Monday, January 7, 2019
Hilton Head Island: some of us are
I walked down to the tiny boat yard this morning at 9:00 and found it locked and deserted. I called the office and learned that they plan to put GANNET back in the water tomorrow morning. Work was supposed to resume on the condo today. That didn’t happen either. So I biked to Walmart and bought some provisions and read on the screened porch this afternoon, which was quite pleasant.
I have been meaning for a while to write about a chance circle of friendship and admiration brought about by the Internet, which does some unanticipated evil, but makes possible some previously impossible good.
I may have some of these details wrong, but the broad stokes are right,
Go back roughly thirty years and Michael, who would then have been about thirty years old, is living on a 20’ Flicka in Santa Cruz, California. He reads STORM PASSAGE and admires it.
I don’t know that the book was in any way an inspiration to him, but a few years later, he and his wife, Layne, and two big dogs, a Labrador and a Husky, cruise south from California on a 34’ Gemini catamaran, whose lack of heeling was in consideration of the dogs, to Panama and then to the Florida Keys, where they settle and Michael becomes a 911 dispatcher for the Key West Police Department.
Jump forward to 2016 and I get an email from Michael who must have known of my website for it came via the email link found there. I just searched and found it and am smiling that it was addressed to ‘Mr. Chiles’, which demonstrates good manners but between us has long been too formal.
We corresponded and when GANNET and I reached the Keys in 2017, we met and have become friends. I have also met Layne and Rusty, the current dog in his life,
Just over four months ago, Michael was crunched. I define his life as BC and AC: Before Crunch and After. He was riding his motor scooter to work when a driver suddenly pulled onto Highway One directly in front of him, causing him to fly through the air and land a broken heap. When I recently read Faulkner’s AS I LAY DYING, I thought that is what Michael must have been thinking as he lay there. That he didn’t die was in large part because a Sheriff’s helicopter soon reached him and transported him a hundred miles north to a major Miami hospital. Before that happened, Michael took a self-portrait of what he thought might be the very last image of himself—‘selfie’ is too shallow a word for this—and a woman, a stranger, came and held his hand. Later, again through the Internet, they connected,
Now you may believe that everything happens with a purpose, I will never dispute your belief, but I do not share it. As I have often written, I believe that time and chance happens to us all, and that Michael was crunched by time and chance.
Michael is a fine photographer and writer who has chronicled his life in the Keys for many years in his Key West Diary and on Instagram, I think he also has a Facebook account, but then no one is perfect.
He has written and photographed his recovery, which is not yet complete, extraordinarily well.
He has likened it to a rebirth, from initially being as immobile and helpless as an infant to now being able to walk with a walker and sometimes even achieving tripod status with a cane, and being able to work half shifts.
The top photo shows him as tripod. I trust that soon he will again be a biped.
These x-rays show the pins and screws used to bind him together.
I wonder what will happen when he passes through airport security.
When he first arrived at the Miami hospital, they stabilized his internal bleeding, and then the doctors must have spent considerable time figuring out how to put the shattered jigsaw puzzle he had become back together.
Throughout all of this terrible ordeal, Michael has acted with courage, dignity, and cheerfulness. If you go back through his sites, you will see a lot of smiles. I cannot imagine that in those helpless nights in a hospital bed there were not dark thoughts. If so, Michael has absorbed them and kept them to himself. In neither his public postings nor in our personal correspondence have I ever seen a trace of “Why me?”
Unfortunately Michael is not the only of my friends to be facing adversity with grace and courage. I will name Patrick and Louise. I know of others but not well enough to invade their privacy.
Some time in the next few months I am going to be cold and wet and suffering and perhaps at mortal risk. Of the mortal risk, I am old far beyond expectation or even belief. I am a self-propelled machine. I don’t fully understand that. But when in coming months I am suffering a little, I am going to think: You chose your fate. Michael and Louise and Patrick and others did not. So get on with it old man.
There is a cliche that all of us are in this together. That is not true. But some of us are.