Revisiting Gratitude

Category: Weekly Columns

Nearly seven years ago, I fell asleep at the wheel of my truck. The resulting accident – with the cruise control set at 72 mph – should have killed me, or worse. I walked away with nary a meaningful scratch as did my dog, who was thrown from the vehicle when we veered off the highway. As I drive that same route regularly, a recent visit to the crash site made me reflect on how lucky I was then and how lucky I am now.

Perspective is something that allows us to appreciate our lives, our families, and our country. The accident occurred in June 2005. I was grateful then and have been living a life of gratitude almost ever since. Let’s take a look at that story with some excerpts from what I wrote shortly afterwards (italicized):

Driving alone on 395, I fell asleep at the wheel. Startled awake as the car drove screamingly over the shoulder, I grabbed the wheel and holding on for dear life, tried desperately to control the swerving bucking SUV. The car crashed through a barbed wire barrier and headed down into a river wash. Over boulders the size of large beach balls, the car literally flew nose-first into the wash. The momentum carried the car into a front side flip, spiraling over once or twice, landing right side up, and facing the opposite direction.

Riding the Bucking Bronco of an Out-of-Control Car!

The car was steaming, all air bags released, the smell of burning rubber in the air when I took what felt like my first breath. First thought: I’m alive and apparently not bleeding, though I felt a growing swelling around my right eye. Second thought: is my dog okay. Third thought: somebody up there likes me. The driver’s door was stuck but I was able to pry it open. I called out my dog’s name, but he seemed nowhere to be found. I began circling the wreck, continually calling his name. Each larger circle revealed more car wreckage and parts strewn in the stream, as well as CDs flung far away and other stuff thrown from the car. After a couple of minutes, though it felt like an eternity, my dog came bounding over the edge of the river wash.

He seemed miraculously okay. Now what. I reached to my side to find my cell-phone. Not there. Looked on my wrist for my watch. Not there. Heading back to the car, I searched and found my cell-phone on the floor of the passenger compartment. It was on and it had reception, though this area was notorious for intermittent cell signals. Called 911.

Crushed Car

Back to the car, and a bit calmer now, I looked it over. The front right wheel was flat on the ground, like a hovercraft. Not a single panel of the vehicle was undamaged. All the air bags were opened, but now deflated. Car parts were everywhere as was broken glass, yet no cuts on me. Amazing.

Note the barbed wires fence in the foreground and the post that was slammed down by the force of my car!

When the CHP officer arrived, he quickly assessed the situation. He said it was a miracle anyone survived, let alone with nothing more than an apparent black eye. He also said that usually anyone (or any animal) thrown from a vehicle ends up dead, another miracle that my dog was fine. He also noted that this stretch of highway was divided and that the majority of the highway is two-lanes in both directions. So? He explained that if I’d veered off to the left, just as I had on this divided portion of the highway, but done so on the two-lane portion of the highway, I would’ve potentially gone head on into another car going the other direction. 70 mph times two; hmmm, you do the math, you figure the consequences.

And, finally, he commented that given where the car had landed, basically under an overpass, it was unlikely anyone would’ve noticed the wreck. Had I been unable to extricate myself from the smoldering car, it was anyone’s guess how long I would have been trapped.

Why Was I Still Alive?

Oh, the CHP officer found my watch in the car, still strapped but working fine. Another curiosity. What purpose was there for me to continue living? Why was I sparred when so many die in much calmer accidents? Would I actually make good on this blessing of another chance. Would I ever again get upset over the little stuff, such as traffic, a hang-nail, waiting in line, being put on hold, a meal not coming out just right, a crowded or late flight, a cold, a trip to the dentist, etc. Life is a miracle and I had just lived one.

Do you live a life of gratitude? Do you sweat the small stuff? Do you live waiting for something to happen that you think will make you happy? What about your children? Do they pout over little things? Do you let them? Do you teach them the miracles that most of our children are living? My suggestion is to answer all these questions for your self and for your children. Live a life of gratitude. Expect the same from your children. I promise you will all be happier.

NOTE: Gratitude is my original story about this accident and includes a photo of me at the crash scene, shortly after the crash.

  • jetts31

    Amazing Bruce. First of all, so glad you were ok and secondly, what a powerful message.  I stopped sweating the small stuff a long time ago and I teach my kids, anytime they want to pout, to be thankful for what we have. No matter what we have but I still might read this to them so it sinks in a little deeper.  Glad you’re still with us my friend.

    • Bruce Sallan

      Thanks so much Jimmy…I’d be very curious to hear their reaction?

      You might want to show them the original post with a photo of me, next to the crashed car!

  • Barry Birkett

    Thanks for sharing the story, Bruce. Made me sit back and reflect as I start a new week.  

    Guess we should all be grateful that you made it out of that!

    • Bruce Sallan

      Reflection on the good in our lives…GRATITUDE…is THE key to happiness. Thx much, BB!

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  • Janet Callaway

    WOW! Bruce, what an amazing story. No wonder you have such a tremendous appreciation for life. Did you live in gratitude prior to the accident or did that experience cause you to do so?

    Whatever the reason you escaped unharmed, I am glad you did because knowing you enriches my life.  Wishing you all the best, my friend. Aloha. Janet

    • Bruce Sallan

      It is amazing, isn’t it Janet. No, I did NOT live in gratitude much prior to the accident! Sort of sad it took something that extreme to get me there!

  • Betsy Cross

    I am in awe of the “second chances” thing that some of us get. I had one twice and neither has significantly changed me. I don’t know if that means I didn’t need a wake-up call or if I’m a dufus! LOL! I pay attention to what a person says immediately after the “event”. If they’re full of gratitude then that was probably already there inside them. But the opposite can be true. They can see people and things to blame and accuse for things gone wrong. IDK…just interesting to me. Sometimes I reflect on why I was allowed to live. Maybe it was to leave intriguing blog comments all over the blogosphere. HAHA!

    • Bruce Sallan

      I’m grateful for you Betsy…we all have things to offer the world. Maybe we all need to try to figure out where we can do the best job of it?

  • Ellenbremen

    Wow, Bruce. I’m so glad you shared this story. It is so powerful and I’m very happy to be connected to you. So, the question I have is, have you ever again gotten upset over the little stuff? (I have said this, too, and, wow, how easy it is to slip back! I hope you’ve been able to take one for the team!). Anecdotally… something else to add: Did you know that the author of “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” died of a heart attack in his mid to late 40s? I thought that was sad :-(. Inspiring story. Thank you for sharing it. Ellen

    • Bruce Sallan

      Of course I sweat the small stuff but I do it MUCH less often and I get over it MUCH quicker! Wow, I hadn’t heard that about that author…

  • Dude of the House

    Having been in a couple serious accidents, I know how scary it can be.  You got very lucky. Someone must have been watching over you. Thanks for sharing. 

    • Bruce Sallan

      I’m sure of it, Jay!

  • AmyMccTobin

    Wow. Wow. Wow.  You are one lucky man who was saved for a reason.  Compelling story… I wanted to read the WHOLE book.

    • Bruce Sallan

      Yeah, it’s quite a story Amy. Not sure about the book but you can read the original story:

  • Kathryn Rose

    Bruce, what a touching story and am amazing miracle for you and your dog.  I think everyone should reflect as you did and add more gratitude to their lives.  Thank you for sharing!!

    • Bruce Sallan

      Thank you Kathryn…yes, we all can use reminders about being grateful!

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  • RKL

    OK, no, backtrack a little for me. Why did you fall asleep at the wheel going 70mph? The hell with your safety, you could have killed anyone else on that road.

    • Bruce Sallan

      Yes, you are right. But, I didn’t fall asleep on purpose. It was an accident. I coffee’d up, I stopped when I thought I was tired, it just happened. 

  • Kyle Bradford

    Bruce, I have no idea what your religious beliefs are. But I’d have to say that someone was looking out for you. 

    • Bruce Sallan

      Kyle, without a doubt AND it’s about the 4th or 5th time (only time in a car)…

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  • Bernice w. Smith

    This is an amazing story!   I too had a serious accident maybe 30 years ago.  My car turned over twice and landed upside down, but I was really not seriously hurt and a lsrge box of dishes I was bring home for Christmas did not break.  I have always been somewhat grateful, but i do feel that there was some reason that I was not killed and I try to express my gratitude every day.
                                        Bernice Smith

    • Bruce Sallan

      We are clearly of the same belief, Bernice!

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