When I was merely sixteen, my friend Tammy and I were cautiously driving through her neighborhood (specifically, Tammy, who’d just gotten her license, was driving) when, suddenly, out of nowhere, this startlingly handsome, exceptionally well-built man dashed in front of the car. Tammy slammed on the brakes, narrowly missing hitting him straight-on.
She was doing nothing wrong, in fact, she was driving well under the speed limit, which is probably what saved this man from critical injury. Tammy was driving the family car, and it was a hefty vehicle. No such thing as a little bump from its front end.
The man was her neighbor, an Olympic hopeful you’ve all come to know in recent years for very different things, Bruce Jenner. Aka Caitlyn Jenner. Remarkably, I had a hard time finding a copyright-free picture of Bruce from that time, frankly, I had a hard time finding any pictures. I did, however, find this documentary on YouTube, and if you aren’t familiar with Caitlyn/Bruce Jenner as the Greatest Athlete in the World, I encourage you to watch at least a couple minutes of this footage, just to see who he was then.*
And why hitting him with her car, even when not at fault, would have changed Tammy’s life in oh-so-many ways. Hitting anybody would have been bad, but we were weeks away from the ’76 Summer Olympics.
This isn’t a commentary on anything LGBT. Rather, it’s a look at what could have been. While Tammy and I joked for years “Bruce Jenner owes his life to me/my friend,” the reality is, his own carelessness (as I see it) almost did cost him his Olympic dreams, at the very least. How many of us lesser mortals are alive and walking today in much the same way?
Just two and a half years before this, I’d been out Christmas caroling with a group of friends. This was California, and while it wasn’t summer-like weather, it was warm enough for all of us to pile into the back of a neighbor’s pick-up truck and drive from house to house. Sensibilities about such things were different then.
Thirteen of us were in the back and two were in the cab with the driver when the brakes failed and the truck began to roll backward. The driver and the girls up front managed to get out, and several of the kids in the back jumped to safety as well. I sat there, frozen, not fully aware of what was happening, staring at my friend Susan, who was screaming, “jump out! jump out!”
The truck was heading for a cliff. By the grace of God, when it hit the edge, it flipped over, and those of us remaining in the truck were tossed on the side of a small incline. From there, it was a sheer drop to certain death.
Everyone survived, although the girls who had been in the cab suffered critical injuries. One hit her head on the pavement, the other, Tracy, was run over by the truck. Her mom was the driver. Later, they found the remains of the truck and were able to determine it was not her fault.
It is so easy to imagine the scenario where that would have been a tragic accident, killing up to fifteen teens and pre-teens, many of them siblings, and one adult. The world would be a different place today. How different, I have no way of knowing.
My life has not impacted the public at large, but who’s to say an offhand remark of mine, or one of the others in that truck that day, hasn’t had tremendous influence on someone who is frequently in the news?
Perhaps the injuries Tracy suffered led to medical breakthroughs. It was a once-in-a-lifetime case, doctors frequently said, challenging all they knew of medicine.
What they learned then may have saved the life of someone you know.
The lives of public figures have one sort of value to us, the lives of those in our immediate circle have quite another. Yet they are entwined in ways we don’t even know.
I may owe my life to you, today or sometime in the future, and never know it. Thank you.