I was almost killed on Tuesday. Twice. Within the space of two minutes. It was snowing and I miscalculated a turn, hit some black ice, and my car spun into on-coming traffic before sliding toward a ditch.
A minute later – after retrieving my heart from my throat - I went east on an unpaved side road. An 18-wheeler came barreling down the westbound lane. A gust of wind pushed me into the lane in front the truck. At the very last minute my tires clenched some gravel and I was able to pull the car back into the eastbound lane.
Seconds. Milliseconds later. I'd be maggot feed.
This is the closest I've ever come to dying. At least that I know of.
When I got to my office an hour later I was still shaking inside. I kept running the events over and over in my head, constructing little scenarios about what people would do in the event of my demise. Where would the funeral be? Who would preside? Who would attend?
My two little girls would grow up without a dad. My wife would bury her (first?) husband. I would only be a memory.
I used to think that I was prepared for death. This is not because I have super duper, unshakable confidence in the resurrection to eternal life.
No. I have HOPE in the resurrection, not certainty. I have NO IDEA what happens to us when we die. The bible makes promises, tells stories and poems, and tries it’s darndest to relieve us hapless souls of our existential anxiety. But alas, the bible does not offer certainty.
I used to believe that I was prepared for death for one simple reason: I’ve outlived many friends. I’m 36 and I know my fair share of dead people.
When I was in grade 3, a classmate died from bone cancer. In high school, a basketball player keeled over and died during practice. In university, it seemed that a summer break couldn’t go by without the news of someone dying while away from school. Five years ago, a colleague, who was a year younger than me, died suddenly from meningitis 2 days before Christmas.
And I outlived them all. So whatever life I have now, I’d consider gravy. I would tell myself that I have to live the life that these people were robbed of.
At least that was the theory. It sounded good. It FELT good. But after Tuesday’s near misses I feel like I need to confront my own mortality – for real. I don’t know what that looks like or how it will make me behave differently. Some moments it makes me afraid to leave the house. Other moments I need to be out in the world doing something, making a difference, leaving my mark, “participating in God’s reconciling love for the world” as my church’s purpose statement puts it.
It is a cliché that after a near miss, life seems better, fuller, your senses sharpen; beer tastes better, sex feels better, flowers smell better. Like most clichés, it rises out of the ashes of burnt truth.
Near misses remind me that, one day, I will say good bye to those whom I love. When I snuggle with my daughter before she falls asleep I know that, one day, we will part. Either she will die or I will. The same goes for my wife. And everyone else in my life. I call that the underside of intimacy. With great love there is also great loss.
When I remind myself that one day I will say good-bye, I also remind myself that that day is not today. Today I will love and be grateful. Let tomorrow take care of itself.