Originally drafted on Thursday, Dec. 14th
There have been particular times in my life when I can vividly remember facing my own mortality. Today was one of those times.
There was that icy bridge in December 1995 in Nashville. I was in town for business and after a late night at work, a co-worker was following me back to our hotel. The driving was treacherous as a light sleet had begun to coat the roads with a thin layer of black ice. You know those signs that say “Bridge freezes before road surface”? That’s true and we found out the hard way. As we were near the top of a high overpass, from my rearview mirror I saw Brian O.’s (last name withheld since I can’t spell it anymore) headlights shake side to side and ram into the barrier wall of the bridge. Not good.
Because of the slippery conditions, I couldn’t stop immediately. I called upon all my New Jersey driving skills and eased to a stop on the other side of the overpass, got out of the car and started to jog gently back up the bridge towards my friend. I immediately realized that this was a bad decision as a parade of cars slide past me, no control over their speed or direction coming downhill. It was dark, I was on foot and 2-ton vehicles were hurdling towards me. Not ideal.
Then I saw a new set of headlights cresting at the top of the hill. Uh oh. An 18-wheeler was attempting the bobsled run and he was coming my way. As he came into full view on that dark night on the bridge, I realized that I had only 2 choices. I could hold on tightly to the barrier wall while he slid into me, crushing me like a Flat Stanley, or I could jump the barrier wall and land somewhere on the road 40+ feet below. I will never forget the thought that went through my head as I pondered my Sophie’s choice – “So this is where it ends? A bridge in Nashville, TN?”
Spoiler alert, but as you may already know, the truck slid past me and I was not forced to make that choice. As Getty Lee once sang, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” I froze in place with both hands on the barrier wall, ready to hurdle if it came to that. The dread wasn’t dying; the real dread was “What if I jump and survive?” That would hurt.
Another brush with mortality was not quite as dramatic. Acknowledging that I needed glasses in my mid-40s was another moment brought me face to face with the prospect of my crumbling internal infrastructure. When the doctor told me what I had long suspected, that my arms would never grow long enough to hold the little labels far enough away so that the words would come into focus again, I knew the end was near. I would wear glasses forever from that day forward.
The third memory was a fateful New Year’s Eve morning 2 years ago when I had to decide whether or not to wake my spouse from a deep sleep to whisper, “No big deal, but could you drive me to the hospital right now?”, or risk the family finding me splayed out on the kitchen floor before their breakfast. I woke her up. Thankfully it was just a scary false alarm (HIPAA restrictions do not allow me to provide more details at this time unless I sign my own waiver, but I’m ok).
Today was another time I will remember. I attended the funeral of a friend this morning, beloved bride of one of my most crazy and most loyal friends. She was 52 years young. Her untimely passing brought with it an odd sense of inevitability for me. If it can happen to her, it can (and will) happen to me.
The celebrant asked what I imagine we were all thinking. Why? Why was she gone so soon? His answer was simple and comforting. He told us that the work she was born to do was finished. She had completed exactly what she was supposed to do during her time. That was comforting, especially since I feel like I am always working. If I’m never done all those emails in my in-box, I’ll make it a long way.
Unless it doesn’t really work like that. I might have misunderstood.
So I hope that I still have unfinished business and that I still have a ton of work to do. It certainly feels that way. I hope all of you reading this today aren’t finished yet either, not for a long, long, long time.