miles to the hospital.

After some x-rays and some accompanying treatment in the hospital emergency room, the doctors said, “You had a muscle spasm.” Holy crap! A spasm? “Will I walk again?” They laughed, explaining I’d be okay and told me that my dad had finally been reached and was on his way to get me. Nervous, silent, I was still frightened, but struggled more with the memory of that ambulance ride than from my injury. I was glad it wasn’t taking me back to the school.

Dad arrived as the staff continued rigging a back brace onto me. We were assured there was nothing to worry about – my back would be sore for a few days. Other than that, fine, and soon they released me.

I sat upright in the pickup truck’s passenger seat as Dad drove home going back the same route as the ambulance had taken, but being very cautious not to jostle me. Ridges of asphalt and valleys of manhole covers practically disappeared.

Dad seemed preoccupied. “They said I’d be okay,” I reminded him. “That’s right,” he nodded and kept his gaze on the road ahead. “But something else happened.” Then silence.

“Well, what happened?” I asked, feeling ripples of pavement and bracing for pain, which never came.

Dad started to tell what happened before he got the hospital’s call. “I was working in the building out back,” (we lived on a small farm), “and Laddy came up to me and whined.” Laddy was a collie, the dog I’d grown up with from the time I was eight. Through the years Laddy was very protective, but a playful and loving family dog. Dad went on, “Laddy whined some, then some more, then he started barking at me, trotting out of the barn, then turning around and coming back, still whining and barking.”

I asked, “Like when Lassie wants Timmy to follow?”

Dad nodded, “Yeah, kind of like that. So I started to follow him. He was leading me toward the house and I thought something must be wrong inside. I got to the door and Laddy followed me in. The phone was ringing. It was the hospital. They told me you’d gotten hurt and that I should come right away. When I hung up the phone, Laddy laid right down, calm again, like nothing had happened.” Dad was silent.

Dad never talked about weird things. His world was made up of the familiar five senses and his judgments were black or white. Shades of gray never found a home in his thinking. He always told us that ‘gray’ was for idiots who couldn’t decide anything.

This particular moment with Dad was a novelty, a bridge in my thinking. Perhaps his, too. I never knew that Dad would experience something so ‘gray’ –– something that could completely defy his authoritative black and white outlook –– an outlook I often imitated. I never knew that I could have this kind of connection with my dog, Laddy. And I never knew that something unseen could be a stabilizing force at work, surrounding us through the love we share.

From that moment on, I wanted to know more.

Humpty is well known

Michael Snee

I never knew so many so many co-workers could recite the verse or come so close to getting the verse right. I never thought so many would volunteer that they had felt like Humpty at times. And I never realized so many would add that there was no help. I had no idea Humpty was so well known. After all, it’s just a little verse in a kid’s book.

Even as adults, Humpty was stuck in our minds. Not that we think about it everyday, but still.

A co-worker reminded me that Humpty Dumpty is referred to by politicians and other speakers when they want to illustrate insurmountable odds, impossibility and hopelessness. Maybe that’s why we can still recite it as adults. We’re frequently reminded of Humpty and, in many ways, compared to him.

Like Humpty, we all climb up toward our goals, sit on walls, maybe to rest or enjoy the view––then suddenly without warning, we fall. We lose a job, a loving spouse or a precious child. We have our heart broken in a crumbling romance, get picked last when others choose sides, or actually slip from the monkey bars and crack our head. There are so many ways to fall.

So what does Humpty teach us about falling? I wonder. Does it program us to think a certain way? Maybe. Would that programming be good or bad, positive or negative? Can an innocent little rhyme really affect us?

To experiment, fill in these blanks–– Salt and ________. Bacon and _______.  Peanut butter and __________. For God and ____________. In God we _________. You know what goes in these blanks from years of programming. Are we affected in ways that go beyond filling in the blanks?

In the wake of my Humpty experiment I thought more deeply about my own life, where I was depressed, embarrassed, insulted, left behind, chosen last, picked on, misunderstood, and sometimes physically hurt by dropping something on my foot or having a wrench slip from a stubborn nut I was trying to get lose. When I played high school football I tore ligaments in my left hand and injured my back.

It’s the back injury that opened the door to something else I never knew about . Something I would never forget.

Humpty Survived?

Michael Snee

At the tender age of seven when I had my tonsils taken out, I woke from the ether anaesthetic with a terrible headache. The recovery nurse had placed a wash cloth on my forehead, but it was HOT! I wanted relief and just knew that a cold, wet cloth would ease my throbbing head. I was burning up with pain and began begging the nurse, pleading, “Colder … colder!” Through my tears a blurry nurse checked me out, patted my cheek, turned and walked away. No cold, wet wash cloth for me. Grogginess moved in against the hurting helplessness and abandonment, turning the noisy room quiet and black.

Next thing I remember––I was back in my regular hospital room. Mom was there. My head still hurt. Just as I was asking Mom for a cold, wet wash cloth, some guy brought in a cold metal bowl of orange sherbet and placed it on that little table that goes over the bed. I grabbed it, resting the side of the bowl against my hot aching forehead. Ahhhhhh! At last! The cold felt so good — and after I convinced Mom that a sherbet head compress was really the best use for this dessert, I settled in while she cranked up the back of the bed, letting me sit upright.

Soon after, she placed some kid’s books (no television sets in hospital rooms in those days) on that little table, beside the sherbet spoon which I still ignored. The small pile of books included a Humpty Dumpty magazine that demanded my attention. I melted the sherbet, holding the bowl here and there against my head while reviewing the Humpty magazine cover to cover. Humpty … hmm. As my headache went away this magazine with Humpty was making me think. I knew from the nursery rhyme that Humpty was bruised and broken and I really identified with him through my pain during this scary time. All the king’s horses and men (recast in my drama as that darned nurse) couldn’t put him together again. But a bowl of sherbet, who knew?

Years passed. I grew, got married, had kids. Soon I was reading Mother Goose to my kids sharing a comfortable couch together, all nice and cozy. Reading to toddlers is good for them (according to parenting books). I wanted to stimulate their minds so they’d grow up smart and literate, able to understand the world much better than I me.

One day it happened. Reading Humpty Dumpty to them for the umpteenth time, I started to wonder–– if kids learn from having things read to them, what was this particular rhyme teaching my kids? The ending was pretty negative. In fact it completely sucked.

“So, what do you guys think about Humpty,” I asked. “He got hurt,” quickly answered my youngest daughter. “He’s crying,” offered my slightly older daughter, “but then he died.”

With sudden impulse I pointed back to the page and with my reading voice added, “So Humpty really didn’t need all those horses anyway … and somehow … he decided to reach up … and somehow … he got better … and back on the wall.”  They were still too young to read for themselves so I got away with it, turning the page before they knew what hit them. From that point on, every time I got to the Humpty page I’d make up a sweetening verse, trying to make lemonade from lemons. And with playgrounds and monkey bars being fairly new to my daughters, I wanted them to think of falling in a more positive light.

My curiosity grew, wondering if Humpty had some sort of after effect on adults. I asked a multitude of co-workers, “Ever hear of Humpty Dumpty?” Everyone had. “Can you recite the rhyme?” I asked. Most of them could, while they poked me with glances of suspicion. After all, when one goes to a coffee machine for a well-deserved break, the last thing expected is to be asked to recite a nursery rhyme.

The number of people in my little experiment grew and revealed some other things I had not thought about before.

(more to come on next post)

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