Hello from sunny Florida! I am in the southeast on a Faces of Israel speaking tour, and it seems like a coincidence that I am still alive.
My travel schedule from Austin was fairly hectic with a mix of planes, taxis, a car service, a rented car and other assorted travel methods. I presented two programs in Gainseville and Ocala on Wednesday night, stayed at the home of a lovely couple who have been married for over fifty years, and rented a car to drive south to Boynton Beach the next day.
I was psyched to be back on the road, and was looking forward to a leisurely afternoon stroll and driving break at Kissimmee Lake in the Orlando area. Little did I know that my afternoon would prove to be more adventurous than planned. The GPS in my car was inadvertently set to “Avoid Tolls” and so my four-hour trip down the turnpike became a seven-hour meander through stop lights, back country highways and the single-lane roads of north Florida’s countryside.
Displeased about the turn of the events but still trying to appreciate the ride, I began listening to a Stuff You Should Know podcast about happiness and kept my eyes on the road. Suddenly and without warning, the GPS on my dashboard became unstuck and fell toward my feet – knocking with it my iPod holder, computer charger and assorted cables. Not wanting to leave the debris by my feet lest it endanger my driving, I looked straight ahead, stabilized the wheel and quickly leaned down to chuck the fallen items into the back seat.
And that was when everything went wrong. In that split second, I felt the car angrily and vigorously lurching forward over bumpy terrain, my windshield a blur of green. I was off the road and speedily heading toward a barrier. I grabbed the wheel and turned hard, trying to stabilize the car and save myself from the impending crash. The maneuver indeed saved me from the barrier, but threw the car back onto the highway and launched me into dizzying circles at 70 miles per hour – both the speed limit on the highway and the speed at which I was traveling.
Up until this point, everything had sped up. My instincts had taken over – for better or worse – but my brain was hardly processing. As the car spun in circles, everything began to slow down and I realized that this could be it. I was moving too quickly to know if there were cars behind me or coming toward me in the next lane over. I knew that I would unquestionably be paralyzed or killed (or worse) if there was an impact at this speed.
And in that moment, I marveled over the fact that – a minute prior – I was listening to a podcast on happiness and was philosophically questioning (as many people do) how happy I was right then. In those seconds, I laughed at the fact that – just moments before – I had been semi-grudgingly cycling through a long list of to-dos that I had to take care of for Jewrotica. And as I spun, I mourned and mused over the seeming randomness of life and the fact that I might have just spent my entire life developing skills, building my character and preparing myself – but for what, as it might be over any second now?
My car slowed down and came to a stop, the front of the car facing incoming traffic on the second lane of the backroad highway. And that’s when I saw it – a white van hurdling in my direction. But my car wouldn’t start. There was no time to get out. And I thought: This is it. Either he is able to stop short, or he’s not. And as he came toward me – in what couldn’t have been more than a few seconds but felt much longer – I made eye contact with him and hoped. And he slowed down, and stopped.
The man pulled to the side of the road, and I managed to maneuver the car back into my lane. Miraculously, there wasn’t a scratch on the vehicle as there had been no real impact – just a lot of grass and shrubs stuck in the wheels and bumper. I composed myself and I called him over.
“What happened?! What happened?”, he asked.
“I don’t know. I don’t know. Should I get out of the car? Is it safe?”
He confirmed that the car looked fine, and I added “I think I need to hold your hand for a minute. Can I do that?”
“Yeah, okay”, he responded.
He extended his hand through the lowered window and I sat in the driver’s seat, frazzled, holding this stranger’s hands for just a couple of moments.
“I need to pull over somewhere. Is there a shoulder or turn-out up ahead?”
“Yeah, there’s a place just up the road.”
I thanked the man (whose name I do not know), took a deep breath and turned the car back on. I drove a mile down the road, and parked the car at the entrance of a rural Florida farm. I got out, sat on the ground and… sat. I just sat. And breathed. And lifted my gaze and arms toward the sky above.
In Judaism, there is a blessing for everything, and the blessing upon surviving a dangerous or life-threatening situation is called Birkat Hagomel. It is customary to recite the blessing in the presence of a minyan, but – until I find one – our blog community will have to do. And, so:
Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, King of the universe, Who bestows kindness upon the unworthy, for He has bestowed on me every goodness.
posted by ayo