Welcome to The Ride
“The Ride” is a break-up letter to my fear of death. Admittedly, it’s not a clean break. In these uncertain days, I’m sure many of us (and I’m no different) carry some anxiety around the topic on a daily basis.
I remember vividly the first real death of someone close to me. I was 11 years old. It was an uncle of mine. He was a young father and it was tragic and unexpected. I was playing MarioKart64 at my Grandma’s house when I found out. That day, my other uncle noticed me trying to conceal my emotion, and told me “Hey… you know. It’s okay to cry. Nobody expects you to be tough in a moment like this.” And so I did. I cried. That’s the memory I most commonly hold from that day. I took it to heart, too. I still do, to this day, cry in virtually every movie or book or Shark Tank episode I consume, if loss or tragedy is part of the story. Death is sad.
Even still, I went about life relatively unbothered by the thought of death for several years.
Then, about 7 years ago, I got in a horrible car accident on the way to a wedding. I was clipped (my fault) on the highway and flipped my SUV three-and-a-half times into a ditch. As every window shattered and I was suspended upside-down by my seatbelt, being violently jerked every which way, I thought this was surely the end of my life. As I screamed like someone who is about to pass in their early-twenties, the thought “at least I’ll die in my nice suit” did cross my mind. When eventually, the highly-rated-in-safety vehicle rolled one last time onto it’s side. I sat there in the stillest silence I can remember. I investigated my body, touched my face. No pain, no blood. I was in shock, but I had survived. As I cried on the side of the road for the next couple of hours in my affordably priced charcoal suit, somehow still freshly steamed, I told the police I felt fine. I really did.
Since I was a couple hours from home, and it seemed like too much of an ordeal to find a ride home, I hitched a ride to the wedding. I missed the ceremony. At the reception, a guest who was a doctor that had driven by the scene told me, “Son, people don’t walk away from accidents like that and dance at a wedding the same evening. It’s a miracle that you are okay.”
I didn’t realize it at that moment – the same way none of us ever realize in the moments where we are forever changed; but the event did just that. Over the next year, I recorded new songs, ended an unhealthy relationship, quit my comfy long-time job, and moved from Florida to Nashville with no prospects and a small savings, and started Volunteer. Now I knew, and I had the totaled SUV to prove it, that life is fragile, and all of it could end at any second – so why was I putting any of these things off?
Over the next couple of years and several dozen hours of therapy, I’d learn to stop people-pleasing and instead, listen to my heart. I’d stop delaying my joy until I got what I wanted in life, and start practicing gratitude now. I’d stop thinking the world was against me, and start thinking that maybe things are actually working out for my good, and that maybe I can rest in that instead of living out of my worries and anxieties all the time. I’d release any semblance of control I thought I had, and start trusting that I can step out onto limbs, because the falling doesn’t hurt as bad as a life stuck on the wrong side of the river.
It is common of people with near-death experiences to have these kinds of revelations. As my favorite theologian, Richard Rohr says, “It seems we only know what life is when we know what death is.” Death taught me that life isn’t something to be always chasing, but something to be in the flow of.
It feels so hard to stay in that flow these days when our world is fighting such a hard battle, but I believe so many of us are in our homes for a reason right now. We’re being invited to slow down, stop achieving, and find a new flow. We’re invited to join into the dance of life that was happening well before we arrived. Whether it means that now is the time to finally try something new, or the time to quiet down and listen to what your heart may be trying to tell you for the first time, it’s a ride we’re all on together. And I’m grateful for every day on it.