HE’S the man sitting upright in bed. With the big ears and hope-filled eyes. He’s lost some weight. A little thinner around the cheeks than he once was. His short hair now peppered with grey. His name is Juan Carlos Pajon. A man whose body was literally opened up by a vehicle that struck him 7 weeks ago. And I say “him” because Carlos was exposed. He was outside his vehicle, having just swapped a flat tire for a spare when the vehicle struck him at speeds upward of 80 mph.
But all that’s history now. See logic was defied today. Well actually, it was defied the night of the accident. That night, while Carlos lay splayed out on the ground, cars screaming by his mangled body on the side of freeway, his internal organs exposed, angels held onto his soul long enough for two off-duty police officers and the paramedics to arrive. Today, seven weeks later, as I park my car in the hospital garage, on my way to see my friend, I come to learn that Juan Carlos Pajon is being discharged, on his way home.
Every Saturday, I have a routine that consists of recreational basketball (pick-up ball) at a gym that just so happens to be a hop skip and a jump from the hospital that Carlos was admitted to. The games at this gym are chaotic. A mixture of guys who’ve played before and those who come in wearing tennis shoes and metaphorically speaking- muddy up the game. Some weekends a new group of guys with some basketball acumen will show up and make the games more interesting. But most Saturdays, it’s a jungle. Today was no different.
At about 12:25-ish, the time when I lost the second of two games, a fellow and I got into a little scuffle. We were yapping at each other the entire time. This fellow is the kind of guy who doesn’t play ball, but who is an extreme hustler. An annoying, athletic individual who doesn’t take basketball seriously. Anyway, as players cleared the court, he and I locked eyes. With his stare came this little smirk that immediately found its way under my skin. It enraged me and I hurled an expletive that drifted across the court into his ears. Stunned and angry, he looked over at me, more seriously and said, “Bro, don’t you call me that!” I replied, “Don’t be a b#tch and call weak fouls then!” He looked at me and I took my shirt off, ready to go, but for some reason our emotions just kind of– washed out.
I was absolutely livid. I charged toward the exit doors. On the way out, the manager of the gym told me to put my shirt on, which I ignored. My mind was somewhere else. I found a bench and sat outside for a while under a tree. People were coming and going, avoiding any and all eye contact with me. One look and you could see that something was not right inside.
About twenty-five minutes later I put my shirt back on and drifted back inside the gym, heading straight for the showers. There’s something about water that frees the mind. Often when I’m stuck creatively, I’ll take a random shower and immediately the drops of water become a stream of clarity showering over me. Water not only cleans the body but it also, at least I believe, purifies the soul.
With the water running down over me, I thought about the toxicity that found its way out through my mouth. I didn’t like it. It made me feel weak. I thought about how I was going to be able to write with this feeling permeating my soul. Certainly the anger I held in my heart would cloud my sight. I considered apologizing but then that other side of me; the detached, aggressive “I’m a man Cot damnit” side quickly thwarted that idea.
I stepped out of the shower as some other players walked in heated, spewing out one expletive after another. Apparently, their game didn’t go so well. And that’s when it hit me. At that moment, I knew I needed to make “it” right. There’s a real, serious problem within a man who can hear his soul trying to communicate with him, yet he still refuses to listen.
I quickly got dressed, ran out of the locker over to the basketball court, found the fellow and apologized to him. He was sitting on the ground when I found him and he rose to his feet to accept my apology. “Nah man, I’m sorry. It’s my fault,” he’d say. “No, no, no. It’s my fault. I shouldn’t have said what I said. I was stupid. No way to behave. I’m sorry, “ I then replied. This back and forth of us blaming ourselves went on for about a minute. It ended with us looking each other in the eyes and embracing one another.
What I’m getting at is, without a soul, you’ll die. Period. If your soul is dark, that darkness will eat you away bit by bit and rob you of a beautiful life. A life we all deserve to live. It was Carlos’s beautiful, other wordly soul that saved his life. Of course, there are people with beautiful souls that have their lives cut short everyday, but there are also those who should have lived through whatever adversity, yet did not due to the poison lingering within them, within their soul. There is nothing more important, more vital to living a life, than maintaining a decent soul.