Yesterday, I had the closest thing to a near death experience I've ever had. I was driving to work in a snowstorm, and the roads were getting progressively worse. Living in Western New York, snow is a common occurrence, so a winter weather advisory doesn't stop anyone from driving. Cars on the side of the highway in ditches are normal. Now I understand that what looks normal to an outside observer means so much more from a personal perspective.
When I saw my coworker in a ditch, I was concerned and a little afraid, but I continued on to work. I spoke to him and asked if he needed my help, but he was okay and the only thing he could do was wait for a tow. As I drove on, realizing the cars on the road ahead of me were becoming more scarce, something told me I should turn around and go home. I didn't have a lot of gas, and decided to get off at the exit I take to get to work, wondering if should continue on to work since I was already almost there. There was no visibility once I got to the exit, and the roads were slick. I got some gas, called my boss and told him I couldn't make it any farther and that I was going home.
About ten minutes later, I felt my car slide over to the right, and tried turning the steering wheel left. My tires completely lost traction, and eventually I just let the inevitable happen. I went over the right shoulder of the highway and down a few feet from the highway. Have you ever had a nightmare that your car hit a tree or the woods? I have, and it felt like my nightmare was coming true. However, because I had slowed down so much, I put my foot on the brake right before it hit the small patch of woods ahead of me.
Hands shaking, I called for a tow, and was told I would have to wait sixty to ninety minutes. About three state troopers stopped to make sure I was okay and had the heat on, then left. A little over two hours later, the tow truck came and pulled me out and back onto the road. If you think going over the side of the highway was scary, try having to drive almost the whole way home in a worsening storm after you've already slid into a ditch once. I felt my car slide at least once, but this time there were cars and trucks near me, and I was afraid I would get into a serious collision. I got off the highway as soon as I knew I could get home using local roads, and got home a little while later. When I got home, I felt relieved, but I had been so afraid for the past three hours that I went to bed and curled up in the fetal position for about two more hours. I was cold and hungry, but I couldn't move because I was so scared.
In those hours waiting for that tow, praying that no other vehicles would slide in the same spot and hit my car (which one "kind" officer reminded me was a possibility, thanks), crying and texting family and friends to pray for me, I thought about why I was there in that spot. When I talked to my coworker shortly after he slid, he said he was going to go home once he was towed, and I said that I was going to try to go in and at least pick up my computer and some work to take back home with me. After spending the entire morning in my car, I thought about how incongruent my priorities are with my philosophy. I say that God, people and love are most important to me, yet I risked my life trying to get to my computer and the tasks that were waiting for me yesterday. Throughout the morning, there were indications that maybe I should not have tried to drive in, or at least I should have asked my coworker to carpool. As I was driving, the nagging thought that I just couldn't drive in that weather one more time this winter persisted, yet I chalked it off to being exhausted and negative. I didn't listen to my intuition yesterday. I didn't listen to myself or God's still, small voice. I chose work, deadlines, and tasks over people, including myself.
After that experience, I received a few texts and calls asking if I was okay. Then I received texts and calls about work. Then more texts about work. More texts and calls about work this morning. (I did get one call this morning checking on me, but not from anyone at work.) I understand that life goes on, but I question how I want my life to go on.
At least once in our lives, we have that "near-death" type of experience, the one that requires us to slow down and reevaluate our lives. After yesterday, I realize that what I love about my job has nothing to do with the events I attend, the financial aid forms I help students complete, the advisement I provide at registration time, or the "important" people who support the work that I do. What I love about my job are the souls I encounter; the young people excited about life and the future, who want to change the world, who motivate me to want to change the world.
I appreciate the experience I had yesterday, because the fear of losing my life and the prayers of "Lord, allow me to live for the purpose You created me for" are motivating me to figure out how I want to live the rest of my life. I believe that I am living my purpose when I see the light in the eyes of my students, but there are things clouding my view. There are things preventing me from letting my own light shine. The things will always be there; my endeavor from this day forward is to determine their priority in my life. Things didn't sustain me yesterday, God and people did.
One of the dictionary definitions of the word "live" (verb), is "to have a life rich in experience". I want my life from this day forward to be rich. I want each moment to be a meaningful, purposeful experience. I want to learn not to be drained by things, but to be revitalized by each moment of my life. Because we never know when our last moment will be, I'm choosing to live from now on.