For most all of my life, I have been accused, unjustly I have held, by friend and foe alike of being accident prone. I have vigorously defended myself against such characterization, always believing that I maintained the high ground.
“How was I to have known that the huge tree limb that I was sawing off from our roof would fall unto my leg?”
“It seemed to me that the seat back would support my weight as I decorated the altar.”
“It never occurred to me that stepping onto the icy, make-shift ramp over the stairwell with rubber soled shoes was not a good idea.”
My excuses seemed reasonable enough to me. But over the years, the evidence of broken bones and other injuries have seemed to mount against my reasoned protests. To risk the use of trite metaphor, I have lost my leg to stand on. This past Monday, I, along with a teacher from our program, the maintenance man/gardener/watchman, and a student, were working together on the construction of the second greenhouse for Maestro en Casa. This has become more imperative given our present fiscal crisis. We were placing the upper crosspieces, attaching them to the pylons that had earlier been cemented into the earth. The crosspieces were placed at about fourteen feet from ground level. Our borrowed tools included two metal step ladders: one about ten feet high, and the other about seven. As I am almost always taller than any Hondurans in my company, I was assigned to the seven foot step ladder. It was very rickety and the ground was very uneven. Still I, with the sense of immortality generally associated with children and teen agers, proudly stood on the top step so as to easily reach the height I needed to achieve. I did well through the morning. By the afternoon, however, the ladder had seemingly become even less secure. In a fateful moment it tilted a little too far to the left and I was at a loss to compensate. As always is the case, it all happened in slow motion, and I came crashing down on top of the ladder on my left torso. Long story short, I broke at least one of my ribs, possibly more.
This has been very painful. I haven’t been back to work since, save for teaching Friday’s second socioeconomics class. I was barely able to make it through that. Otherwise, I have just been sitting around and catching up on some reading, and it has given me a little space for some reflection. I know that this is going to sound like I am begging your admiration and praise, but I do consider myself very lucky. I have some Percocet that we had brought down with us when we first came. We also have some ibuprofen that seems to be working well. Even if we didn’t have these drugs with us, I would be able to walk into any pharmacy here and buy them, relatively cheaply and without a prescription. I’m also not at risk for losing my job even as I am going to need some extended time off. It would, however, seem rather inane to fire someone who doesn’t have a salary. I am in a position where I can afford this. The only thing about this that is irritating is the discomfort of my pain and my impatience for rest and healing. After three or four weeks my life will return to normal and I will little remember my inconvenience. The only scar that will remain will be that I will have to admit, still rather reluctantly, that I am indeed accident prone.
But most Hondurans here are not so lucky. An accident similar to the one I’ve just experienced would be a life changing one. The Honduran would likely attempt to go back to work, not having the type of security that I’ve grown accustomed to. Going back to work in such a condition would likely cause him more severe medical problems. Eventually, he would lose his employment anyway. Though the drugs would be as readily available to him as they are to me, they are only relatively inexpensive. He would probably not be able to afford them. There is no such thing as workman’s compensation. There is no disability, no safety net. My accident has become a challenge to my comfort and an assault to my ego. His would become a challenge to his survival.
Some of our friends ask Laura and me if we feel safe here. Isn’t there a lot of crime? Isn’t there a lot of drug traffic? Are you worried you might be assaulted or kidnapped? Aren’t the people desperate? It is a different world here, and in some ways we have to be a little more vigilant than we normally would be in the States. But recognizing just how tenuous life is here, realizing that the line between managing from day to day and struggling for survival is measured by the insignificance of one, rickety ladder, I am always surprised by how orderly this society actually is. People manage to smile, manage to laugh, and always figure out a way to care for those less fortunate. They have always been nothing other than kind to us. My accident has made it abundantly clear to me that I do not have to live, and don’t live, in the daily peril that most Hondurans do. I am fairly certain that if I did have to live as they do, I wouldn’t smile as frequently, nor laugh, nor be as kind to those less fortunate. Most definitely, I would not be as kind to people like me. So, in the end, how could I be anything other than justly grateful?