I should be dead. If what happened on July 5th of 2010 had happened on July 5th of 1990, I probably would have not have survived.
On July 5, 2010, I was involved in a really, really bad car accident. If you don't want to hear about it, you probably shouldn't continue reading.
It was the Monday of the 4th of July holiday weekend, and many, many Californians were heading back home, jamming up interstate 15 for tens if not hundreds of miles. We were also going to California, but for a different reason. My wife, Dorothy, had recently celebrated her birthday, and as had been the case for the past two years, I was going to take her to enjoy a spa vacation at Two Bunch Palms in Desert Hot Springs. Unlike years past, this time, we were driving from Nevada, and this time, as far as traffic was concerned, we were absolutely screwed.
With this in mind, I found a route that would lead us due south, away from I-15, and straight through the Mojave National Preserve. It would take us through the middle of the desert. It would be virtually empty. It would save us from driving 30 extra miles. It would be quick. It might even be pretty.
We slogged through the most godawful traffic we had ever dealt with, spending roughly an hour and a half to travel the 40 or so miles that would normally take us just over 30 or 35 minutes. The freeway was choked. Some dumbass had gotten into an accident. We reached our exit, and with a jubilant cry of "So long, suckers!" we veered off the freeway and onto the desert roads. From here on in, it was gravy.
We made it a little further than halfway through the Preserve. As we cruised along at roughly ten miles per hour or so over the speed limit, we suddenly came across a sharp curve with a yellow warning sign admonishing us to slow way down, immediately. I saw the sign, but it was too late. I began to take the curve, but the car insisted on heading off the road. I didn't think. I just reacted. I tried to force my way around the curve, my foot slamming on the brakes, and then I was out of control. The car fishtailed and spun, drifting over into the lane of oncoming traffic, and right at that very moment, another car came around the curve from the other direction.
Dorothy had shut her eyes. I saw the whole thing. There was a loud bang as I smashed head on into the other car, and the windshield on my little Ford Focus shattered (but thankfully held itself in place). The music I was listening to abruptly cut out. We came to rest, and all was quiet. I looked in horror at my wife, and shouted, "Are you ok?!?" She nodded. The airbag had caused some pretty bad burns on my arms, (I am looking at the mark right now,) but that was the worst of it.
The car was absolutely demolished...but all things considered, we were ok. The other driver was also ok. Not only did we survive an accident that the CHP officer told me would have been fatal 20 years earlier...we basically walked away from it. Scores of people stopped to check on us. One family stood up the road and directed traffic so that they wouldn't come around the curve and hit the disabled car. People offered us water and towels. The outpouring of concern was unbelievable; it really challenged any lack of faith in the inherent goodness of humanity.
But it was also my fault. I caused that accident. And...we could have died. He could have died. We also could have been really badly injured. But none of that happened. We were given another chance. I was given another chance. As I processed what had happened, over the next few days, I reflected on my life up until that point, and suddenly...I was motivated. I was motivated to do something great with my time on this Earth. Because, frankly, the book on my life could have been closed that day. That would have been it. But it wasn't.
On Yom Kippur, we ask that God inscribe us in the book of life for another year. We understand that on that day, God decides who will live and die during the following year, whether people will be comfortable or instead will suffer, and for those who will leave this Earth, how it is going to happen.
When I think of the fact that we survived this accident, and that things could have just as easily gone the other way, I am deeply humbled. God decided that it was not time for us to die. That there was work left to do.
For this new year, and for all new years, we can be frozen with fear at the prospect that our lives can be blinked out in an instant; alternatively, from that awareness, we can draw strength. We can be inspired to do great things. We can live each day as if it may be our last, and do whatever we can to minimize our regrets. We can use our time here to do tremendous good for ourselves, our friends and families, our fellow men and women, and our planet itself.
Let us pray that we can open our eyes to this possibility, that we may find the courage to make difficult choices, and create our own Heaven on Earth.