A good friend, reflecting upon my multiple scrapes with the Reaper, speculated that the only reason I am still alive is that Heaven doesn’t want me and Hell is afraid I’ll take over the place. I’m not sure I can argue that point. But I have found that as I have experienced one near-miss after another, the question that plagues me is less “why me” in terms of my struggles and more “why me” in terms of my survival.
The last twenty-four hours have given me stark reminders of my two closest calls with the Big Sleep. Yesterday, a friend passed away after an unexplained illness. I had visited him (or more properly, his wife) in ICU, and he was in much the same situation as I was in 2015: In a coma, body swollen from fluids, intubated, and tubes running all over the place. As sick as he was, he wasn’t as sick as I had been (three conditions with a 1% survival each…you statisticians can do the math), and I had even flatlined a couple of times and still came home. I thought his chances would be pretty good. They weren’t.
This morning, I noticed that a long stretch of I-20 near my home was closed due to a fatality resulting from a teenager trying to run across the freeway. It was within a few hundred yards of where I collided with three eighteen wheelers in 2012. The freeway was closed, camera crews were out, flashing lights everywhere. It looked very much like the pictures from my accident. My daughters and I survived that mess, when we had no business doing so.
There have been other serious health scares over the last 5 years, yet on Monday I was walking/running a 5K (a lot more walking than running, but still pretty good for a zombie), and here I am still polluting cyberspace with my blog. During that same time, I’ve lost a few friends and a father in law, I’ve watched families endure hardships of cancer and other serious health conditions, and I’ve spent some nights hanging out in the waiting room of ICUs, just as others hung out in support of me. I’ve long since abandoned self-pity and wallowing in my own hardships, and instead look at where I am and wonder why I have been spared.
I don’t know the answer to that. A friend who was injured in the Vietnam War told me that after he survived a life-threatening wound, he wrote on a card, “The Lord gave me another day. Why?” He carries that with him until this day. I don’t think he has been able to pencil in an anwer yet.
Most people’s reaction to my continued residence above ground have said some version of “The Lord still has a mission for you.” If that’s the case, I think He must be sorely disappointed. I think I’ve been considerably less useful after my accident and coma. A traumatic brain injury I suffered in the wreck has not been debilitating, but it has compromised some things and made me an irritable, grumpy, “get those kids off my lawn” kind of guy. And the whole Lazarus act has left me with a few nagging health issues. I’m getting along fine, but I suspect I was more useful before all of that went down.
And the friends I’ve lost? No false humility here: They were more likely to do good things than I am. Better people. Better servants. They’d both get picked way before me in a pickup game of celestial softball. I’m a right fielder on that team: Limited skills, but if the ball only comes my way every couple of innings, I won’t screw things up too badly. (Maybe I should stick with this analogy and assume that they were called up to the majors while I’m left scuffling in triple-A).
All of us struggle with finding meaning in life. I think that struggle is amplified when experiences make our lives seem more fragile. Such experiences leave whispers in our ears telling us that if we have a purpose, we better find it quickly, because our tomorrows aren’t guaranteed.
I’ve had to reconcile myself to the realization that if there was a Purpose to me being spared (the capital-P kind of Purpose, like the reason Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider), I’m unlikely to know what it is until it gets here, and forcing the issue probably will just frustrate me. So I focus more on the lower-case purposes for which I might have been spared. That involves the people right in front of me. If I can be encouraging or comforting, if I can lighten a load through humor, if i can use my bonus hours by being present for others, that is probably enough for me. I think a lot of accumulated good can be done by just being a little kinder, a little more available, a little more helpful to the people with whom I am blessed to share mortality.
Either Heaven or Hell is going to have to put up with me eventually. Until that time, I’ll worry less about why I am here and just try to make my little piece of the planet a bit more pleasant.
As long as everyone stays off my lawn.