I almost died today.
I don’t say that lightly. Of course, there are inherent risks to even the most mundane of activities: you could slip in the shower and break your neck, a construction worker could accidentally drop a brick off a building as you traipse down the sidewalk, you could electrocute yourself with a faulty coffeemaker. You could think of all sorts of Rube Goldberg-esque systems resulting in death (the dog chased the cat, which ran up the tree, whose branch bent and knocked over a house’s security mirror, which reflected a bright beam of sunlight into the eyes of a passing cyclist, who rode off the edge of the road into a pond, which eventually led to his demise because it was filled with radioactive waste…). Heck, there’s even a unit measuring the increased probability of death from various activities.
Some people confront the menace of death on a daily basis: war, old age, chronic illness, an inherently dangerous occupation. Some are surprised by it: a shooting, an unexpected diagnosis, an accident, violent crime. I’ve never considered myself particularly at risk, and I stand in awed respect of people who do live at such a point, whether voluntarily or involuntarily. I live in a safe area; I don’t participate in extraordinarily dangerous activities; I take proper precautions to prevent bodily harm (e.g., using a seatbealt, wearing a helmet, not drinking and driving); I am relatively young and generally healthy. Aside from the sort of freak accident I mentioned above, I would not consider myself a good candidate for dying at this point in time.
Today, I learned how real those freak accidents can be.
No, it wasn’t a near death experience. Neither I nor anyone involved incurred any bodily harm (as far as I know). As I said before, every day people truly face the prospect of death on a much more serious scale. In specific, those who risk their lives as members of the armed forces, police officers, and firefighters have my utmost respect. But the realization that I was a hairsbreadth from what could have been disastrous freaked me out.
I was driving home from some friends’ graduation party. I’m familiar with the road–it’s right near where I went to school from seventh through twelfth grades. Her house is located atop a hill; the road is straight with a speed limit of about forty miles per hour until it starts descending, where the curves and the slope force it down to twenty or 25 miles per hour. I’m exceedingly careful going down the hill (about ten years ago a girl going down the hill at night drove off the road and crashed into the ravine at the bottom, where she was found eight days later in a coma, but thankfully alive) and only slightly less careful going up.
Red: steep uphill from left to right (top to bottom of image)
Purple: the truck’s trajectory
Aqua: my path
It was the very end of the straight part of the road, right before the first curve and the descent. I’d shifted from fourth to third, practicing my heel-toe shifting technique (still working on that). Suddenly, a large, new-looking red truck appeared out of nowhere (evidently from just out of my line of sight down the hill and around the curve), literally went airborne, and landed on the ditch on my side of the road. Facing me the entire time. What. Just. Happened.
I didn’t even swear: in my surprise, I didn’t have enough words (or spare brain cells). I shifted into neutral and hit the brakes (that’s one of the many reasons sticks are better than automatics: you can decelerate more quickly in an emergency by disengaging the gears). As I started to pull forward, a smoky substance started to rise from the truck, which worried me until I realized it was the talcum powder from the airbags which had deployed despite the “landing” being relatively clean (right-side-up with no major frontal impact). I made a last minute decision to pull into the last driveway before the hill; unfortunately, this may have been the world’s longest single-track gravel driveway, so it took a couple minutes before I could find a place to turn around to pull back onto the road and check on the driver. By the time I reappeared, he had hopped out of his car and was on the phone, and another couple had stopped to make sure he was alright. It seems that he was simply driving too fast at the end of the hill (where it becomes less steep, giving the false impression that it’s safe to accelerate) when he hit the curve, lost control, and over-corrected, somehow sending him airborne (not sure how that happened) across my lane and into the drainage ditch. Oops.
If I’d been two seconds farther down the road, the flying crew cab truck would have been a flying projectile, which would have absolutely massacred the tiny Saab 9-3 I’m borrowing this summer. Since the truck was coming from the opposite direction, it likely would have resulted in either a head-on collision or a driver’s-side impact collision. And since I was still traveling a little less than 35 miles per hour and he must have been going faster than that, the resulting crash would not have been pretty.
Why was I not two seconds farther down the road? There are a lot of possible reasons, but most notably, I normally speed on the straight part of that road (I know, I know…). Today, I made the conscious decision not to speed for two reasons: firstly, yesterday, a former classmate posted a Facebook status about getting ticketed for going 65 in the left lane of a sixty zone, and secondly, it had just drizzled a bit after two days of sun and I thought the air smelt nice. I remember reasoning as I pulled out of my friend’s street, “Well, the cops are kind of crazy, and I just want to smell the air, so there’s no harm in going the speed limit for once, since I don’t have anywhere to be.” Had I been going five to ten miles per hour over the speed limit for the short distance from where my friend lives to the site of the crash, my car might have become the object of a live-action wrecking ball.
Another, slightly less serious thing I’m grateful for is that there wasn’t anyone following me closely from behind. Though being rear-ended generally doesn’t result in death, it can bear some nasty bodily reparations (one of my teammates lost her junior and senior years of running due to whiplash), not to mention the damage incurred by the car.
As I began to realize exactly how close that had been, I had an odd thought: had I died right then and there, I would have been perfectly at peace. Not in a suicidal sense, but in the sense that I had spent the day with people I love and was content with where I was in life. A year and a half ago I wouldn’t have been able to say that. As at peace as I might have been, I’m so thankful I’m alive. Like most people, I wish I knew more about why I exist. At the very least, I’m happy for the confirmation that I’m glad I do.
Right afterwards, I texted one of my best friends, who had been at the party. Our exchange went like this (spelling and grammar corrected; ellipses as written):
Me: The dude in front of me just drove off ____ Hill Road… Good thing I didn’t leave 2 seconds earlier
Her: Yikes! The hill itself?? Is he okay?
Me: I literally might have died… You know where you turn off to go to [mutual friend]’s house? He was coming up the hill and literally flew off the road and landed in the ditch on the other side. I was about to go down the hill, and I’m glad that a) I wasn’t any earlier because I would have been squished like an insect and b) that there was no one behind me. Moral of this story? Don’t speed down OR up ____ Hill. And God is good. He’s fine though. Another moral is that adrenaline makes you extremely tachycardic
Her: Amen amen
Was it God? Was it chance? Luck? Probability? I don’t know. But I do know that God is good.
In church today we sang the Chris Tomlin song Whom Shall I Fear. After the incident, I turned on the Christian radio station because all of my normal stations (alternative, rock, hip hop/pop) were on advertisements. Whom Shall I Fear was playing. When I got back in my car this evening to run to the grocery store the song was on again. (Admittedly, the Christian radio station here is notorious for repeating songs). I doubt this song isn’t a divine message from Heaven or something, but the truth of its lyrics resound in my head and my heart:
I know who goes before me
I know who stands behind
The God of angel armies
Is always by my side