Always Wear a Helmet?

I am sitting on the metro on orange plastic leather, trying to ignore the sticky residue to my right. I am taking the Red line to work and re-reading book one of six about werewolves and vampires in Victorian London (yes, I’m one of those; when you read health policy every day, you can’t blame me).

At the next stop, a boy with a head full of blond curls climbs up on the seat next to me to look out the window. He looks to be about three or four. His dad isn’t too far behind with backpack in tow. The boy looks at me and then his dad and holds on to the adjacent railing as the train starts moving. I smile and offer up my seat and the dad thanks me.

I watch for the next 10 minutes as the boy’s fascination with underground trains and speed grows. Before they depart for what I assume to be the National Zoo at the Woodley Park stop, his dad unveils a small football helmet. He fastens it onto his kid, which he must be used to because he doesn’t struggle or resist. The boy then grabs his dad’s hand and walks with him out the door.

I can’t blame his dad for the added protection. I’ve seen the mad dash on train platforms at rush hour. I can imagine how his kid might get trampled in the crowds. But it was 9am on a Monday, and this was Woodley Park. I have to admit I’m impressed urban parents let their two- or three-year-old walk around the metro station, hands held of course. I never saw myself as the protective type but I think I would carry my kid through that danger zone. Thankfully, my parents were not like me and let me develop independence and trust in myself.

But even in my adult body, I wondered if I should wear a helmet. It would keep people from pushing into me, save me from possible sexual harassment and let’s face it, protect me from my own clumsy movements. I can’t count how many times I’ve tripped on my own feet.

Yet just as the boy will grow up and develop better defense mechanisms, we all have to stop wearing a helmet at some point. Life hurts. We have to feel that to truly grow. But why is it the older I get the longer the pain lingers and the harder it is to heal?

I’m currently going through some serious life changes. I love change. I hate settling. I love moving every few years. Since I turned 18, I’ve built my life on steady change. But somewhere along the way, I developed stronger relationships, I built sturdier foundations, and I dug a hole I called home, one that surrounded my life so much so that when I emerged from my cave, ready to start anew, I crumbled.

I kept reaching back for the hole that was slowly filling. There was nothing left for me there. And so I sat in between worlds and cried. I did this for a long time. I stayed there longer than I planned, but when the hole filled and there was nothing left to reach back for, I turned and looked ahead.

I abandoned my helmet long ago, but found in that moment, I was okay. I started getting excited about my new beginning, about a life I never thought I could have. Suddenly the world opened up and instead of swallowing me whole, I swallowed it.

I reach my metro stop and stand in front of the sliding doors, waiting for them to open. I scratch my head – still intact, I think, good.

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