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Guardians in the Shattered Glass
A Personal Story of Resilience and Survival
April 24, 2013 was a beautiful, clear day here in Northern California. I was driving to an early morning meeting (about organization design, naturally) on Highway 99 near Stockton. Highway 99 (AKA the “Highway to Hell”), is the most dangerous highway in the United States, but it’s the nearest highway near home and somewhat unavoidable.
Nearing one of the ubiquitous concrete barriers that mark 99’s never-ending construction projects, my left front bumper accidentally caught a corner of the barrier and flipped my 2006 Toyota Avalon upside-down, in which state I skidded 75 yards on the roof, sparks flying, glass breaking and airbags firing.
I remember as the car was overturning that I was grateful for the years I had already had on earth and strangely comfortable with the idea of having it all end there and then. When the car came to rest, I was upside down, suspended by my seat belt and looking at the crazy wreckage and shattered glass around me.
The first voice I heard was that of a young woman, who identified herself as a student nurse who had been driving directly behind me and witnessed the accident. She calmly told me that she was there to help, and I shouldn’t worry about anything. She was shortly joined by a local firefighter who had training in emergency rescue and jumped in to help. Together they were able to get me out of the seat belt and out the space where the passenger’s side window used to be. Of course, in a state of shock. I was able to stand, briefly, and they covered my head with a cloth to stop the bleeding. They sat me down on one of the concrete barriers that had almost ended it all for me and called for an ambulance, speaking comforting words the whole time, like guardian angels. Perhaps they were.
The ambulance arrived about the same time as a wonderful California Highway Patrol officer. Wish I could remember his name, but it’s hard to memorize names while in shock. While being loaded into the ambulance, I recall the CHP officer laughing as he looked at my car-- he couldn’t believe I survived the accident. There was no ticket because I hadn’t violated any vehicle codes. I was simply driving to an appointment on the most dangerous highway in America.
From the ambulance, I grabbed my cell phone out of my pocket and called daughter Shannon in Southern California. She’s a great communicator and soon notified the rest of my family as I wheeled off to the hospital for emergency treatment. Cuts, bruises, and a smashed left shoulder put me in surgery days later with some steel and titanium parts (sorry about that, TSA).
When able to drive again, I went to the wrecking yard to recover some personal property out of the trunk of my totaled car. The wrecking yard told me they couldn’t enter the car because it was considered a biohazard (full of blood, mine), so they would bring the car to me! A large forklift brought the car across the yard and dropped it in front of me with a loud bang. I hadn’t been emotional about the accident until that moment—it was frightening to see how much blood was in the car. I got my stuff out of the truck and left quickly.
In any event, the last ten years have been the greatest gift I can imagine. Enjoying my family, writing books and articles, seeing the whole world, working with some of the smartest people I’ve ever met (you know who you are), connecting and reconnecting with friends, living life to the fullest.
Picking up and reading a book by sheer happenstance titled Supersurvivors: The Surprising Link Between Suffering and Success by Daniel Feldman and Lee Daniel Kravetz helped me understand the psychology of the event and its aftermath. It turns out that people who experience “near misses” often report an amazing buoyancy in confidence and growth. Sometimes, survivors do more than bounce back. Sometimes they bounce forward, beyond simple resilience- and thrive and grow in ways never previously imagined. Case in point: Hitler thought that unleashing the blitz against London would cause the British people to cower in fear and surrender. It turned out to have the exact opposite effect. While some people did tragically die in the blitz, it actually steeled the British people to vow to never surrender and to crush the Third Reich (in France, on the seas and oceans, on the beaches, fields, streets, etc.).
Grateful for every moment of every day.