Some time ago, I received an e-mail from subscriber John P. about a close call he had while driving when he was seventeen years old. Here’s part of what he had to say:
There was no time to think, only to react. And there was no fear at all, until afterwards. It’s like I knew exactly what to do (pull over to the opposite side of the road to avoid the oncoming headlights).
Remembering back, it was as if I were playing a video game, avoiding a head-on crash. But for the next day or two I was shaking in fear, thinking “What if?” I still think “What if?,” and I still have some residual fear.
Thirty years later, I have a safe driving record, even while driving motorcycles for twenty of those years (no longer now). Maybe the one close call at an early age taught me to be careful.
I believe in free will existing on a profound level. I survived that close call because I had strongly chosen to stay alive and healthy. Other times in my life, I have hurt myself (physically or emotionally), not choosing to do so consciously, but maybe choosing to do it on a deeper (spiritual) level in order to gain insight or knowledge that the pain teaches.
The reason John P.’s words caught my attention is because I had an almost identical experience when I was in my early twenties. It was dusk, and I was driving north on a two-lane highway in Kentucky, not far from the Ohio border.
At a distance — perhaps a quarter mile or so — it appeared that a car was coming toward me on my side of the road, but I thought it might just be an optical illusion. Still, I continued to watch the oncoming vehicle with great intensity, just to be sure.
As the distance between us rapidly closed, it became clear to me that the car definitely was on my side of the road — and headed straight at me! I instinctively glanced to the side to see if there was room to swerve off the road. Like something out of a nightmare, all I saw was a narrow strip of shoulder alongside a Kentucky-style drop-off from a cliff.
All of this took no more than a second or two, but when I looked up the speeding vehicle was getting close — so close that I could see that the driver’s right arm was flung across the top of the front seat and his head was lying sideways on top of it. Clearly, he was either drunk, asleep, or dead!
I frantically leaned on the horn until he was perhaps within twenty yards of me. In a millisecond, I had to decide whether to swerve to the other side of the road and chance hitting another car head on, or swerve to the right just enough to get out of the oncoming car’s path — and hope I wouldn’t go over the cliff.
By instinct, I chose the latter. Miraculously, I managed to keep from going over the cliff as the car whizzed by me. I immediately looked through my rearview mirror and witnessed the most horrific sight of my young life. The car that had almost killed me slammed into the car that had been directly behind me.
It was like watching two toy cars collide. To this day, I not only can see the crash in my mind, I can hear the deathly sounds of metal and glass bending, breaking, and flying through the air.
I quickly got out of my car and ran up to the scene of the crash. An elderly man and woman were stone dead in the front seat, covered with blood, heads thrown back over the top of their seats like mannequins.
I was shaking all over as I ran to a nearby farmhouse and yelled to some people on the front porch to call the highway patrol. The rest is kind of a blank, but I do recall that the driver of the other car was alive, and that a patrolman told me he was very drunk. He also said that, ironically, drunk drivers often survive deadly crashes such as this because their bodies are relaxed.
After giving a statement to the officer, I drove the remaining distance home at a snail’s pace. I had developed instant paranoia about another car crossing over to my side of the road.
A year or two later, I was asked to fill out a form for the prosecutor in the county where the accident occurred, explaining in detail what had happened on that fateful night. I assume I helped put the perpetrator of that horrible crime in jail, but I never knew the final outcome of his trial.
Since that time, I have been an advocate of stricter penalties for drunk drivers. To me, it’s ludicrous that being drunk is considered to be a “mitigating circumstance.” If it were up to me, a drunk driver who kills someone would go to prison for life.
In my view, making the decision to drink and drive is as bad as premeditated murder, because it so often ends with the death of others. And life-ending decisions should have life-ending consequences.
Drinking was no excuse for that driver in Kentucky to take the lives of two elderly folks. I thought a lot about how I would have felt had the victims been my mom and dad, and wondered who their children might be — and how devastated they must have been when they got the news.
So, here I am, decades later, alive and well. And since that gruesome evening, I’ve cheated death on a number of other occasions — including a crash in a Learjet that totaled the plane. Part of me believes that each of these situations I was the beneficiary of Divine intervention, but I cannot answer the atheist’s question of why God didn’t save those two innocent people who were cruising along behind me.
In case you’re wondering, yes — I have often pondered why mine was the car in front rather than the car behind. I’ve even wondered if there was some way I could have maneuvered my car to nudge the drunk driver’s vehicle off course. I guess no matter how smart or successful we are, life will always be a series of unanswered questions.
How about you? Have you had one or more experiences in your life that could have — or should have — killed you? And, if so, to what do you attribute your survival? Predestination? Luck? Divine intervention? Or, like John P., simply your will to survive?