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Ten years ago this spring I experienced what I call the day I should have died. I was in a car accident that should have had a really bad ending, but it didn’t. I struggled for a while with why I lived, but that has subsided. Now, I just live.

I’d love to say I live life to the fullest because the accident taught me how precious every moment is, but I can’t. That never happened, although there were many days when I wished it had. What I learned from the accident is that everything can go away in a second – in one quick moment, everything you love can disappear. Not exactly an inspiring life lesson, and as you can guess, it didn’t lead me to many happy days.

I searched for the wisdom I believed had to come with this horrible experience, otherwise all that fear and pain would have been for nothing. Again and again, people would tell me the accident was my wake-up call, a message I strongly rejected. I didn’t believe I needed a wake-up call, because I was aware of all the good in life. I was always awake, I would tell them. (I named this column Wide Awake about a year after the accident.)

So for quite a while, I struggled with finding the missing message. I even started to think if I didn’t figure out the message, another accident would happen and this time I would die. When I think about it now, it’s such a bizarre thought process – something terrible happened, but I was saved for a reason. Only, if I couldn’t figure out the reason, I wouldn’t be able to stay saved…or alive. Sounds crazy, but at the time, it was very real. The fear was paralyzing.

I reached a point where I dreaded going to sleep because I couldn’t control my mind when I was asleep, and I was haunted by nightmares. The scenarios were all similar:  I was in a car but never driving, and someone close to me was about to be hurt.

In one recurring dream, I was in the front passenger seat but leaning into the back where my daughter Maura, who was 7 then, was sitting. The door next to her was open and someone was trying to pull her out while I held on to her. (Not sure why the driver wouldn’t have stopped the car, but such is a dream.) Pretty much the whole dream was me grasping her arm – all I could see was my hand and someone else’s hand on her wrist, and I could feel the rushing air from the open door. I knew if I loosened my grip the slightest bit, I would lose Maura.

I would be startled awake several times throughout the night and fear falling back to sleep, even though I was tired. I started to think of my mind as being separate from me, and clearly, it was an enemy.

But ten years have passed, and I haven’t experienced anything like that in a long time. With the help of a therapist – and time – I came to believe that accidents needn’t always have a special meaning. Sometimes things happen, and no one knows why. My therapist used to say, “They’re not called on-purposes. They’re called accidents.”

So today, I’m not looking for any answers. I think as I age, I’m more aware of how much things are changing all the time. It’s something I’ve learned to accept, whether or not I like the change or understand the reasons for it. Life moves along, and we watch it go by. Good thing I’m awake.

April 2013
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