“They” say that self-awareness is what separates us from the other animals on the planet but I believe perspective is actually the greatest gift God gave to us. Of course some people could argue they’re one in the same.
But I bring it up because I got the healthiest dose of it I’ve ever gotten last weekend. The Atlanta real estate transaction happened on Friday morning so I had driven down on Thursday afternoon. The movers were there all day Thursday and my wife was going to wrap up with them on Friday morning and I was going to go to the closing. By the way, my wife is an absolute saint. In a matter of about three and a half weeks, she managed to pack up our house, keep the kids occupied, keep her mother and mother-in-law at bay while they pleaded to come help (would not actually have been helpful), and lie to me daily that “everything was fine”. She did all of this with grace that I can hardly imagine.
The movers wrapped up later than expected on Friday afternoon and we watched the truck full of nearly all of our worldly possessions lumber up the street. It’s a strange feeling if you’ve never experienced it. Not terribly emotional but it’s different. I think this is how people viewed Columbus when they were sure the world was flat and he was certain it was not. He told them they would see him again but they really weren’t sure about that.
Saturday morning was my first small dose of things to come. I got up early, went back over to the house by myself to start the cleaning project. I put my phone on my small speaker dock to have some music while I worked and chose the wrong playlist. It didn’t seem wrong at the time but as song after song spilled out and echoed through the empty house the words took on different meanings than I’d ever experienced. Once again, as I’ve said in my writing, angels at work in the universe. I go into my daughter’s empty room as Melissa Etheridge’s “I Take You With Me” comes on and that’s when I loose it for the first time. This is the room I’ve watched her grow up in. She’s blossomed from a shy child not yet in kindergarten to a beautiful young woman ready to take on the world. The emotion simply built from there and I’ll spare you the details.
So the big dose of perspective comes Saturday night. Her car is loaded for the transport and mine is full of all the stuff they won’t pack on the moving truck so there’s no room for all of us to go to dinner together. My best friend in the ‘hood is going with us and my mother so we get him to meet us at her house where we’re staying. Guys go in his car, ladies in my mom’s car. And as we head out we notice that a storm has fairly quickly blown up. We initially start talking about hoping we get to the restaurant before the rain starts. The route to the restaurant takes us through this stretch of Georgia pine trees that I’ve noticed the entire time I’ve lived in Atlanta. I’ve thought to myself many times that I don’t want to be stuck on this road in a storm. And as we approach, we comment on the leaves and pine needles that are being stripped from the trees and blown around. I’ve learned that’s a sign that the weather gods are angry. And it happened. As we start across the bridge, a pine tree we subsequently learned was over 100 feet tall and 6 feet in diameter at the base topples towards us. My friend slams on his brakes and then through the branches the van appears. The driver of the van has swerved to miss the tree and finds us offset head on instead. The car bounces around on the bridge, two right wheels up on the curb and the front of the car fully entombed in the top of the tree that has fallen. I can still play out the entire sequence of events. My brain has not gone into protection mode to block it out. I realize I’m OK, not bleeding anywhere, everything moves and I turn to make sure my son is OK. It seemed like an eternity for our eyes to meet. I ask him if he’s OK and he immediately starts crying and telling me that he’s not. I jump out of the car, and fling open the back door and he can turn to hug me. And that’s when I see the burn on his neck. When the seat belt tightened, it grabbed the skin of his neck and it looks like a carpet burn. But he sensed the fear in my eyes and became certain that something bad was wrong with him and bawled like I’ve never seen him bawl his entire life. My friend gets out of the car and the pain of being thrown around sets in on all three of us. Emergency services have been called, the driver of the other car gets out and he’s walking around bloody and limping and we all just sort of look at each other and realize just how much worse it might have been.
The ambulance arrives and they load us up, do some quick checks and advise taking us to the ER for the neuro-docs to have a look. My son is still much more concerned about the pain from the burn on his neck but the back of the ambulance is fascinating and the EMT was amazing to watch. We get to the hospital and the neurologist examines each of us and goes through the process of ruling out needing X-Rays or any sort of scan.
A couple of hours later and we’re free to go. Farewell dinner with my best friend didn’t happen as he had to go back and deal with the car after DOT removed the tree. But that’s fine…it was only dinner and everyone is OK. His car is totaled but everyone is OK.
It was, without question, the most frightening experience of my life. I feared for my son’s safety, my friend’s safety, and my own. I read later that evening about another woman who was killed in her car when a large tree fell directly on it in the same storm and realized what could have happened.
So yes, my eyes have new lenses. It’s the power of perspective. The realization that life is, indeed, short. Things that I thought mattered quite a bit don’t seem to matter at all. The fact that several of my new friends who said they would stick by me after my tribe reassembled have faded back into the woodwork seems trivial. One continues to try and play games with me but I’m hardened to his games now. I’ve worried for several weeks about hurting his feelings by telling him to f*^& off. After my experience of last weekend, that was pretty easy earlier this week. I have obligations to exactly 4 people on the planet right now…myself, my wife, and two kids. I’ve said it before “I’m through with playing by the rules of someone else’s game.”
While I don’t recommend a head-on collision while watching a pine tree falling towards you to gain a new perspective, it will certainly give it to you if it happens. Be safe all.