Sunday 2 April 2023

Yesterday's Near-Death Experience

Yesterday, I had a near-death experience. Actually, I need to back up a bit. I am English and we don't do extremes. For example, most days, the weather is mild. A bit of rain but not monsoon-level flooding. Wind but not hurricanes. Warm but hardly so scorching that one can fry an egg on the ground. Also, I am aware that if I'd titled this, yesterday I drove through a puddle, would you be reading it?

So back to the event that took place yesterday. All day it had been teeming down with rain. This was an occasion where England was experiencing severe, yet still far from extreme weather. In the evening I was heading to a friend's house for dinner. Visibility was poor, as it continued to pour. As I joined the motorway, the surface water spray forced me to put my wipers on at their fastest speed. When I was explaining to my son, who is learning to drive, the settings, I think I called this one the batshit crazy one, or words to that effect. You know the one where the blades move so fast they are just a blur.

I left the motorway and joined a 70 mph dual carriageway A road. I am in the middle lane and the car to my left is just ahead of me and hits a massive puddle. The effect is a torrent of water that shoots up everywhere. The windscreen is drenched as it colides with the wall of water. Time seems to stop and I still have a clear picture of the solid layer of water coving the glass. It was a stationary blob completely obscuring my view for what felt like around 2-3 seconds. All the while, I am moving forward at near 70 miles per hour. As the moment passes and regain a normal sense time and visibility returns, the only thought I had was woohoo! What an amazing thrill. I had no idea where I was going or if there was anything in front of me. Had I even managed to stayed in my lane. It was a buzz of excitement with no fear of the danger. Even now the only thing that scares me is that I was not frightened about how badly that could have ended. This morning as I looked back on it, I realised that this was a near-death, potentially life changing moment.

rain droplets on car windshield

Putting aside the theatrical effects mentioned above, I feel justified in saying that this event is every bit as power as of other people's, far more dramatic, near-death experiences. Every day we engage in risky activities with potentially life changing consequences. We cross the road, rely on the 5 second food rule and open up to others emotionally. We have learnt to accept these risks as part of daily life. In doing so desensitising ourselves to messages in the form of near, and far, misses with death. As a result, it takes more shocking events to wake us up.

For reasons that I will not go into here, I have been merely coasting along at life for several years. Objectively, yesterday's experience was a long way from being an introduction to my Maker. I am still taking it as a much needed wake up call. So now I have received my message from the large puddle, what do I take from it?

I think for me, the key is to expand my emotional range. Break away from my bland Englishness. Learn to laugh, be more comfortable crying. Embrace sadness and revel in joy. For too much of my life, I have shunned emotions as dangerous. As a child, anger got me into trouble, at school literally. I learnt to cocoon myself in a zone of comfort. My bubblewrap surround protected me from knocks in life. Whilst also blocking my connection to happiness. A life of mediocre is certainly safer. But its is boring as hell. The thrill of not being in control is out there for the taking. The road there does not necessarily have to be paved in puddles. But the richness of the world is certainly to be enjoyed. 

So called negative emotions are as much a part of living as the positive ones. Pain is less pleasant to experience than joy but a life without peaks and troughs lacks the necessary contrast. As David Archuleta said, "Without the darkness, we can't really appreciate the light."

Don't wait for the massive sign, till it is nearly too late. See the subtle messages in everyday life and embrace life's downs as much as its ups.

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