Sep 17, 2011

Lucky, or What

How many of us have been confronted by imminent death?

For some of us, we felt it intensely at the moment, while others realized after the fact just how close we were to certain death.

I remember vividly one time in Los Angeles when I was driving to the San Fernando Valley to renew car insurance on a rental car, I was confronted by, what could have been, certain death.

Heading north on the 405 freeway through Santa Monica I was in the second lane from the left. The road was relatively clear except for an old, slow truck blocking the fast lane. Anyone who wanted to pass had to overtake it on the inside. It was one of those yard maintenance trucks that carry lawnmowers, sweepers, brooms, rakes and many other tools to beautify some of the many gardens of Southern California. This truck had metal posts on the corners that reached up to create a roof. On top of the roof sat a 4 x 8 sheet of plywood held on by a couple of bungee cords.

It was a beautiful, sunny day with the white Getty Center shining on the hill in front of me. I was traveling at about 65 miles an hour. 

As I approached within about a hundred feet of the truck, I noticed one of the bungee chords holding the plywood, snap. A gust of wind then lifted the heavy sheet of wood up and it snapped the other bungee. It lifted like a sail to rise up and stand upright on top of the truck. 

Thoughts raced through my head. Could I speed up or slow down, could I swerve into another lane? I was alone, so I didn’t have nervous passengers with me. Just myself and my wits.

I watched in horror as danger flashed in front my eyes. The sheet of plywood blew off the truck and headed my way. First it flipped and bounced onto one of it’s corners on the roadway, then it rolled on end and was lifted up to head straight, in a flat angle, like a stealth bomber aiming at about five feet above the pavement toward my windscreen, and me. 

I was doomed, but ducked away toward my right into the front passenger seat. Another gust of wind, and the plywood nosed down and pounded head first into the ground. I slowed as I saw it hit at what seemed to be about  three feet in front of my car, then it bounced and jumped over the car. It was above me, flying overhead, about to land on top of the car. I sped up and looked in my rear view mirror to see it land flat on the roadway behind. Thank goodness the car behind was a long way back.

It happened in seconds, and my heart was pounding. I breathed a big sigh of relief. I realized that life is so fleeting. I then sped away from the scene and was so glad to be alive. I opened my mouth and said out loud to the empty spaces in the car, “Whoever is in this car with me, I thank you for  saving my life.”

I was overwhelmed with the joy of being alive. I kept thanking the gods for guiding that sheet of plywood away from me. I could have been cut in half. The car could have been taken out of control to roll into another lane and collide with another car, another life. It could have been a fiery crash, or at least, a needless mess.

When I arrived at the car rental lot to renew my car insurance, they told me that my insurance had run out the previous day. That meant, had the plywood hit me and I survived, I would have had to buy the car.

I felt I got away with much more than my life that day. My soul was renewed. I felt as if my life had been spared. 

Now, how do I fulfill that potential?

"Death is more universal than life; everyone dies but not everyone lives."
- A. Sachs

"It is not the end of the physical body that should worry us. Rather, our concern must be to live while we're alive - to release our inner selves from the spiritual death that comes with living behind a facade designed to conform to external definitions of who and what we are."
- Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

"When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live you life in a manner so that when you die the world cries and you rejoice."
- Native American Proverb