12 September 2017...It wasn’t what I planned for my French countryside journey. One moment, we’re passengers in a friend’s car on a charming two-lane highway, surrounded by verdant fields, set in a blue, cloud-kissed sky. The next moment, we’re a physics experiment: the windshield fills with a white service truck, crossing our path out of nowhere. And we collide.
I wonder how I can possibly be alive: two vehicles collide, each at 90 km/h? Is there purpose in this? Why were we able to “walk away” from it so relatively unscathed?
Everyone else is sitting or lying down, but I feel compelled to stand. I retrieve my glasses and camera from the car; the sneaker I hadn’t been wearing; a water bottle. I take the photo you see above. I check with my partner Gale and our friends. The gendarmes and ambulance arrive. I answer questions, and lie down when I’m directed.
It seems a miracle to be alive or at least not far more severely injured. Yet, especially for the first few days, each day of life is an endurance contest. I can’t wait for the day to be over so I can sleep (and I hardly sleep, pondering what did and didn't happen).
So why did I survive? Is there a message? Some learnings? What?
Here’s what’s emerged for me—offered just because, and with the intention to share the fruits of my experience. That way you might get some benefits without having to be struck by your own “white truck.”
WEAR YOUR SEATBELT!
Notice what wants to happen
But returning to “before” doesn’t feel right either. What’s the middle path?
It comes to me to notice what surfaces, what wants to happen. My body is coaching me on what it does (and does not) want to eat. How it wants to sit, stand, lie down. I notice as I attend to that, my body works with me. (I just satisfied a craving for Egg Foo Young—noticing that I don’t want the portions I used to want.) It’s not about “figuring it out” either: just simply allow wisdom to surface and lead.
Trust, let go, relax, and open to kindness
When I do, curiosity, humor, and peace come. And actually, less pain: a nurse helps others orchestrate this magic move where I’m not being pulled up or torqued. We dance my body so it flows from lying down on my back to sitting up on the edge of the bed, mostly using weight as an asset. Movement still hurts, but much less so, and I feel proud to be a part of this, especially given how we could communicate to make this happen. (It’s a small hospital in a small town, so not many of the lovely people there speak English…and I can understand some French, but it had been hard to speak.)
Hmmm. In this hospital room that's held so much pain, I notice a window beautifully open to the country-side and sky. Kindness surrounds me: my partner Gale, showering me with healing visits; Nijmah, the nurse, who speaks English and gets herself assigned to me; Annmarie and Frederic, AirBnB hosts who waive fees for the stay we skip; our friends Laurence and David, who shlep Gale around; United Airlines, who allow us to change flights with a minimal fee and add a middle seat; Marriott, who extend our stay and gift us with chocolate. Friends who brought flowers and care recommendations on our return. And on.
Your work is done. Your choices are yours: free and open
I get a sense…sometimes in the reveries that pass for dreams in the first few days I can’t sleep, sometimes just what comes…that “my work is done.” And that “our work is done” is pretty much true for all of us, all the time.
Not necessarily “done” the way we mean it conventionally. It’s done in these sense that if my job were to let go of a pebble I’d been holding, and I let go and the pebble is just about to leave my fingers yet hasn’t yet struck the floor…I'm done. I don’t have to “do” anything. I’m just on the planet to be here a few more laps, to enjoy life, to see what strikes my sense of desire for engagement, and to engage that.
Not out of obligation. Simply grace, and (again) noticing what’s important to me.
And with that frame—there’s nothing I HAVE to do, what am I curious to engage with?—things emerge. For example, my older son just started his first year of residency, so we’ve been on the phone more than we otherwise would have. It’s been delightful to experience his competence and compassion and humor (me: “wow, we’ve been talking so much I’m coughing a lot; how about we break off?” Andy: “sure Dad, and as someone you’ve been asking medical questions of I’m happy to stay on longer so you can have even more productive coughs, too.”) My younger son, as well—who had his own near near-death experience in college, so the ironies of our role reversal add even more spice to our conversations.
Doing “a” blog…nah, not really. Getting something on paper about this experience that becomes a blog? Yes.
Hmmm, there’s those people in Ecuador and Guatemala that touched my heart on my travels there. I’d said I wanted to move forward with some of that, but hadn’t; I realized in part because I hadn’t figured out the best way to do that. Now, it feels more important, and I have more trust that something will emerge; I reach out.
And I find myself recommitting to work in the corporate environment--enabling organizations to nourish heart and soul, not just minds and hands, as an avenue to even better results. "Coincidentally" I'd helped sponsor and am speaking at the Love Summit in Cincinnati on 12 October--a great venue to do this. Join me!!!
It comes to me that every day is a new day. I already have all the license I need to reconfirm old choices, or make new ones. But that white truck really underscored the freedom I had and wasn’t exercising. It’s not about satisfying obligation. It is about noticing what’s important and relaxing into it with trust the next step will come.
It's safe to play. Explore "unreasonable" possibilities
More and more, I get a sense that our “work” isn’t about doing some specific thing. In the spring, Gale and I shared a day with near-death experience researcher and experiencer P.M.H. Atwater. She examined 4,000 situations where people not only suffered a life-threatening event, but were clinically dead for a while (one as long as three days). While many reported similar experiences of leaving their body, seeing lights, knowing it wasn’t time to go home yet, etc., only 10% got a specific indication of what their return was about. None got a job description.
Increasingly, I’m convinced that our “job” is about opening to joy and grace, that it’s safe to express ourselves in human form, and that playing with what delightfully calls us is our “work” as humans. The more open we are, and the more possible forms we invite for that expression, the better. It's almost as important to keep alive that you'll write a book (if you want to) as to write it.
And, speaking of which, see Gale's complementary viewpoint on this experience in her blog, here, to learn more about "relaxed urgency" for what's really important.
Every disruption has the potential to be a gift. What's your "white truck?"
I was sharing this experience in a men’s circle last week. My friends observed how amazing it was to find so much benefit out of a harrowing experience that few would seek out. A little later, another man was talking about a situation that was very painful for him. I asked him if maybe that was his “white truck”—something really disruptive that also had the potential to create the energy for a greater change. It got him thinking.
So, in your life: is there something you really want to do, but aren’t sure about, and haven’t really given yourself permission to explore? How might things shift if, out of nowhere, you got hit by a white truck? What would you allow yourself then?
Or, is there already something really, really difficult in your life that might be that "white truck" already? How can you see it a different way, so you can allow its magic to unfold and transform?
Or, perhaps you've already had your own "white truck" experiences. If so, feel free to share them in the comments below--especially what shifts your event emboldened, enabled, and encouraged. What was it about your experience that gave you permission to move?