The Lost Art of Surviving Death
The only good landing is the one you walk away from…
I just read on another parenting blog the growing problem of parents ignoring their children’s pleas to play so they can chat on facebook, blackberry, iphone, etc…There was even a three page NY TIMES article on it which I guess officially makes it an epidemic.
To which I add: Are you kidding me? Are we as a society that far f***ing gone?
Every once in a while when I look at my daughter I think of how fortunate I am to be with her and her mother (also known as my wife) and how precious the most often taken for granted commodity really is; I of course am referring to time.
As much as I would like to feel that sometimes I should call my life “My Boring Ass Life”, it just wouldn’t be a true statement. I could call it many things, but boring wouldn’t be the appropriate descriptive term. For anybody.
When we say we have “boring-ass” lives, we really are just being self-indulgent wusses, because close inspection would show that we are living lives that most dead people would certainly envy.
I’ve definitely been involved in my fair share of shit over the years. I’d narrowly escaped death on a number of occasions in my younger years through numerous motorcycle crashes, gas tank fires, being hit by cars, falling from large heights, etc.. etc.. it was like being a stuntman for my own life!
I always liked to shrug these off and brag about them because in retrospect they were kind of cool adventures, all things being considered. They sort of gave me a cocky view of life and my ability to survive anything.
Until one day when I didn’t.
It was a dark and stormy night…no really, it was.
Ahem…It was five years ago on the night of the 4th of July. When I got in the car around 6pm that evening, the last thing on my mind was that I would be dead in less than three hours. The mother of my wife-to-be was driving and my adopted sister was in the passenger seat. They were wearing seatbelts. I wasn’t.
We laughed and talked about various things as the sun fell fully from the sky. Rain began lightly and increased gradually. This being my third week in Mexico, I started out lost and it only got worse from there. By around 9 pm we were pretty close to “I have no f’ing clue where I am” when suddenly we crossed onto a main avenue that I recognized.
As we began to cross the avenue a car suddenly flashed in front of us so fast that all I could think was “whoah.” I had enough time to turn towards an intense bright light on my right and then everything went into nothingness.
We had crossed into an illegal street race. And while the first car missed us, the next one didn’t.
I’ve had a near death experience before when I crashed my motorcycle and I clearly remember floating away at a far distance from my body but this time there was nothing like that. There was just nothing at all.
It could’ve been ten years or ten minutes. Time doesn’t mean anything when you are dead.
Then suddenly I was frantically gasping for air looking at the face of my sister who had resuscitated me. She was white and shaking and frantically calling my name. Everything hurt. There was blood everywhere. The car was upside down and destroyed.
Someone said “he’s breathing again” and then I was being dragged out of the car trying to figure out why I was on the ceiling of the car. The smell of gas was everywhere. The rain was falling and every part of me was screaming in pain. People were looking out windows of their apartments and others were running towards the accident. Someone was telling me we had to get away from the car because it might explode. Was this a movie?
I partially stood up with two people’s assistance and stumbled over to a nearby planter and lay down on the cold, wet and oh so very hard concrete surface. But at least I was lying down.
I just wanted to close my eyes and sleep and people were frantically trying to keep me awake. The rain was falling in my face. Phone calls were being made and sirens started approaching from the difference.
I passed out and came to with a Mexican policeman yelling at me. I didn’t understand everything he said but apparently he wanted to take me to jail. A friend of mine had arrived and was shoving him back and telling him what an asshole he was and that we had been hit by another car. Because the other car had fled the scene of the accident the police had no one else to bribe for money, so they hoped by threatening me that my friends would pay to keep me out of jail. Somewhere in the ruckus my wallet disappeared.
Neighbors started showing up and telling the police what assholes they were and to go find the other car. They slowly started to get the point. A kind old woman and her husband brought me some blankets as I was shivering uncontrollably in the wetness of the evening rain.
My back was in agony. All I could do to stop myself from screaming was to start laughing. Which of course opened the gashes on my chin and forehead. The taste of blood was…salty?
The father of my adopted sister arrived and I heard her crying as she told him that I hadn’t been breathing, my eyes being wide open unblinking, body unmoving, dead.
How many minutes was I gone I wondered?
I began approaching hysteria and started making jokes as the ambulance crew pulled up. They asked for a bribe to take me to the hospital. Was this really happening? It was all so surreal.
Another ambulance crew came. Decent people. They loaded me as carefully as they could. They asked if I was allergic to morphine, I said I didn’t know. They decided not to risk it.
On the way to the hospital every bump made me realize one thing:
Where there is pain, there is life.
It seemed like an hour. I heard the driver asking someone for directions. They had gotten lost.
Unloaded at the hospital. Frantic movements.
Lights flashing above me in the hallway.
I began singing “What if God was one of us.” The nurses laughing as they pushed me down the unending hall of lights into the X-ray room. They were positive I had a concussion.
Trauma surgeon trying to get a straight answer from me on what drugs I was allergic to. All of them I reply. (Would you rather feel pain or nothing? I chose the wrong answer that time, so I felt everything.)
Glass being pulled out of my face and placed in a steel pan. 14 stitches in my forehead and 8 stitches in my chin. Or something like that. To focus on something other than the pain I start asking the surgeon to go to dinner with me once the clean-ups were done.
I am shaking and nauseous at the end of it. I catch a glimpse of my face in a shiny piece of metal and almost vomit.
The trauma surgeon has dubbed me a masochist. She was right.
Finally the results from the X-rays. Concussion. Stress fractures in three vertebrae in the “L” region, but unbelievably not one broken bone which I already knew. Milk does a body good.
I get told I have to stay in the hospital for a few days to a week. I say I am leaving. The surgeon declares me insane. She’s right again.
I tell her if I can get up and walk out the door myself, I am leaving. If I can’t I will stay in the hospital. This is more of the same bullshit “I am tougher than thou” attitude I have been afflicted with most of my life.
I stand up with the rags that were once my clothes, I walk out the trauma section doors and go home in more agony then I have ever been in in my life. The agony continues for two weeks. So finally I decide the best cure for agony is to build furniture. The agony gradually fades as the pain of moving my body and exercise makes it realize that I will only push myself harder until I heal.
I was having memory blackouts and had a hard time remembering stuff from other times in my life. How long was I dead? I heard more than three minutes results in permanent brain damage. But heck, I’ve demonstrated brain damage my whole life.
Not much had changed about me except for one very important thing: I looked at everything around me differently. With a certain sense of awe, wonder and appreciation that had been missing for many years.
I realized that I had been given a second chance. I started looking at what was important in life and what wasn’t. Suddenly my feverish passion for career was seeming a bit shallow.
That was in 2005.
And now as I get close to my fifth annual celebration of my 4th of July “death-day” I am here at 1 am looking at my daughter sleeping in the swing in front of me and realizing just how fortunate I was. Fortunate for every single moment I have with her.
We often take time and life for granted. You may think it is hard to appreciate EVERY single second you have with your children, but I think I can state honestly that it would be a lot harder on you to later regret wasting that time and those moments on so many unimportant things in life.
Cherish the moments. For they are fleeting.
Don’t waste time, tempus fugit.
The way to survive death is to live every day of your life as though it were the last.
When you have a moment to play with or hold your child, do that. The blackberry or iphone will still be there when they are sleeping.
Aka The Clueless Father