This month's "The Mirror" column was written by Susan Dalton © 2016, all rights reserved.
I was driving in to work, thoughts about two relatives' health situations heavy on my mind. A text message dinged, and when I stopped at a light, I looked down. The message, from one of my students, said, "Call me please." So I pulled over and made the call; only he didn't answer. His fiancée did and told me he had been in a terrible accident, falling through a roof he was repairing, fracturing the bone underneath his nose, and knocking out a tooth. Somehow he had managed to grab a rafter and hoist a leg up, which allowed him to stay up on the rafter even after losing consciousness. He was now in surgery for bone grafts where he was expected to be for hours.
Even through the horror of what she was telling me, I managed to smile when she told me, "You know how you always say he's part monkey because he can walk around the mat on his hands for what seems like hours, has incredible core strength, and can roll out of anything? Today being part monkey may have saved his life."
How could I help? Well, I could call his friends I know, especially the ones in Aikido Club. I could call Sensei. How about insurance? He is a veteran, having served multiple tours in Iraq, so he has VA benefits, but they don't include dental. He was going to have to have multiple oral surgeries after today. His missing tooth had been pulverized; certainly it was in no shape to be put back in. His fiancée was in shock, not only from what had happened, but also from the payment details she'd signed.
He's a very active student on our campus—besides being president of the Aikido Club, he volunteers for community outreach and takes part in activities to raise money for student scholarships. He has taken aikido every semester for the last four years, and the new students run to work with him. During a test, he may be asked to be uke six times, and up he goes, ready for more. "Tired?" I'll say, and he'll smile and shake his head no, ready to roll.
What if I put out an email to select faculty and staff who know him asking for donations? As a Student Ambassador for our college, he speaks at many college functions. He'd just won one of two major student awards our college bestows each year. Last week I sat with his fiancée and family at the Excellence Award Ceremony and listened as he gave an incredibly moving speech. Many in the audience dabbed their eyes as he spoke. Maybe some of them would help.
Of course people were heart-broken for him. What an awful thing to happen to such a great guy. Yes, they would donate (or at least I hoped they would.) "But," some folks said. "The home owner is responsible. He should sue for medical expenses and lost wages."
"Hmmm, "I said. "I don't think he wants to do that. I don't know, but that course of action doesn't sound like him."
I knew he worried about this homeowner. The night before he'd texted me he wouldn't be able to come to the dojo after all. I so enjoy showing off my community college aikido students to my friends in the dojo. However, this job was turning into a nightmare for him. He'd been hired to do a small roof patch, but the more shingles he pulled up, the more mold and rot he found. Yes, he'd been looking forward to being Sensei's uke —that had been really fun and instructive Friday night—but the job loomed larger than he'd expected. He couldn't get it done in time to get to the dojo. "It's OK," I texted back. I fully expected to see him in the next class.
"He won't be able to get out of bed for two weeks," his fiancée told me. I tried to imagine him lying still for two minutes, much less two weeks. "This is going to be a long two weeks."
All day I worried. How much did he hurt? How many surgeries would he have to have? Would he be okay? He had spent so many hours preparing for our upcoming test. Sensei assured me the test wouldn't be a problem. He'd already proven himself in the dojo. We'd submit his paperwork and he could test later. Still, I wanted our shihan to see his lovely ukemi. But obviously the test seemed the least of his worries.
Tonight his fiancée sent me this message:
He was hired to do a simple patch job on a little old man's roof. In looking at his phone now, I see that he called Habitat for Humanity for used supplies and texted a bunch of his relatives for volunteer help. From what I can understand he clipped his phone onto his carpenter belt and stepped back and fell through.
I am happy to say that his relatives will be collecting money among themselves to get the rest of the supplies and they plan to finish the roof for free.
And he looks like a chipmunk preparing for winter. Have a good night.......
As you can see, I have far more reason to be proud of my student than just his ukemi.
"The Mirror" is written by a roster of women who describe themselves as a disparate bunch of scientists, healers, artists, teachers, and, yes, writers. Over ten years into this collaboration we find we are a bunch of middle-aged yudansha from various parts of the world and styles of aikido. What we share is a lively curiosity about and love for both life and budo, and an inveterate tendency to write about our explorations.