“If you would have known it would be like this, would you have done the same thing?”
Winter driving in rural Iceland: I had gone too far. I knew it even before we hit a patch of snow and slid off the side of the road.
I said to Giulia how I felt like I didn’t deserve the luck we had. Even though I had done the best I could to research the situation, and locals had assured me that the roads were drivable in winter, I realized I had made a mistake and made a decision that endangered my wife and child. By sheer chance, our accident happened on a section of road with a soft shoulder (and not on a bridge over an icy river), where a man with a pickup truck and towing rope happened to be following 30 seconds behind us (on a road that averages one car every 10 minutes). We were lucky enough to escape without a scratch on ourselves or the car, but I shudder to think what could have happened.
How could I have been so stupid? Even though things worked out this time, I can’t shake this feeling of guilt. There was absolutely no necessity for us to be on that road. We were there on a holiday adventure, not because we needed to fetch life saving medicine.
But as Giulia reminded me, this could have just as easily happened at home. Winter driving in Canada poses similar dangers. If we had stayed in Montreal and something similar would have happened on our way to a ski hill, would I beat myself up as much? Would I feel so guilty If we had been hit by a car while going to our neighborhood grocery store? Most accidents occur not in distant lands, but in the few miles around home.
By its very nature, life is precarious. Even if we fear what might happen to us out in the world and shut ourselves inside our apartment, we are still threatened by disease and domestic accidents. The fact that most of us live day to day without incident is a miracle! When you add in the improbability that we are alive in the first place, you can’t help but be driven your knees in gratitude for infinitely precious nature of this life.
Gratitude has been part of my daily practice for years, but surviving a brush with that calamity makes it more concrete and necessary. We lose track of the fact that daily life is a gauntlet that we are lucky to survive.
We read about accidents and deadly diseases in the newspaper and think it will never happen to us, while forgetting that no one ever thinks it will happen to them. Everyone leaves the house in the morning and expects to come back, when the reality is that every day, thousands of people aren’t this lucky. There are certain risks that we can avoid, but we can’t protect ourselves from all eventualities.
There’s nothing to do but move on from this with a greater awareness for gift of every moment. While this incident reminded me that I must be more careful in the future, I won’t let it stop me from embarking on future adventures. The life I have now with all its beauty exists only because I haven’t let fear hold me back. It seems to me that to live fully, we must acknowledge the constant presence of fear without letting it paralyze us.