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.