I almost died Thursday night.
I pulled out of the narrow street in the hills overlooking Lake Buchanon at about 11:00. The road was under construction, with two lanes torn down to chunky base rock, though you certainly couldn't see it with the almost-new moon throwing more darkness than light.
I was frustrated at having lost at yet another poker session and ready to be home. But there was still a forty minute drive ahead of me and I wanted it over. I spun some gravel as I drove onto the road, punching my little Ranger as fast as it would go. I had it up to sixty within moments, listening to the sound of loose rocks pinging on the undercarriage.
As more seconds went by and my sight started adjusting to the darkness surrounding my headlights, the truck started to shake violently.
And I realized I was on the wrong half of the road, on the two lanes closed down for construction.
The truck skewed violently to the right and I released the gas pedal, trying to pull it back to the left without overcompensating. My mind snapped out of its anger instantly, replacing frustration with one crystal-clear thought:
I could die here.
I remember it so clearly, that thought. The road wound in and out of the Texas hill country limestone, crossing over ravines and surrounded by cedar trees. At that time of night I could have plunged over the side and it would have been hours, at least, before anyone would notice, and that only with a careful search.
The truck skewed back to the left and fishtailed, the rear end going one way and the front end the other. In the headlights I could see the small warning placards in front of one of the bridges, just before a major curve.
I need to stop this before I hit that bridge, or I'm dead.
Again the thought stood there alone in my mind, outlined in silver and almost throbbing in its insistence. Press the brakes, but not too violently, pull the steering wheel back in line with the direction of the rear end, don't panic whatever you do. You could die, you could die you could die ...
An image of Annie crying hysterically flashed through my mind, me dead along the jumbled rocks of the hill, or plunging into the waters of the lake and drowning, bleeding out into the creek.
My entire life did not flash before my eyes. I did not beg for mercy, or in my best Carrie Underwood voice plead for Jesus to take the wheel. I had room for only three things: My death, my wife, and how to stop my truck.
I finally shuddered to a halt short of the bridge, breath pounding in and out of my lungs. "Holy shit." I said it aloud. Again. "Holy shit."
I put the car in park and just sat there for a moment, until I felt composed enough to pull back onto the road. The finished road, this time.
As I drove I thought about what had almost happened to me, how many years I still want to live, how precious existence is, how much I love my wife and my life and how I do not want it to be over.
And yet, I thought, not once did I cry out for a higher power. Not once did it even occur to me that a deity might be watching over me, guiding my path, to whom I should beg for mercy.
Believers will tell me that regardless, God was watching out for me, and that is why I am here, today, right now, typing this and enjoying the feeling of being alive. For all I know, they're right.
What struck me, though, is that I don't even have the instinct for God. I like to think I'm rational and thoughtful and have arrived at my belief system after careful consideration and relentless logic. And I have, in a sense, but I think all of that is a superstructure over what was already there, or already not there, in this case.
Whatever belief is, however it's supposed to exist as a part of one's innermost being, I just don't have it. I never have. Exhortations to "just believe" are as wasted on me as "Just see!" is to the blind. I used to think, "I don't believe in God," but the truth is that this isn't a choice. I didn't just decide one day that I don't believe -- it's just not present in me. At all. I couldn't change it any more than I could make myself hear if I were deaf, no matter how great the effort.
I say this not as any sort of argument either for or against religion, or faith, or God, or much of anything beyond this:
In that moment, when I was sure I could really, truly die, the part of me that exists before rationality reached not for the divine, but for the brake pedal.
That's just the way I am built, and if there truly is a merciful God as so many would have me believe, then He is the one who made me this way.
I'm glad I am alive, glad I am here to write this, glad that I know, finally, that what I believe is not a bit of sophistry or an angry response or willful defiance, but simply the way I'm put together.
I don't have any god-belief present in me, and that's ok. I've got a good life, and more importantly, a good set of brakes. For now, that's enough, and I am content.
Saturday, October 06, 2007
I almost died Thursday night.