“I tried to save a kitten on a highway, and I was hit by a motorcycle.” That’s the absolute shortest version of the story, one that I had to tell for three weeks on conference calls, to explain why I was working from home, calling in instead of meeting in person. Depending on how much you love animals, or how deeply you respect mortality and fast-moving large metal objects, or whether your own sense of ‘what’s worth what’ is flabbergasted by that opening statement to the point of questioning my intelligence, there are a few common responses. I’ll pause while you have yours….
The compact version of the story is: Brian and I were driving home from vacation with my parents in Wisconsin, and we were 10 minutes from home in PA on a Saturday night, when we saw two kittens on the highway. One had already been hit and killed. The other we almost hit, as it wandered in the middle of the highway. “Oh my God, Brian!” I exclaimed, “Someone has to do something about that kitten!”
Knowing what I meant by “someone” perhaps even before I did, Brian didn’t say anything but turned the car around. We drove back to where we saw the kittens. He honked and yelled to stop traffic, and I went to the other lane where the live kitten was. I saw a motorcycle coming, and I waved my arms above my head to flag it. I was sure it saw me. I bent to get the kitten.
The motorcycle hadn’t seen me. It hit me, a Harley Davidson going about 50 mph, with two people on it. In total disbelief, I realized: I’d been hit. Immediately I scanned my whole body, realized I was still alive, moving, intact. I looked down, and my right foot was bloody. I wiggled it. Everything could move, and didn’t really hurt. Fine, I’m OK…. I rolled up my jeans and saw a bleeding gash in my right shin. By this point, the motorcycle stopped, traffic stopped, and Brian wrapped my leg in a towel and carried me in his arms to the car. A bystander was calling out to wait for an ambulance. I was pointing to the kitten (who had made it to the other side of the road) and yelling, “Someone, GET THE KITTEN!” The woman from the motorcycle said, “You want us to get that kitten and bring it to you…right now?” I said, “No. I am going to the emergency room. But you, make sure someone gets that kitten!”
Brian drove me to the ER. There were a lot more serious things going on that evening, so we waited around with a cool pack on my leg for a couple hours, and then the doctor came and cleaned and stitched the gash (18 stitches, in case you’re wondering). “Lucky” was a word that was used a lot.
What’s the moral here? “Stay out of traffic” – gotcha. “Don’t do in 20 seconds what you have 6 seconds to do” – perhaps. “Please don’t joke about something that serious and horrifying” – definitely; poor Brian, for whom this experience was so much worse than it was for me, since he watched it, and still can’t fully escape the what-ifs and almost-happeneds.
There was something else. From the moment Brian slowed the car in response to my exclamation, I felt like I was in a role in a play. Something was acting itself out, and I was held in its flow. How utterly surprising to learn that the unfolding events included having the motorcycle actually hit me. How remarkable, nearly impossible, was the wound itself. Hit by a Harley Davidson at 50 mph, to live to tell the tale, to have no permanent or lasting damage, no concussion, no bone fracture. My jeans weren’t even ripped. (And, the people on the motorcycle didn’t get thrown, or swerve into traffic, and the kitten made it.) I called the wound “the Angel’s kiss” for that reason. Realistically, it looked like the angel kissed me with its fangs, an “Angel’s bite” more descriptively. (Hey, we hang out with some pretty fierce angels, you know?) An angel with perfect anatomical knowledge and amazing precision. (If only I could have carried out my kitten-saving operation with that level of mastery.) An angel who bit me down to the exposed bone, who knew just where to place such a bite that it could go that deep but not break my bone, not injure a tendon. “You were two inches from dead,” said Brian, and in a way I was, but in a very important way I definitely was not. I was right, exactly, where the screenplay had me, where I could feel the fleshy collision of someone’s body against my own, where I could be sideswiped by the motorcycle’s foot peg, where an impact tore tissue away from the bone just enough to leave a little white-line memento (as it will someday heal to become) – just enough to dispatch whatever karma that was, and no more.
The notion came: “OK, third time’s a charm; we’re done now.” I think we’ve been a constellation working on this karma (whatever it is), my dogs and I. The first, and the worst, was what my Ikey suffered. At six months old, he was hit by a police car (not their fault; he ran into traffic – ahem). His leg was broken, and the growth plates stunted, and he limped and had pain for the rest of his life. Often I wished that I could have genuinely desired to have taken that injury and the pain on myself instead of watching him endure it – but I honestly wasn’t sure I could have managed it like he did (not that he had a choice, or that I could have offered the option). Then Bhairo, at six months old, chased a chicken onto the woodpile, and a log rolled down and broke his toe. Could I seriously have another six-month-old Entlebucher in a leg cast? And then, when it came off, he limped (inexplicably to the vets, who could find nothing wrong) for a long time. What is it with my dogs and leg injuries, I wondered. What is this crazy karma? At least it’s gone from a horrible leg break to a toe break. I managed sincerely to pray to protect them from this, to take on whatever part of it I could handle, to resolve it once and for all.
Is that what happened? I don’t actually think so. It’s much more likely that the angels who live with me in dog form have been protecting me, whittling down whatever debts are out there to be paid until there was something soft and harmless enough that I could take it, an Angel’s kiss of “just a flesh wound” (ref: Monty Python), and a little story to go with it, albeit one with just a suspicion of a plot and many of the salient details left unknown.
Maybe. Maybe not. Doesn’t really matter – as I like to say, I’m on a need-to-know basis with the Divine. But I remain struck, much less by the motorcycle, much more by the feeling of being held in the slowness and choreography of the moment, of being carried safely away both by the man who loves me and by something that held me, perfectly, beneath its wings. No, I don’t plan to test it, and I’m not making light of it. But I was never in danger, it’s clear. And funny, how I can manage to worry about anything, on a parallel track in the same mind and heart that with such certainty experienced that complete protection. What an odd little creature I am, half brave faith, half scared kitten. I suppose both halves are what put me in the highway that Saturday night – the half that innately understood what fear feels like, and the half that leapt to action, fearing nothing. From the Angels’ perspective, I’m guessing both halves are equally lovely. Because I made it home, whole, with just a kiss.
[If you want to see what the kiss looked like, scroll down. Way down. Mom, don’t look.]
[Now erase that from your mind by looking at an adorable kitten. This isn’t the actual kitten, but this is pretty close to what it looked like, just way more scared. I hope one of the bystanders adopted it, and named it Harley.]