Josh was a big teddy bear of a boy with baggy pants and a mop of brown curly hair. He fidgeted with his friends at the back of the classroom but paid attention sometimes. He wrote that he chose PSU so he could snowboard at Cannon Mountain. Composition class at 12:30 worked for him so he could zip out, grab lunch, and be on the slopes for an afternoon of riding.
In taking attendance on a cold March day four weeks into the semester, I called his name, and there was no answer. I didn’t hear the usual “Yup, Josh here.” A friend said he wasn’t coming back. He’d taken a bad fall on the slopes. Rumor was, he’d broken his back and he might be paralyzed from the waist down.
News of his condition came in bits and pieces from his friends. Then the e-mails from his father started. He asked if Josh could continue the course by e-mail or snail mail. His son’s education was at stake. The image of a boy lying in a hospital bed troubled me. However, none of the messages came from Josh. Could I be sure that he would be the one doing the work? I e-mailed Dad and told him that it was in Josh’s best interest to drop the course and take it in a later semester. This would give him time to heal without the added academic pressures.
The next semester Josh was back on campus. He’d regained full use of both legs and was back to normal. When he turned up in my Fall Comp Class I was pleased but concerned. Why had he chosen my class again? Would he attempt to use last year’s writing?
It was a new Josh that greeted me from the front row. He was the same tall, strong young man, but his hair was trimmed, and his clothes were neat. He listened and answered questions. Still when I handed out the assignments he was baffled about what to write. “Write about your accident,” I told him. I said that if anyone had a treasure trove of material, it was he. So he wrote about the crash on the mountain and the ambulance ride when he was in and out of consciousness. He explained his panic in the emergency room when he had no sensation in his legs. In later compositions he detailed how he was transported to Boston, where he underwent multiple surgeries and months of rehabilitation before regaining strength.
When he completed these, he said “Now what?” I suggested thank-you letters. So he wrote to his doctors, his parents and the girlfriend (who made daily visits to the hospital). “I figure I owe them,” he said. “After all, they kept me alive.”
As he relived the experience through writing, he grew relaxed and confident. He said he gained insight from a life-changing event. On the last day he gave me a bear hug and told he told me he was glad he took the class again.
So was I.