David Harshada Wagner: Wisdom from a Tuk-tuk Driver

God lives in all of us, and often speaks through vessels when we least expect it.

When I flipped over the handlebars of the motorbike nothing slowed down. There was no exaggeration of seconds or gradual onset of mind-blowing pain, no time lapse of the event unfolding in my mind. I had seen the speed bump along the dirt road, tried to steer around it, and found myself headed directly for a large concrete pole on my left. I must have accelerated just as I meant to brake with my right hand. I opened my eyes face down, forehead braced against the road by my right arm. I rolled over onto my back as the others ran toward me. I tried to pull my legs up but there was no feeling in my right toes. I can’t stand up. My husband was there, then, lifted up the leg of my pants, his frantic, terrified eyes scanning the grotesque angle of my leg that I could not lift my swarming head to examine. It’s broken, he said. She broke her leg.

This would have been a routine bone break, except that I was in India. In a super small town that didn’t even have a doctor, let alone a hospital. There was no way to help, to safety, to any kind of clinic whatsoever, but a rickshaw ride to a clinic in the next town over.

A seven-horsepower, three-wheeled caravan that jerks your bones to the core under normal circumstances is by no means comfortable ambulatory service. But there was no other way. A group of people had gathered and I was lifted, gingerly but excruciatingly, into the rickshaw. Only when the driver started to move did I finally scream, and my pain ricocheted off the boulders and shook, ever so slightly, sacred bells poised above gods in the temples where people prayed.

The driver looked back, terror in eyes. And then, in typical Indian fashion, a big grin, his head bobbing back and forth. Breathe. Just breathe, the driver told me. You’re not going to die. You’re going to be OK, madam, you’re going to be OK. Breathe. Just breathe.

So I did.

I’m not sure how or why I didn’t go into shock that day. It was a bad break—I had splintered both my tibia and fibula, and would spend the next four months unable to walk, watching monsoon rains flood the rice patties and recede again. I credit this man’s encouragement and willingness to smile when no one else could muster it—his ability to put this traumatic event into context—for my making it to the clinic at all.

Sometimes the best wisdom comes from the unlikeliest of places and circumstances.

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Accompanying text by Lisette Cheresson

Video shot and edited by Edward Boyce