The technician looked at me as though he had seen a ghost.
“You almost got yourself killed,” he said quietly.
I was almost back to my suburb Friday evening when I had a blowout on I-20 east of Birmingham. I was going faster than the law prefers when I heard a sudden noise that I find hard to describe. That noise immediately turned into a loud rumble. The car was hard to control. I can’t remember exactly what I did, but once I regained full control, I was on the exit to my neighborhood.
My regular car repair place was already closed, so I pulled into the Walmart auto center. An hour later, I was facing the technician who had pulled the tire off the car. He wanted to show me the hole in my tire — and he wanted to know how I had avoided losing control and killing myself.
After he showed me the gaping hole on the inward-facing side of the tire, I had the same question he did. Why didn’t I completely lose control and wreck? It would have been so easy to do that, especially at high speeds on a crowded rush-hour interstate highway.
I had the same question I always have after incidents which leave me realizing that I could have been killed. What was the difference between me and the hundreds of other people who died in very similar accidents today? I don’t know the answer to that.
The tire technician told me that I either hit something on the highway and didn’t realize it or else there was a flaw in the tire. I’ll never know. (A friend who took a look at it suspects a spontaneous issue with the tire, because he said there are no obvious markings that would indicate abnormal scuffs or residue.)
We go through life ignoring the fact that our lives are at the mercy of a thousand things that could go wrong at any moment. If we allowed ourselves to think about all those things each day, we would be afraid to ever leave our homes.
A tire can burst. Another drive could carelessly crash head-on into us. Electrical problems in wiring could start a fire. We could slip and fall into the path of equipment. We could fall down stairs. We could slip in a bathtub. The list of ways in which we could die is almost endless.
For me, it was a piece of rubber that failed tonight. I should have lost control. I should have crashed into another car. I should have had a good chance of dying, especially at 90 miles an hour.
But I’m alive and well. I’m sitting in the comfort of my comfortable air-conditioned home just a couple of hours after this incident. But I can’t stop thinking — yet again — about mortality. I can’t help but think that such brushes with mortality make me feel a stronger sense of urgency about the things which matter to me in life.
It would be a tragedy if I died tonight, not because the loss would hurt anybody, but because I would have wasted my life. That’s a very arbitrary evaluation, but it’s one I instinctively feel strongly. If I died tonight, I wouldn’t leave behind anyone who loves me. I wouldn’t leave behind anything which I’d done which would matter in the future. I wouldn’t leave behind much of anything that would be of value to anyone.
And that’s why I want to love someone who loves me back — someone who will feel changed by having been loved by me.
That’s why I want to have children who I raise in love and empathy, prepared for the role of helping to change the world bit by bit.
That’s why I want to make art that I can leave behind — something which will not only be loved but which will also preach the Good News as I understand it.
None of this is new. You’ve heard it before. I’ve felt it before. But the realization that I could just as easily be laying cold and dead in a morgue right now makes it very clear to me that I have to change my approach if I’m going to find a way to achieve what I want in life.
Whether I like it or not, death is always waiting. Tonight was just a little tease. My life isn’t over. Not yet.