“Hey, someone outside said he knows you from school. He’s asking if you can come out.”
I had just come home from school. I was in the 9th grade, which in 80’s meant I was still in junior high school. Later they would change the school system, and 9th graders would be moved to high school. When I go outside, I see a kid on a dirt bike.
“Hey, what’s up man?”
It was Michael, a friend from school. We were in a couple of classes together, and usually had lunch at the same time. We had kind of become friends, and I had told him where I lived. Turns out he lived only a couple of blocks away, so he came over on his dirt bike that afternoon.
“Hey, Mike. You have a bike? Nice!”
I was intrigued. I had been around dirt bikes and three wheel all-terrain vehicles before. Miami back then had plenty of rural areas, and plenty of kids had them. However, my parents didn’t let us ride them. They considered them dangerous, and I was only 14, so they not going to be ok with me hopping on the back of Mike’s dirt bike.
“Wanna go for a ride?”
Yes of course I did. Who wouldn’t. I was 14, and what kid at that age wouldn’t love to ride a motorcycle. I was conflicted. I could probably ride with Mike for a couple of minutes without my mom knowing. She was inside cleaning, and I would probably be back before she could figure it out.
But what if she did figure it out? What if she told my dad? Then I would be in big trouble. I would probably be grounded for a while, and summer was coming up. Was it worth it to get a chance to ride? I thought about it for a few seconds.
“Sorry, man, my parents won’t let me.”
“Whatever, dude. See ya.”
Off Mike rode into the sunset, the motorcycle kicking up dust into my face, as my chances of “cool-dom” rode off with it. I felt like a total geek. My parents are so dumb, I thought. All the kids are doing it. Why did my folks have to keep me tied up in this dungeon of a place, only letting me out for exercise one hour out of the day, feeding me scraps and dirty water as I worked the chain gang in the mines all day. At least that is how I thought of my life at that moment – a prisoner.
I eventually got over my deep depression. I had a decent summer that year. I went to high school and graduated with a decent GPA. After trying college and dropping out, I eventually went back, graduated, and today I consider myself lucky to have a career in a slumping economy. Even though I have had my bumps along the way, my life has been relatively good.
Mike hit a car that summer and was thrown from his bike, landing on his head. He became the subject of controversy that year, helping to ignite a series of changes in Miami over a trauma center crisis in our city. He suffered a serious head injury, but was denied treatment at the nearest hospital, which did not have a trauma center. He died on his way to Jackson Memorial Hospital, the only trauma center available at the time.
I think about Mike every once in awhile. He was a good kid. He didn’t usually get into trouble. His parents apparently allowed him to ride a dirt bike – without a helmet. I had made a choice that day, using the free will God gave me. It really could have gone either way. I could have given in to my impulses and hopped on his bike. Mind you, that day he came over to my house was not the day he died. But who knows what could have happened if I had made the decision to ride that day? Maybe it would have only been the first day I rode on the back of that dirt bike. Maybe I would have been on the back of that bike the day he had his accident. Who knows?
What is my point?
Well, a couple of things. First of all, I thank my parents for raising me in such a way that I feared my consequences if I didn’t do what they told me to do. They simply told me I was not to ride on motorcycles – period. They didn’t spend much time telling me why. They did not counsel me. They did not advise me. They said don’t do it or else I would be in trouble. There is something to be said for parents exerting their authority on their children. Your children don’t have to understand everything in life, they simply need to trust that you are doing what is best for them.
The second point is more about faith. I truly believe that God has a plan for every one of us. My plan apparently involved living past 14. I was put on this earth for a reason, and I hope to continue to fulfill God’s will for my life, until He calls me home. As for Mike, apparently God only needed him on this earth for 14 years. In that time, Mike helped to change our world for the better. Miami finally realized the huge problem their health facilities had with regard to trauma centers, and today Miami does a much better job in that regard. The dangers of riding a motorcycle without a helmet is very apparent today, even though some still ignore the dangers. Back then, no one rode bicycles without helmets. Today, I put one on every time I take my mountain bike around the block, and most people put one on when they ride their motorcycles.
God gave us free will. We make our choices in life, and hopefully we make the right ones. But while we make those choices, God will always guide our path. In the end, He is the one in charge, and He will decide when it is time to come home. Thankfully, God blessed me with parents who protected me and taught me – sometimes with great resistance – when to say no. He worked on them, so that they could teach me to stay safe, so that I could fulfill God’s plan for my life.
My hope is that Michael Pollack is looking down on us, and is smiling every time he sees a 14 year old put on a helmet.
Ride on Mike…
- Motorcycle Passengers: Riding Children (chicagonow.com)
- Old Bikes. Good Times. (revzilla.com)
- Top 10 Motorcycle Movies (mrmovietimes.com)
- Route 66 – Day 17 (freedominthemountains.wordpress.com)