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08/13/2001

Ahhh, Mortality

I don't know whether it is because I am getting older or if it is because I have children, but I am becoming more afraid of dying. I don't mean to imply that I am a cowering, nervous pile of inactivity because I see death at every turn. (Deaaaaath! That's the dog, Grandpa.) But I am more aware of the things that can cause death.

When you are a kid, you don't think you can die. To be more accurate, you don't even think about dying. It's not that you think you are immortal, its that the concept of death doesn't even enter into your mind. I did more stupid things when I was younger than I care to count. Dumb things include; jumping over things with my bike - no helmet back then, of course. Bottle rocket fights. BB gun fights. Later on, it was driving too fast, too carelessly. I've been incredibly lucky.

Two things have happened in recent years that have triggered my parental instincts. About a year ago, I was driving home from work. This was my work before my current employer. My commute was an hour each way. I was driving north up the Garden State Parkway traveling in the center lane. A car was passing me on the left in the fast lane. The car was an older American car. Very boxy looking, four doors with a faded silver paint job. A man was driving - possibly my age, maybe a couple of years younger. There was a woman in the passenger seat. The speed limit was 65 MPH. I was probably going about 70 and this car was passing me. The car had moved about 5 car lengths ahead of me. Suddenly the car veered about two feet to the left. 50 yards further back or forward and the car would have sped into the grass median. As it was, the front right corner of the rammed into a concrete bridge abutment and shot the front end up like a horse rearing up at a loud noise. Then the back end of the car smacked into the abutment and shot the car spinning across the three lanes of traffic - directly across my path. The car crashed into the abutment on the other side of the road and skidded to a stop on the right shoulder of the road.

I look back at that paragraph, marveling at how long it took to write it. Because it happened in the literal blink of an eye. I had no time to react. I didn't slow down, I didn't swerve. My first instinct was to swerve. My reflexes told me to turn the wheel hard to the right to avoid what was happening to my left. Luckily, I was too slow to do that because if I had, I would have struck the spinning car as it crossed my path. I was probably a quarter mile past the accident before I realized what had happened. I was still going 70 MPH. I was still going home. I never even took my foot of the gas. I have no idea what happened to those people. They could be dead, they may have walked away with a few bruises and a scary story - I don't know.

I was not personally involved in the second incident. I read about it in the paper and heard the reports on the news. A young man was at the beach in New Jersey. Island Beach State Park. I've been there many times. He was tossing a football around on the beach. It was a beautiful, warm day, the sun was shining. And he was struck by lightning and killed instantly. There was no warning at all. He was there one minute and not there the next.

So what have I learned from this? Nothing, really. I just know that when I am in a situation that is even the least bit risky, I think of my kids (and my wife, but mainly, my kids). I get this image of them growing up without me. Now sometimes, there is nothing I can do about it. If I am taking off or landing in a plane, I realize that there is nothing I can do if something goes wrong. When I was younger, I never even considered that something could happen to me on a plane. But when circumstances are under my control, I exercise at least a little caution. I am a little more careful when driving. I don't play golf in a lightning storm. I don't make toast while I'm in the tub. But basically, the only thing I've really learned is that I can't prevent the end from coming. But now that I am aware of that fact, it seems to pop up in my consciousness more and more. I really have no tidy ending for this entry. It was just stuff that was on my mind.