When the ‘Bright Red Arrow’ turns Earthward
“[P]retty much all my adult life I’ve been on what I think of as riding this bright red arrow that will take me higher and faster and better with more achievements and more accomplishments, so that people will think, Oh my God, she’s really hot, she’s really worthwhile.”
That’s how Nalini Nadkarni, professor emerita of biology at the University of Utah, describes what it was like before the 50-foot fall she took in Washington state seven years ago. The forest ecologist has been called the “Queen of the Forest Canopy” because of her foundational work in the ecosystems found in the tops of trees, whether in the Northwest or in the tropical clime of Costa Rica. But following her accident in which she was severely battered — including a broken pelvis, ribs and five vertebrae “exploded” — it was, needless to say, a seminal moment in her life.
“Over the weeks, my graduate students visited me,” she says of her stay in the hospital. “I had all kinds of friends who visited me, colleagues came, and I realized that one of the most critical things in recovery. Whether it’s an accident like mine was, or whether it’s the loss of your pet, or whether it’s a heart attack of your neighbor, or whether it’s a broken engagement, what matters most is the web of relationships that you have that carries you through.”
In a recent podcast, Nadkarni talks about her experience. “When I meet someone who’s had a disturbance of some kind, yes, you have to take in the hard parts of that, but there are some generative things about that, and you’re gonna be arriving not at the original state you were, and you’re not gonna be at the disturbed state that you were. You’re not gonna be crumpled on the forest floor, but you’re never gonna get back to that original state, and that’s OK.”
“I’m a better person because of it.,” she concludes. “So I have to, in some ways, thank that rope that failed, that brought me from the canopy to the forest floor. Now, I’m walking again in the new world that I find myself in.”