The passengers on U.S. Airways Flight 1549 got a second chance at life when Capt. Chesley Sullenberger landed their plane safely on the Hudson River, saving every passenger and crew member's life. I've watched some clips on YouTube, and facing death and surviving made a huge impact on most of their lives. One female survivor said she and her husband decided to adopt a child. I'm going to assume they just couldn't have children, or didn't think the time was right, and they wanted to strengthen their family. Maybe they realized how precious life is, and that they wanted to give a gift of a good and loving life to someone who needed it... in their own way, being a hero to save someone else as best they could. Another survivor changed his career entirely, wanting to do good in the world with what time he had left. Others formed a stronger bond with their husband or wife, no longer just taking their time together for granted. In a way, this is a very strong gift, not just at life, but at looking at our lives, and getting out of the rut we fall into sometimes, and realizing we really are only here for a short time, and we need to appreciate it, and be the people we'd want to be remembered as after we're gone.
I remember when I came back from my hiatus here that SK said he'd thought that I had died. Realizing my last post was on a New Year's Eve, and I went from being fairly active here to not being on at all very suddenly, I guess I can see how that could have been a strong possibility. And that sounds like the way I'd go too -- in a car. I've had lots of close calls over the years, but most of them were back in my college days. So I thought I'd write about my closest call, and we could all kind of talk about that a bit. Then, to get a bit philosophical -- answer the question: did your close call change the way you live, or the things you believe in? Be it religion, or your purpose in life, or just a way of recognizing how mortal we are, and that our time is limited -- and being more grateful for every day.
My closest call was back in college. I was with my girlfriend, and I had to leave her house at something like 3am or face the music from her parents the next day. It was a 45 min drive from her home to my dorm, and I was tired to begin with. I remember actually doing this a lot back in those days -- eyelids being so heavy, I'd shut one at a time to rest them, while driving. Or, just putting the car in park at a red light, and taking a 30 second nap. The stupidity of young love and fairly inexperienced driving can be a fatal combination. I'm driving along Rte 206, here's a photo that looks pretty close to the area this happened:
There was a junction with a traffic signal, which was a fairly dangerous intersection. See all those woods to the right? I fell asleep driving (and speeding, as usual), and I woke up with about 1 second to spare -- going about 60 mph, seeing a car coming from the route on the left onto my route, and I was so close to hitting them, I could see the passenger looking at me. Of course, there was no time to stop, so I pulled the wheel all the way to the right, directly into the woods. You're on dirt, so there's extra time having to stop... I want to say it took about five or six seconds... the whole time, all I could see were trees all around me, but... not in front of me. Literally inches from my car on both sides, and I didn't have control of the car -- I was just trying to stop. And then... there was the tree in front of me. And it was getting closer... and then.... the car stopped completely. I sat there shaking for about 5 minutes.... completely surrounded by trees on all three sides, having plunged into the forest at approx. 60 mph. And I didn't hit a thing. I remember thinking I'd never even be able to back out. It was that narrow a path. But, I did. Realize, I was completely sober... this was just falling asleep at the wheel. And I was wide awake now.
The repercussions: I immediately had a religious experience, just feeling saved by a higher being. It was like I wasn't mean to die yet. Also, that red car... with at least two people in it .... it wasn't their time either. I have tried to maintain that faith throughout life, but it left me. Even with a gift that strong. I couldn't maintain that belief. But now and then I do think about it as the only real proof that I have that there is a higher being watching over us. There's no way I should be alive today. If the red car's passengers were meant to live, and I wasn't... I would have struck a tree at full speed. (In a 1984 car with no airbags ... no way).
I learned to drive better. (Finally) I learned to never drive that tired. To pull over if I need to, or eat licorice candy and coffee (Good n Plenty's are amazing when you're driving tired -- I don't know if there's caffeine in licorice, but there's something about them that does it unlike any other candy).
Maybe it formed some changes in me later, having that close a brush with death. I know that I do try to be the person I want to be remembered for. I definitely would never want to hurt anyone else in any capacity, and I try to be better than my natural self would be. I think we all have a tendency toward selfishness and not caring about others... just living for ourselves. I try not to do that, and whether that's because I nearly killed multiple people one night in mid-state NJ on highway 206, or for any other reason, I'm grateful for the lesson.