The last time you received one of life’s proverbial “wake-up calls,” did you answer it by making some well thought-out “adjustments” afterwards, or simply ignore the ringing, refusing to even pick up? It’s an interesting question that I wanted to explore this month, as there appears to be an uptick lately, not only on a regional or national level (DACA and severe weather being two of the more notable issues in the forefront), but also among a few personal friends who’ve recently struggled with making some life-altering decisions.
If your response fall into the latter of the two categories, there’s a good chance that those opportunities are likely to have gone unrealized, or at best, there was a temporary shift, with an eventual return to the “status quo” altogether. It’s understandable that those who seek to keep things “as they are,” might perceive that particular path as a more stable and predictable track to be maintained. Because we’ve done it “that way” our entire life, why alter our course now? As is often the case, with some self-reflection and further investigation, there exists an underlying fear of change that is often the culprit in these instances.
In her classic work The Places That Scare You, the renowned American Buddhist nun Pëma Chödrön reveals “We can let the circumstances of our lives harden us so that we become increasingly resentful and afraid, or we can let them soften us and make us kinder and more open to what scares us. We always have this choice.” It has been my personal experience that once the embedded resistance has been rendered impotent, first via identification, and then eventually through extraction, it clears the path to a more evolved state of Being.
A great example of this occurred not long ago, while I was rifling through a bunch of unlabeled bins down in the basement and came across a large blue three-ring binder that hadn’t seen the light of day in nearly two decades. In it were volumes of information detailing one of the more dramatic wake-up calls I’ve experienced in this lifetime.
It was a rather warm and humid start to the morning, as I recall the events from that Sunday of a long-ago Labor Day weekend. The “perfect time” I’d rationalized (with fewer cars on the road en route or returning from the holiday), in which to set out and explore a handful of the lesser-known villages and towns that line the Mid-Hudson River Valley, some 50 miles north of Manhattan. Several years removed from my divorce, I was also in the market to purchase my first home, so, in essence, this little adventure of mine would ultimately serve a dual purpose. Having no interest in living beyond my means, a small cottage not too far from family and friends would have suited me just fine.
After nearly two hours of meandering on and off the single-lane country road that runs through this region, I noticed that the fuel gauge was nearing empty, necessitating a stop to fill the tank. Despite its reputation as being a bit of a sluggish gas-guzzler and a favorite among suburban soccer moms, my vehicle of choice back in my mid-20s through late-30s was a Volvo 240 four-door sedan. One might say that this particular make and model of transport was an extension of my own personae. Those familiar with the hefty classic know that it’s literally a steel box on wheels; no bells and whistles, no electric this or power that — and lacking any present-day features such as airbags, which were only in the developmental stage at the time.
Anxious to continue my search, I pulled out of the filling station rather easily, crossing the southbound lane and headed north. What could not have been more than five seconds later; a black Jeep traveling approximately 40 miles per hour came barreling around the approaching bend in the road and into my lane. With no time to react, it struck me head-on.
To say that time stood still at that moment would be an understatement. Within minutes, I was surrounded by several groups of people, presumably those who had stopped, wanting to assist. Not knowing how long it would take for a first responder to show, I recall being helped out of my driver’s seat by a young woman who’d emerged from the small car behind me. With only a slight limp to my gait and a scratched knee, she slowly escorted me off the road and onto a nearby patch of grass, before returning to her own vehicle, comforting what appeared to be two toddlers, their heads barely visible in the back seat.
Though in shock, it was from that lower, ground-level perspective that I was able to fully grasp the magnitude of the situation, and its potentially devastating outcome. If not for its award-winning structural engineering and safety design (two of the more noteworthy characteristics that the 240 sedan was also known for), not only was my life spared, but more importantly, that of a beautiful young family. I couldn’t help but cry, as an overwhelming wave of relief swept over me, while watching the woman tend to her children. It’s a lasting image that I’ve never forgotten.
I’d learn later that day, after a series of tests were completed and I was cleared to leave the hospital, that the driver of the Jeep was a 25 year-old diabetic whose blood sugar level had tanked. When questioned by authorities, he barely recalled driving the hour prior to the accident. The police report stated that there were attempts to reach 911 by others traveling southbound behind him (thinking he was intoxicated), but were fruitless due to poor cell coverage in the area.
Within a year after this life-affirming incident, not only did I choose to forego the pursuit of my first home, but more crucially, exited the corporate highway that I’d been traveling along for nearly two decades in order to pursue my unrealized calling as a special needs and preschool instructor.
Motivational speaker and leadership facilitator Dr. Eric Allenbaugh emphasizes the point rather concisely in his aptly-titled book “Wake-Up Calls,” where he states “Some of us need a significant emotional event or wake-up call to even get us ready to view things differently. These can be life’s way of sending ‘gifts’ for learning, growing, and self-correcting.”
What are you waiting for? Pick up the phone!