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Lessons Learned from a Rebellious Life

Peter Goodman

Commentary: Thursday morning I reached the Amador/Alameda intersection immediately after two cars had crashed. Impact had crushed their fronts and spun them around. The blue car rested on the northbound side of Alameda, facing South, hood crumpled and the engine steaming lightly. The yellowish one was in the southbound lane, facing North. The drivers were just starting to open their doors. The guy in the yellowish car looked dazed, and maybe his door wasn’t opening easily. Neither had visible injuries.

I thanked their seat-belts. I recalled two high-school friends crashing into another vehicle. The passenger’s face looked like a baseball mitt someone had poured ketchup on and run the lawnmower over. Whit and I sat up in intensive care watching him for a night or two, uncertain he’d live. I recall the car’s bloody broken windshield.

Thursday’s crash reminded me: I was so wrong to oppose the seat-belt law! In my twenties, I hated New Mexico’s new mandatory helmet law. I loathed helmets. For years, crossing the country, I removed my helmet when I passed through a non-helmet-law state. I was in my thirties one autumn afternoon in Virginia, near D.C., when a graveyard tree with beautiful orange foliage distracted me. I was going slowly, in town. When I looked back at the road, the car in front of me had stopped. My bike hit it. I flipped up in the air, and over, landing flat on my back on the car’s roof, my head (protected by a helmet) hitting right where roof met hatchback. I walked away, uninjured. And shut up about helmet laws.

In a long and rebellious life, I’ve gotten some things right. Others I didn’t, at least at first. I won’t get into how dangerous my driving was during high school and college; but I was so wrong, and lucky not to have killed or maimed anyone.

We regularly rode motorcycles in the desert between Cruces and the mountains, and in the foothills. We stayed on established trails, but I fear our definition of “established” loosened as the countryside’s beauty grew or we got tired. I should have known how easily our beloved desert could be scarred for a very long time; but it was fun. (And, jeez, you should have seen Bill Moore, who’d been on the Aggies Final-Four basketball team, on a dirt bike! Made me feel like a ten-year-old.)

I smoked four or five packs of cigarettes daily, until I was 26. Even then, no long-term health concern stopped me. I played 2-on-2 basketball with 16-year-olds in the NMSU gym, felt the burning sensation in my throat, and gave up smokes.

More generally, I was so wrong about the depth of our environmental problem. I loved camping in wilderness, tried not to disturb anything, prized nature and naturalness, but sure had no clue of the depth of our danger or the importance of curbing my behavior. I didn’t see that slowing down, driving and flying less, reusing paper when possible, and preserving what water we could, all mattered.

There are women to whom I owe serious apologies, for different sorts of insensitive or selfish conduct. I believed early in women’s equality and rights, but to some women in my life, I was just not as good a man as I should have been.

I’ve been wrong enough to treat my views as hypotheses, not God’s Truth. And to try not to judge others.