The Day Death Chose Not to Stop

I remember hearing the sound of a violent crash. The next thing I knew, I awoke, only to see a spidered windshield and deformed car door pressing against me. Concussion-induced amnesia stole from me (perhaps protected me from) other memories adjacent to the collision.

I do recall emergency personnel being on site, but don’t recall being extricated from the car or loaded into the ambulance. Vera, I remember calling your grandmother from the ambulance because I was concerned she’d go to the airport to meet me as planned. But I don’t recall sending an email and photo to her and your dad and uncle, although later I was presented with proof that I had. It was an odd thing to have done.

I recall arriving at the trauma center, the hall lined on both sides with medical personnel anticipating my arrival. Once on the table, I recall someone struggling to remove my wedding ring, to no avail. I recall suggesting lubricant. It worked.

I recall someone cutting off all my clothes. And I remember a doctor examining my spine for injury. I especially recall the intense pain as I was rolled on my side as they checked for internal hemorrhaging.

I’m sure there had to be more, but that’s all I remember, until being moved for CT scans. A short time later, I recall the excruciating pain as technicians endeavored to move me into position for x-rays.

Twelve hours later, after IV drips, pain meds, more tests, sutures, a failed attempt to set a bone, and a splint being plastered on me, I was discharged, barely able to walk but one lucky guy.

Reflecting on this day later, the thing that stood out for me, through it all — the trauma, pain and vast unknowns — is that I hadn’t experienced a single moment of fear.

It wasn’t a matter of courage. It was more like an act of grace. And peace.

Beginning with the moment I regained consciousness to the present, I have been experiencing an overwhelming sense of gratitude, and the feeling that death had passed by on that road, but for reasons I’ll never know, decided not to stop.

The paramedic remarked that I probably would not have survived if I hadn’t been wearing my seatbelt. When looking at the crushed metal from my captive, scrunched position inside the car, and later when viewing a photo of the exterior of the car, I knew that it took more than the seatbelt to save me that morning and, at the very least, the injuries could have been much, much worse.

I’m healing now, as are the occupants of the other vehicle, who remain in my constant thoughts and prayers.

Yesterday afternoon, we picked you up from your school, Vera. I couldn’t lift you up to put you in the car seat, and I think you’re wondering why I have so many boos-boos and a strange thing on my arm. But it doesn’t seem to matter to you. And it doesn’t matter to me, either.

Today, I will be wheeled into an operating room for back-to-back surgeries. Bone stuff — nothing life threatening. And then I will get to know my oral surgeon and dentist even better. There are worse ways to spend time.

Along this short, intense journey, I’ve encountered people of compassion, ranging from health care professionals, taxi and shuttle drivers, airlines personnel, strangers who offered assistance at the airport, friends from Colorado extending their arms 1,000 miles, family and others.

I also encountered some people who weren’t helpful or, worse yet, were actively unhelpful. But I’m just going to pretend I didn’t.

Some people say they’re sorry. I don’t say it (because I appreciate their concern), but what I’m thinking is, “For what?” 

There have been times in my life that I’ve felt sorry for myself. But this hasn’t been one of them.

I used to close letters and emails (and sometimes still do) to certain people with the words, “Peace and grace to you.”

This past week, the words returned home to me.

 

Gallery

The Trivial

One thing I’ve learned from living six decades, Vera, is that humans spend a lot of time on trivial matters. It’s not that we think they’re trivial when we’re spending time on them or, worse yet, worrying about them. But they are. So much of what we do and think really doesn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things.

Oftentimes, it doesn’t matter. So what if it’s not truly significant? If it’s what we want to do or think, then so be it.

Oftentimes, however, it does matter. I see it play out in two arenas all the time: 1) work and 2) relationships.

In the work environment, spending time on the trivial means you’re not spending time or putting effort on that which truly matters. In the corporate and nonprofits worlds, this manifests itself as busy work and subpar performance and results.

It’s so easy for us to think we’re accomplishing something important (and that we’re really important people for doing so) because we’re busy. But activity often merely disguises waste and inefficiency. Or is a symptom of self-aggrandizement. The failure to prioritize well and, therefore, to accomplish much is, from what I’ve observed, an epidemic in quite a few organizations.

As for relationships, the tendency is to make too big a deal out of things and, in so doing, failing to foster caring relationships. Also, when we lose sight of triviality, we tend to infringe on people’s space and fail to respect boundaries, which inevitably leads to hard feelings, conflict or worse.

I think this is one of the reasons it’s so enjoyable being a grandparent, Vera. With age, I’ve come to realize many of the things I thought were important when I was younger really aren’t all that important and, in some cases, our focus on them did more harm than good.

Indeed, my basket of trivialities has grown exponentially with age while my basket of things that truly matter has shrunk dramatically.

I wonder what it would be like to relive life with this time-tested perspective.

I think it would be nice.

Expecting Life To Be Fair Leads to Persistent Unhappiness

Shane Parrish recently wrote, “Expecting life to be fair leads to persistent unhappiness.” I think he’s right. The unfairness of life is difficult for some of us to deal with.

I don’t know why I think life should be fair. My theory is it’s because of my upbringing in Christian churches. Hearing about the Gospel of Jesus. Always thinking about how people should live, how the world should be. Could be.

Churches do their kids a disservice by talking so much about the shoulds. They should talk more about the way things really are and how one is to navigate a cruel and dangerous world.

Better yet, they should talk less and put more effort into showing by doing. Seeing someone live a happy, loving live while embracing noble and honorable values goes further than listening, especially when deductions of hypocrisy are inevitable when observing the gaps between words and actions.

There is a lot of unfairness and cruelty in the world. You even encounter it a lot among churchgoers. Perhaps it’s an essential element of being human.

Martyrdom is one answer of course. And the church talks a lot about its martyrs. But most people aren’t martyrs. Most of us don’t have what it takes. Church should talk more about the ways the rest of us are to navigate an angry and selfish world without allowing it to get us down.

Some religious folk deal with this by hanging out primarily with their own. Take the Amish. Or Bruderhof. Or Mormons.

That works for some, but others either don’t have that option or haven’t realized the risks associated with living in the midst of rampantly individualistic capitalists who have no pretense of fairness or common good.

The problem isn’t them. The problem is us, that is, if we think they should behave as we’d like them to behave: fairly and with respect and concern for the community and others.

If I had life to live over, I’d try to have no expectation or illusion of fairness. I’d try harder to accept the world for the way it is and not the way I (or anyone else) think it should be or how we want it to be.

That doesn’t mean I’d forfeit fairness as a value. Rather, it means I’d forfeit expectations of fairness.

Why? It’s simple and selfish: greater happiness.

I think Shane is right.

What To Do When Confronted by Bad Behavior

Everyone is confronted (aka victimized) by bad behavior from time to time. Sometimes it comes at the hands of a boss. Or spouse. Or friend. Or customer service rep. Or fellow driver. Or any number of other people whose paths cross ours.

It was tempting to write bad “people” versus bad “behavior.” But that would be an overreach. I used to think there were bad people. And perhaps there are. But I now try to distinguish people from their behavior, recognizing that all (or at least the vast majority of us) do some bad things at times. Moreover, I’m weary of the demonization of people, which seems to be a national pastime among certain groups. So I’ll focus on behavior.

All of us are imperfect of course. All of us wear gray hats. When we think our hat is pure white, or others’ hats are pure black, we delude ourselves, not in a benign way, but in a toxic way. Unfortunately, it’s a story that sells, particularly in times such as this. But it’s based in something other than reality.

In any case, no matter where people land on the morality and ethics continuum, people are capable of behaviors that can fairly be described as bad — at least from our perspective. Basically, it means it’s hurtful to us. Or disadvantages us or others in a way that seems unfair to us. You’ll know it when you see it, Vera. And when you feel it. And I guarantee you, you will see and feel it in your life. Perhaps many times.

I’m writing about this because I haven’t been very good at dealing with bad behavior, at least not in my personal life. I’m better at it in my professional life, that is, when representing people or organizations as their lawyer. I suppose it’s easier in that context because it’s not personal with me and, therefore, I’m not emotionally invested. In one’s personal life, it’s hard not to react emotionally.

So what have I learned over the years about reacting to bad behavior? Continue reading

Tell Your Story

Tom Shadyac is a pretty unusual guy. I AM, the documentary about Tom, is worth watching. Suffice it to say Tom’s not into stuff anymore. Tom came to realize our culture had become lost in what Thomas Merton called “the murderous din of our materialism.” But the real reason I mention Tom today is this passage in his book Life’s Operating Manual:

You cannot die without ever having told you story; you cannot die without ever having expressed who you truly are.

Continue reading

The Greatest Threat to a Happy Life

I have about 200 ideas swirling around in my head. What topic should I address in this first substantive blog post? The lessons I’ve learned and unlearned over the past 61 years are many. And who knows how many I have yet to learn and unlearn? It makes sense to lead with the most important. Yet how does one prioritize? This morning it occurred to me to do it thusly (don’t see that word used often, do you?): Begin as though you had only one post to make.

So if I could leave only one message for our granddaughter, Vera, what would it be? Here is where I cheat just a bit. There are two: a 1 and 1A. I’ll address 1A in the next post. Today, I begin with what I consider to be the greatest threat to anyone’s happiness. Continue reading