Outcomes

I’m not proud of any of this.

As I write this, it’s National Coming Out Day. That’s not my day, any more than Black Lives Matter is my life. I don’t have any desire to dorksplain the meaning of situations, life circumstances, or events to which I am not party. More important to listen, I suspect, so maybe I’ll post this tomorrow. My closet boasts not a single cheerful rainbow.

There are universal human reasons for closets, though. They’re where we hide like children. They’re where we store the costumery we’re not wearing right now: old fur, misshapen kilts, those sharp-lookin’ boots with one small hole that we haven’t gotten around to repairing and can’t stand to toss just yet. Closets can be oases of transformation where we pull on our superhero togs, but are more often the memory hole where we stuff the things we’d rather forget, from lime-and-banana bowling team jerseys to our sneaking fear that maybe we pushed too hard with Janey, all those years ago, and what if someone finds out? Eventually, all we remember about the baggage of our past, stuffed as it is into the rapid access shame dispensers of our various closets, is that we’d better not crack that door until and unless we’re damn well prepared for the fallout.

Oddly, it’s not my queer wife or my gay daughter — both of whom currently find themselves cheerfully ensnared in relationships with men because, Lovely Reader, their lives are no simpler than yours — who prompted my brief reckoning of this morning. Nor was it the memory of Janey, with whom I believe I was a perfetto gentiluomo, as what choice did I have? I was five years old and, at the early ripening age of 11, she was my first Older Woman. One kiss on the cheek was all it took to cement a lifelong fixation on dark-eyed brunettes. I follow them like a baby duck now (NOTE: that’s a predilection, not a confession).

No. The person who unwittingly kicked me into this confessional moment of owning who I am is an accidental Facebook friend, a man whom I’ve never met and, if I’m to be honest, probably will not meet in this life. Staring down a diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s, he gets to watch his powers fade from a tall seat inside the control booth. That has to be a bit like watching yer ol’ home team go from fifty-point favorite to ignominious underdog, then lose its NCAA sanction. As a writer, traveler, and educated man with a crackle-fire brain, he’s perceptive enough to feel every creeping advance of his inexorable disability — and he’s not embarrassed by it. He’s defiant, and I love this unmet man for his iron spine and persistent humor (not “good” humor — would you be cheerful about it? Would any of us?).

Here it comes, then.

I’m not who I was. In the broadest sense, of course, none of us is. Since yesterday, your fingernails have grown or been clipped, retained some garlic juice or garage grease under their edges, perhaps sustained a nailbed bruise that’ll leave ya hangin’ sooner than later. You got a little older, found a new cause, worked out a difficulty with your coworker or, more challengingly, with your household teen. Each one of us changes, in ways tiny and stupendous, through the course of each day. This low-scale dynamism comprises, yet rarely disrupts, our prosaic daily reality. It’s not what I’m writing about here, at all.

This is a confession of my fakery.

A few years ago I imagined myself at the top of my game. I didn’t bother knocking on wood when I said that, either. While grateful for the wonderfully weird life that swirled around me, I was pretty cocky, too. Freelancers earn our suppers, every time out. There is zero security. You put your ass out there and hope it doesn’t get shot off, telling yourself you’re too fast for ’em, anyway. You shoot first and questions aren’t for later; they’re for never. Writing without a contract is motorcycling on a new road, faster than is prudent, with no resources to fall back on but fortune, attitude, and over-clocking your processor.

I don’t do either of those things anymore.

“My name is Jack, and I’m a lapsed motorcyclist.” A few years ago, riding a beautiful, hand-built bike for a feature article in Motorcyclist, I balled up the bike…hard. The details, which are notably unimportant here, are also unflattering.

Since getting smeared across the hood of a Subaru several years ago, I’ve retained a loose wiggle in my spine. It wasn’t my first spinal fracture. Broke the transverse process of my sacroiliac back in the 90s, and my neck (C-4, if it matters) in Iraq. Probably the roadside bomb that flung a 9,800-lb. up-armored HMMWV into momentary knife-edge flight, pushed CSF out of my ear, and made me “blink”(i.e. pass out briefly) for the only time I can remember during that tour. I’ve always described the sensation afterward as “sand in my turret” — there’s a grinding sound in my head at every sideward glance. Over time, it’s gotten better. My neck rarely catches fire up the left side anymore, and that collarbone doesn’t feel dislocated nearly as often (honestly, the plate may be helping), but I’m pretty squishy in the disks. It affects balance and coordination, informing my generally staggery physical demeanor. Then a Subaru sent me high enough into the air that I totaled it with my own ass on the inevitable orbital decay, and busted up my lumbar spine.

So it had been a while since my back respected my intentions, but I wasn’t telling that to the gentlemen building and selling that amazing vee-torque wunderbike. My ossified armature mostly worked okay. I could ride around it, same as accommodating old drum brakes or queer British shifting. Mad skillz, right? See above under “fortune, attitude, and over-clocking your processor.”

I nearly died that day. I don’t mean that like “dodged a bullet” or “wow, that was close!” or “cheated death again.”

I didn’t dodge squat. That day’s bullet struck me square in the chest cavity and I didn’t cheat Death. We wrestled like Jacob and the angel, and I absolutely would have lost that round had it not been for Pretty Wife, a faithful friend, my daughters, and an extraordinary team of highly qualified professionals repeatedly dragging me away from the brink I seemed intent on oozing over.

The details are unimportant here and anyway, after the first trauma surgery, the main threat to my continued opportunity to annoy you was pneumonia, “the old people’s friend.” After surviving life events adding up to five plates, dozens of screws, and two-plus lineal feet of suturing and stapling, it was the ignominy of a glorified chest cold that took me all the way down a dark hallway and showed me that glowing red door on the left.

Didn’t break my back; not that time. I couldn’t tell you why my balance and coordination degraded further after spending three weeks in the ICU, but I don’t ride anymore. Please don’t bother telling me that’s all in my head, because of course it is. I was never that graceful, thoroughbred jock in the first place and if you doubt that for an instant, ask my little brother and my oldest friend how often they horse-laughed at my skateboard ineptitude. For decades, I’ve known that’s where riding emerges: from your head and your heart, and occasionally the scrotum. Hands and feet and chest and such are negotiable. You just gotta believe, set your focus, and practice for a couple dozen years.

On the rebound (photo by Ren Doughty).

The body is not endlessly negotiable, though. Mine looks pretty good now, considering (“considering” meaning “as long as I wear a shirt and long socks”). My recovery has been astonishing — to me, if no one else — and while I may never again get under a bench bar weighing over 300 lbs., I can pass for strong.

Well, after the first few steps, anyway.

“Warm-up” is no longer reserved for dedicated athletic pursuits. I warm up in the morning before I put my feet on the floor. I roller my back before I drive to the store, and stretch for 20 minutes to prepare for Netflix & Chill. The last time I swung my leg over a trusted, familiar motorcycle, it took three tries.

Yeah. I sold that bike. Sold most of ’em, actually. Took me a year or more to decide that and another year to acknowledge, even to friends, that I don’t ride anymore.

That’s not what I’m talking about, either. Embarrassing though it is to give up a life’s passion when I still possess 20 digits that are attached and nominally functional, that’s not what knocked my entire, rather carelessly crafted image into a cocked hat.

See, I’m no Nicky Hayden or Kenny Roberts. I was never destined to go out in an eye blink at the top of my game, or to still be faster than mortal riders after suffering a broken back, ruptured spleen, and a heart attack (I mean, seriously — I’ve only had two of those).

I just write. It’s all I’ve got, and most of what I am, and the gleaming edge of that ability — the friction zone between free association and accurate description that good writers explore like the edge of a sportbike’s traction, the ability to hammer home folded layers of meaning like samurai steel — has retreated beyond my ken. The confidence, instincts, and reflexes to craft something that might just astonish an angry critic on her second reading: that is a territory I remember like the color plate on an old post card. I traveled there once, and it was a great privilege to explore even the tiniest county among its infinite demesnes.

Greater than I knew.

For a couple of years, I’ve been struggling to make my way back there. If — and it remains a solid “if” — I find that land again, I’ll limp across its border station swaddled in the shameful comfort of a station wagon, blue-and-white gimp tag pendulating morosely from its rear-view mirror.

There are more things in Heaven and Earth than Horatio’s philosophy dream’t, but the ICU sees them all. You know and I know that having a sore back makes a man cranky; it doesn’t remove his talent. Losing an organweight or gaining a few grams of titanium may decimate one’s capacity for racquetball or marathoning but in today’s sophisticated medical environment, they hardly condemn a career or kill an ambition.

Just like I imagined you saying above, it’s all in my head.

Hangin’ out, up there in my head, it shares company with multiple TBIs, some family history that I’m loathe to share here, combat-related PTSD, and more than a week on a respirator — much of it heavily sedated and some of that while awake.

Do not ever be awake on a respirator if you can possibly plan around it.

As have most of us, I’ve sustained a few ugly discomforts along my path. Counting up the fractures I could document, I quit caring (and counting) after I hit the mid-thirties. I’ve been hit by a truck, two cars, and a boat (don’t ask). My jaw was smashed by the fist of a large, angry man when I was four years old. I’ve seen the color of my bones. My key fob used to be attached to one of them.

No part of that compares to the horror of being awake for half a week with a pipe jammed through your voicebox into your chest, used a thousand times a day to inflate your lungs and a dozen times a day to vacuum out fistfuls of the phlegm that’s drowning you. If we want to perfect “enhanced interrogation” techniques to terrify America’s enemies, we need look no further than the nearest trauma ward because I’m here to tell ya: waterboarding is for pussies.

More usefully, if we want to understand what happens to the minds of people under Intensive Care, we might well follow the lead of Dr. E. Wesley Ely (if you’ve gotten this far into my own ramblings, let me assure you that this article [see link] is much more useful fodder for your juicy, inquisitive brain).

It’s all mind over matter, right? Without my mind, I don’t matter. Hiding in my house, producing nothing whatever of consequence to the wider world, I’ve endeavored to preserve my cocky image as a hyper-verbal iconoclast despite clear evidence that it’s become a lie as tawdry as politics. There’s no crackle in my fireworks, no focus to my optic. I committed to writing projects, then watched them lapse into paroxysms of blank, uncomprehending panic. These days I organize my thoughts the way ROTC candidates commit land nav: with an incapacity bordering on mental violence to those around me. There are words and I know that I knew them, but I don’t know what they might once have been, or how they fit into what I might be thinking, which was…

…what, again? My syntax contains all the graceful rhythms of a toddler banging on a xylophone, and the mishmash jumble of this blog entry is the longest thing I’ve written in (hmm…lessee…carry the zero…) years.

It’s something, anyway. If I don’t push the limits of rapid research; if I stick to a topic I’ve ruminated over for more than a year; if I rely more on googling well-known history and looking up words and the ugly shame of grammar check; if I don’t bite off more than I can gum; if I stay in my narrowing lane, well…I can write a bit. Like picking nickels off shiny tables with gnarled, arthritic mitts, it’s doable with negotiated technique, patience, and the wistful resignation that I don’t have anything better to do.

Like my unmet friend, I didn’t expect to haz the dumbz. Well, not yet, anyway. Didn’t expect to be, in our President’s compassionate parlance, “low-energy Jack.” Like that Alzheimer’s sufferer, I hoped to live well into my dotage before gently tillering my tired brain toward a well-earned bank of geriatric fog, smiling hazily into the middle distance with grandchildren crawling over my lap blanket like puppies escaped from their whelping basket. I did not expect to see weakness approach with giant, thundering strides, much less feel parts of me fall and spin away into the weightless disconnection of HAL 9000’s memory modules.

Who wants that?

Full disclosure: unlike my unwitting hero, I may claim some diminished function back. Some aspects have improved, albeit slowly. Post-ICU dementia seems to be, like PTSD’s notorious “brain fog,” somewhat repairable or at least negotiable (if you haven’t read the article linked above, go back and read it now).

Exercise helps, and I’ve been exercising to the full extent of my powers since before they pulled the tubes out of my ribs, armpit, shoulder, abdomen, and stomach wall (full disclosure: no exercise happened before they pulled out my respirator and feeding tubes; ’twas a short leash there for a while). As with children, socialization helps, so I try to get out some. When I’m not gratefully tasked out with grocery shopping and gardening and such, I assign myself little projects to re-engage the clutch between my brain and my hands. If it takes me a week to make a bird feeder, so be it. That’s one bird feeder to the good.

And I make coffee, of course. So. Much. Coffee. If the fierce, fizzy joy of finding the fast line through a paragraph won’t come to me on its own, at least I can worship a false idol to it with shaky hands and cardiac arrhythmia.

Working against my baked-in trepidation may help some. I’d be grateful to not feel so fearful about my lack of productivity that it paralyzes my gumption further. Writing for me is bound up with motorcycling in more than subject matter. For at least the transient passages during which I did those things well, I got to feel like a momentary expert. If not a dweller in Odin’s Festhalle, then at least a back bench kid with a shot at getting a date after the real heroes passed out. Now I listen to the pur sang practitioners of either art not with collegiality but with the mandatory, wide-eyed respect required of acolytes.

Nor do I want to back-step from the roguish élan of generations of highwaymen to wobbling tricycle laps, not in any sense. That pride is an obstacle chiefly because it’s not a true pride, is it? It’s just fear, trying to be suave behind a glued-on Clark Gable mustache.

But since, like my friend who is leaving me before we’ve been properly introduced, I can read what the Moving Finger writ before moving on; because I know that not all my tears shall wash out a word of it; that, indeed, all my Piety and Wit already are compromised: because of these unshakable truths, I’ll try to be as brave as he plainly is in mapping a dark and twilit land. In the words of a rueful, rural aphorism, “If ya don’t mind, it don’t matter,” but I need my mind to matter. At least to me and to my loves, among whom you may number.

Onward.

By Jessie Eastland – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=59709779

 

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Comments

  1. This.

    The long view of “not dead yet”.

    Another thing I wish we didn’t share… but I’m glad you are still in my life.

  2. Damn, Jack, that’s a helluva thing to come out about. For what it’s worth, I don’t know how long it took you to bang that out, but you coulda fooled me with the way your words still turn their phrases, if I hadn’t read for comprehension as well as entertainment. I’ve always liked your stuff, and have sometimes found myself emulating your style a bit…

    I wish you all the best healing… it’s the wounds that don’t show that take the longest to heal. :/

  3. Michael Pierce says:

    That’s one hell of a good piece of writing. You ain’t lost it…yet. I’m always here for you if you need your hand held. 😉

  4. I read that in rehab. 12 days in ICU after a car pulled out in front of me, a graceful parabola, a broken pelvis. Now MRSA while relearning to walk. Unlike you I haven’t been hard on myself these past 60 years. Unlike you I don’t gloss over the painful steps to recovery. Unlike you I have a government job waiting for my return, sick leave, health insurance. Unlike you I want to ride again
    And like you I find myself questioning everything. Daily life interrupted and slowed by unwelcome memories. I want to make near death something positive but as you point out do eloquently it ain’t easy.
    Big hug from a stranger. Keep meditating publicly. Keep educating us.

  5. Roger Matthews says:

    I’m sitting here with tears in my eyes as I’ve been living that life for 38 years and I well understand knowing what you are, isn’t what you what you used to be. I feel bad for you Jack but I also know that my life is still good, better than I deserve, and I know yours is what you make it. Don’t give up! I don’t know what general anesthetic does exactly but I know it doesn’t leave your body easily. My brain didn’t “clear” until 8 months after my latest surgery 12 months ago, until I darn near worked myself into exhaustion by riding a motorcycle for 10 hours and 800 km in a day and then repeating that process for 6 more days. Every day gets better once you clear that stuff from your brain. I’m still not the man I was before and I’m certainly not the man I was when I started down the brain damage (and body damage) trail in a motorcycle accident when I was 18 but I muddle along and enjoy what I can. Don’t let depression get you. You’ve fought too hard to stay here to let that ruin what you have. You can spin a tale and you grab the imagination of every rider who reads what you have to say. You matter to an awful lot of people out here and I’m glad to hear and see you making another impact on me.

  6. Frank John says:

    See that red brick in the corner of the building across the street? Start writing about that. (paraphrased)

    (I know you understand the reference: we all need to do what we’re good at…)

  7. Ron Havens says:

    Kept realizing I needed to piss pretty bad, but needed to keep reading your brain download worse. Captivated, entranced, engaged, like riding a tight curve…passively focused attention and response, fully absorbed by the challenge, pace and scenery. Thanks.

  8. Hey buddy – this is the smartest thing in have read in some time.

    The words pluck at my own heartaches and wondering what my worth is in work. I’m starting to see the equalizing of new friends and friends lost. Breakfast counter regulars fading into the void. I fear when I enter the net loss side. Who do we fight for now?

    I see my own capacity diminish not through trauma, but through an insidious creep. That of lost recollection, names lost – even those I have known for decades, and of sparks of energy drowned with floods of negativity from within. Experience and reality a cancer on hope and aspirations.

    I appreciate your work. Your struggle and the pure guts it takes for the effort to speak to ones weakness. I know its not guts – It’s just acquiescing to the reality. But for our own inspiration we wrap it in a package we hope we can buy into when we need it. Pure guts wrapping paper – on sale soon through GoFundMe.

    Though the collection is hardly designed to insulate a crunchy spine – I hope that you can take up an offer to borrow one of my old man escape pods. The 75 Fiat, the ’39 Ford, the Indian Sidecar. Each have a buffer of analogue that accelerates finding that neutral calm place. Each in their own way. Or take the van and the TW 200 fat turd. Zero aspirations of performance helps soothe the savage wrist.

    I’m like a pharmacy stocking only marvel mystery motor oil. I know pistons are not a cure-all. But I’ll be damned if I don’t slather it on to prove the scientist wrong and at least inspire a better justification for traditional treatments.

    I’m not going to hammer you – you are welcome to my escape pods and the wide-open spaces of Texas Hill Country as you wish. Sometimes a new view through the windscreen is the only relief I have. And when I get home and wash the bugs off, some of the clarity comes back to my personal view.

    Peace to you. And thank you.

    Rp

  9. H Marc Lewis says:

    You are still one of the few I sincerely look up to, Jack; as a soldier, a motorcyclist, and most of all, as a writer. Soldering and motorcycling may be in the past, as they are for myself as well, but writing is IMHO most definitely still in your future. Your present writing is proof of that!

    I’ve missed you in the last few issues (has it been years?) of MOTORCYCLIST, and am honored that you shared the reason why. My lingering confusion about your absence there is now gone. Thank you.

    On my short list of personal heroes, your name still appears near the top. I’m pulling for you, Bro…

  10. John Weber says:

    Hemingway famously wrote, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” And when you bleed for us, Mr. Lewis, we learn and grow. Thank you for your service, both of the military sort on behalf of freedom for others, and for helping us to expand our understanding of ourselves and thereby others. You are a treasure, biker or not; lithe, flexible and young or not. Don’t go away any time soon.

  11. That, very likely, is the best piece in this blog to date.
    Damn…

  12. Holy shit… that was simply amazing. Captivating , terrifying, emotionally wringing, tear-inducing, joyful, uplifting, morbid but never maudlin, celebratory, motivational… I could go on but I’ll run out of words long before the emotional roller coaster that rambling piece of living prose releases its hold on me. As an aside, my own PrettyWife is a Dementia Care Specialist, and I’m sure she will appreciate your stylized humanization of the gentleman suffering the onset of Alzheimer’s.
    Glad you’re still with us, Jack- please keep sharing your talents with us for as long as you see fit!

  13. Dennis Weatherly says:

    Please don’t take this one down tomorrow. Or ever. You have articulated clearly a struggle that we all face at some time, to some degree, and often more than once.

    I’ve always felt that we are born with a certain “nature” that defines how we interact with our world. As we age and learn and add life experiences we build a persona to wear like a full body suit. Sometimes the choices are conscious. Other times maybe not so much.

    At times we arrive at a crisis point, where our nature and our crafted persona are called into question. If the crisis is large enough the persona may not survive. We may choose to discard it or it may be ripped off over our protestations.

    No matter what happens, your core nature remains. And you begin the process of building a persona again.

    All of this to say that when I look at Jack Lewis I see a good and decent human being, a gifted and skilled wordsmith, and a valued friend. And I believe that is your true core nature. I am confident that the new persona you craft will still be worn by a human being I care about and am glad to call a friend.

  14. Frank Looper says:

    I have to read this again, before I have a chance at understanding. I’m fascinated to see my disease progression through other’s eyes. Not sure what to think. Will read again before commenting. May I share?

  15. Bruce Goddard says:

    Thank you, Jack. Just finished Head Check and immediately ordered a copy of Nothing in Reserve.
    Have enjoyed your articles in Motorcyclist and like others have missed you. Best wishes to you and your family.

  16. Mark Nolan 🏍 says:

    Dear Jack,
    First some background before the sloppy stuff. I discovered your writing in Motorcyclist and was immediately taken with your style,humor and honesty. I have been reading moto-mags for 50 years and in my opinion only Cook Nielsen, Peter Egan and John Burns are in the same league with you. I am an old fart(67) and am still riding. I moved to Switzerland from Silicon Valley in 2001 and brought my VFR800. I stopped smoking dope and upped my game considerably. I lead most rides here in the Alps,
    mostly because nobody else wants to. I also have had some big crashes and some bones will never be straight again and the scars are there for life. I have a 12 year old Daughter who rides with me occasionally. Having Alessia in my life seems to keep my riding within reasonable? limits.
    I am very sorry that your accumulated injuries have stopped your riding. Only lifetime dedicated riders would understand this. We ALL will stop riding someday! Your day came earlier than expected. Mine is still somewhere up around the bend. I feel fortunate that I have this life and hope that I will have your courage to know when to stop and have the guts to do it. One problem that I have is that I am not really good at anything else. You on the other hand are a really good writer and I hope that you will continue to write, for yourself and for us people who love your work. Sorry if that sounds sloppy but I feel that I have some kind of friendship with you, even though we have never met. Your writing has truly affected my life and I thank you. If you come over to Europe, you always have a place to stay near Zürich. Or if you want some company at the IOM Classic TT (no riding, just enjoying+beer drinking) please let me know. Mark Nolan

  17. F-N-A. I (low brow reactionary tool that I am) do not think you’ve lost anything. But as I sit trying to type with one arm numb, an ass that don’t want to move. I can not help but wonder at what a good human you are and intelligent. Me, not so much.

  18. Donald Arneson says:

    Please don’t take it down, Jack. You touch our hearts and minds on so many levels. Sorry you had to give up riding, don’t give up writing.
    Don Arneson, fellow OBS-er

  19. Lew Turlington says:

    Jack, I’ve always felt an ache between the ears after reading your work. That’s because your writing forces me to think, not just about what you are saying, but also the context of how you are saying it. I can say with certainty this piece generated as big an ache as ever. You haven’t lost anything from this reader’s perspective. Keep on keeping on.

  20. Bill Treadway says:

    Rumors of your death as a writer are greatly exaggerated.
    This piece is as good as anything of yours that I’ve read as the grain was truer.
    Well Done.
    You’ll stick most of it back together because your too damn dumb to give up…

  21. Fred Duda says:

    A fascinating read. interestingly relatable. You need to drink more Yoo-Hoo.

  22. Christian Becker says:

    Damn blurry monitor. I’ve missed your writings, Jack. After my first surgery, I had almost no short-term memory for about 3 days. My docs didn’t have an explanation, but now I think I have an idea what may have happened. Thanks.

  23. Bob Reichenberg says:

    You’ve shown me that genius lies in the ability to speak eloquently about the corners of life that really suck.
    Thanks, Jack

  24. Damn you, Jack. It has been too long since we drank coffee all day around a Sonoran Desert kitchen table, in the company of the best people in our lives.

    You did not merely come “out of the closet”. You kicked open the door and stripped naked in front of the mirror that is your keyboard, in a way that has compelled others to see themselves in the reflection..

    It may be serve to remind ourselves that the reflection is but an indicator, not a confirmation of our experiences.

    Leave this post up. It will allow you to ponder the perceptions of others, and to weigh the impact of your words. Also remember that ” the only thing more painful than writing is not writing.”

    Not being as prone to public disclosure, despite my garrulous demeanor, I will save more thoughts for a more private communication.

    David

  25. Frank Looper says:

    Here’s something you didn’t know: I had ~250,000 motorcycle miles when I had 2 strokes in 1996. One of my hardest things ever was admitting that I was DONE with motorcycles. I switched to backpacking, but there’s nothing quite like leaving a trail of footpeg sparks on a nice curvy mountain road. Try to forget it, if you can, Jack. That’s the only advice I can offer you at this point.

  26. Art Ellison says:

    Great piece. With all that others have said, what can I add?
    You have definitely had some rough rides, but your mind is intact as far as I can see. You’ve described your trials and tribulations but have shown no self-pity. A great example of one who struggles on despite life’s nasty tricks.
    You are a real example of what we should all strive to be. Took me a little bit at first to get used to your style, but knowing you personally helped me with that.
    I salute you, brother!

  27. Donn Christianson says:

    I hear you, my friend.

    I’m so very glad that you have survived. The photograph of you in that bed is heartbreaking.

    The playing out of my 60th year has brought too many moments of reaching for a name or word. I published my first novel last January and I’ve been struggling to even put my hands in the keyboard for the second. It’s a dulling that is frankly terrifying.

    But, like you I do what I can each day, starting with slow creaky movements, and try to get out into the world and have another year with people who love me.

    Onward indeed.

  28. Marlon Balkstra says:

    I have been reading your ramblings for many years sir, what I just read still sounds like the Jack Lewis I know and love. I am sorry to hear about everything you have been through and are still going through. You are indeed blessed for having those people in your life that helped you through it all. I am sad fthat you had to give up riding but as I age I can relate, I do not ride near as much as I would like to. I don’t even own a get out of town bike anymore…

    I am real glad to see that you are writing once more and wish upon you continued improvement in your recovery, G-d speed sir.

  29. I’m grateful for your constant efforts, Jack. As a fellow member of the “Two-plus Lineal Feet of Suturing and Stapling” club and the exclusive “Titanium Mandible, Titanium Wrist, and Titanium Spine” organization (the stories leading to membership are different than yours but equally compelling) I have, out of necessity, taken measure of my own entropy over the past 10 years. The link to the article on the effects of ICU care struck a personal note as it does tie right in to my own life’s experience in various and sundry unplanned stays in hospitals. The delirium while there and the lasting side effects struck a chord especially. I’m 56 and still riding… well, not at the moment as I’m recovering from a multi-vertebra fusion one month ago, but will be as soon as I can lift the leg over my ’06 Triumph Tiger again.

    I try to remind myself that we are “human beings” and not “human doings” when I’m slowed by mental or physical inconveniences and I like to remember that one of the most fulfilling things we can experience during our time breathing is that of living an honest, kind, loving, and just life. I sense that you understand all of this implicitly.

    Constant effort keeps us as fresh as we can be and I thank you for yours.

    “Upshifting while going downhill” indeed!

    When in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina know that you’ve got a place to stay, a spicy meal, and a cold beverage waiting for you and yours anytime.

    Keep up the good work.

    All the best, friend.

  30. John A. Stockman says:

    I am so glad I got to start my day with this special post of yours. This day out of all of them I have experienced, which includes my own triumphs and tragedies. I also have found it most difficult to admit that I had to stop riding in 2010. I was born with an insidious condition where my immune system started to destroy the collagen component of my joint cartilage. Ankylosing Spondylitis is the diagnosis I finally got at the age of 40 in 1997, after decades of misdiagnosis. By the time I was 14, my entire spine and both hips had completely fused together. 10-15% of normal range of motion was the best I got from all my other joints. I grew up in a motorcycling family and got my first small dirt bike at the age of 9. When you can’t get your legs apart enough to straddle the seat, the conclusion is obvious. I always kept my dream of somehow, some way, I could ride a motorcycle again. It seemed impossible and anyone I shared my dream with said the same. In 1980, I started on my journey to ride again because I learned about total hip replacements. I figured with new hip joints, I’d be able to get my legs apart well enough to get back on a motorcycle. It took me longer to get started because I excitedly told various orthopedic surgeons about my goal. I’m sure you can imagine how that went over. I realized the only way I was going to accomplish such a “ridiculous, idiotic goal” was to keep my mouth shut. I endured 3 total hip replacements in 3 years, as the first one failed and had to be re-done. Surgeries were 7-8 hours each back then and easy compared to the physical therapy required to get 12 years of atrophied muscles working again. Because the implants at that time were cemented in place, and the cement deteriorated, I’ve had 6 hip replacement surgeries altogether. Fortunately a cement-less implant was developed and I had my last two procedures in 1989 and 1993, no more surgeries. I used crutches for 12 years, and in May 1983, I threw away those crutches in a little ceremony that only I attended and bought my first street bike, a 1981 KZ250. I was finally physically free and I put 38,000 miles on that KZ250 in 2 years. I practiced my skills once a month, like my grandfather showed me by example. I took training classes and track instruction. And always wore my full kit, like my grandfather taught me. But this condition is highly degenerative and no amount of joint replacements can stop it. It’s rare, so hardly any research is being done and there is still no treatment, not even experimental. Stem cell treatment was my only hope, but we saw how that panned out. Now that it’s available, insurance won’t touch it and it’s much too expensive for my modest income.
    But Jack, I experienced over 350,000 miles of genuine dream-living on the motorcycles I owned and loved. My physical therapist quit on me when she found out why I was going through those surgeries and tortuous therapy, telling me I was “wasting resources and money that could be used for someone with a worthy goal.” It was worthy to me and it changed every aspect of my life. My self image and confidence, and because of that, I got a job I absolutely loved that turned into a 20-year career. I relished every mile and faced all manner of weather and road conditions with a huge smile and at times tears of joy. No shame I realized because I had to make that tough decision to stop. My range of motion was getting to the point where I couldn’t get the chin strap on my helmets fastened. I fashioned some special tools to help me do that, but even those would not allow me to continue.
    I’ve left out a lot in between, but I just wanted to tell you, as I’ve triumphed in isolation because all I wanted to do was ride a motorcycle again. Unpopular is an understatement. If I’d wanted to play some ball-sport, run a marathon or even climb Mt. Rainier, I’d been celebrated as a great individual, applauded for my courage, conviction and self-determination. I never went through all that for recognition, I just wanted to ride a motorcycle. Thanks Jack, I’ve been inspired from the first time I read your skilled writings and this latest continued that for me.

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