wake up calls
There are times in life when we are sideswiped; taunted but not overtaken by a certain fate. Perhaps it's a desirable outcome that slimly passes us by, such as a long-coveted job or relationship that doesn't pan out in the end. Disappointment reveals to us its hidden gifts, forcing us to re-evaluate our priorities and find even greater clarity than before.
But what about "near misses" of the dramatic and fortuitous variety?... times when life narrowly misses a more disastrous mark? Roughly four weeks ago today was one such moment in my life.
My partner and I were traveling abroad, and it was our last morning in Turkey. Over the past week we had ventured 2500 miles by bus with a local guide, visiting ancient landmarks such as Cappadocia, Pamukkale, and Ephesus. Back in Istanbul for roughly 48 hours, we'd been exploring the vast metropolis on our own. Our plan was to squeeze in a tour of the Basilica Cistern along with a couple of more sites before our departure to Venice later that day.
Our hotel was in the Fatih shopping district, an area near historic landmarks that offered a hefty discount for the off-season. We'd slept in a bit, then headed outdoors where the temperature was rapidly dropping. As we scurried through the cobblestone side streets, snow began whipping sideways at our faces. I rallied toward the morning's mission for the sake of all we'd invested in time and money; yet even when I'm at my best extreme winter weather has the tendency to derail my enthusiasm. My will for adventure was wilting under the weight of the wind, and with each step I grew more resentful of our unrelenting itinerary. It certainly didn't help matters that, a bit tired of Turkish fare, all I'd been able to stomach for breakfast was a piece of toast. I was growing more light-headed and irritable by the minute.
In a plot twist I'd soon come to expect while traveling abroad, we reached the metro stop nearest to our hotel only to discover it was inexplicably closed. Backtracking yet again, we headed to our hotel to regroup. The most direct passage was along a narrow street. Leaving barely enough room for one vehicle to pass, its path ran parallel to the busy highway above. Weather and sound assaulted my weary body, and I couldn't wait to retreat indoors... so I led the way with dogged determination, power-walking with my hood up and my head down to the wind. Chris followed close behind. I had just moved up off of the street onto what I can only presume was meant to be a sidewalk - a claustrophobic brick embankment no more than two feet wide jutting away from the building that loomed four-stories high on my right. Lost in my single-minded mission, my senses would soon betray me. I vaguely recall hearing an approaching truck on my left, yet I mistook the sound for traffic along the highway above. It was in this exact wrong moment that I chose to step off the curb back into the street. When I did I was met with a sudden and terrifying burst of energy.
I felt the unmistakeable power of speed and metal as a commercial truck quite literally grazed my coat. I heard myself release a guttural scream as it passed. I didn't know what else to do; there was no time or space to move in any direction but toward hope. The truck missed me by less than a measure of an inch.
I frantically made my way back up onto that two-foot bullshit-of-a-sidewalk and leaned in against Chris. My body shook with overwhelm and the terror a deer must feel when narrowly missed by a bullet. Chris did his best to calm the both of us; yet needless to say, seeing me nearly mauled by a truck had really done a number on him as well.
Eventually we made our way back to the hotel and sat in the lobby gratitude-stricken and stunned by the silent presence of what could have been. I verbally alternated between breathless relief: "oh God... oh THANK God" and manic awe: "holy fucking shit... holy FUCKING shit!" Once safety settled in, I had no choice but to ask myself: How I could have been so distracted and out of my body as to step in front of a moving vehicle totally unaware?
Shock dissolved into realization.
Tears pooled, the answer swimming within.
I had (once again) been exhausted by my mind's ambitions. The truth was this: I was miserable with fatigue and a road-weary part of me desperately needed stillness and tending to. It wasn't the first time that I had ignored my needs for the sake of an external enterprise. It wasn't the first time I had fallen out of step with me, placing the rhythm of someone I love (in this case, my partner) before my own. But it WAS the first time it had almost cost me my life or god-only-knows-how-many weeks in a Turkish hospital.
I have a hard time standing still while the rest of the world moves at an even clip. And so, I bully myself to conform and carry on. I do as is expected and push through resistance. I rally. I suck it up. I power through. I push to (ap)prove my place in the world, unconsciously defying the direction in which my internal compass points.
I had gone halfway across the world to be reminded that no matter where we find ourselves on the map, without sovereignty and self care we are lost. Susceptible to life's bittersweet and sometimes reckless re-calibrations.
The looming presence of that truck weighed against the left side of my body for the next few days along with the beautiful and haunting realization that I had been spared from injury. I had stepped off that curb at just the wrong time but at just the right angle so as to avoid being hit. How is that? What if I had swung my arm a bit wider? What if I had stepped outward even an inch more, instead of just to the left of the curb? Two possible fates intertwined and by some chance I was granted the thread more fortunate.
Just the night before, I was watching one of the few English channels we had available in our hotel room. A news reporter told the story of a seven year old girl in Kentucky who was the lone survivor in an airplane crash that took the lives of her four other family members. She had not only survived the crash without major injury, she had walked barefoot in total darkness for over a kilometer in a rural area, somehow venturing in the one direction in which she had any hope of finding help. With unlikely success, she was rescued.
While my experience pales in comparison, I couldn't help but wonder why? Why were she and I spared when so many others haven't been? I couldn't help but think of the tragic loss of my brother back in 2010; my heart still breaks that his was not a near miss. Nor was the recent devastation of a friend who lost her six year old daughter three days before Christmas because someone ran a stop sign. I witness this extraordinary mother gracefully navigate an unimaginable loss and am both heartsick and aglow with wonder at her strength and will to carry on. Life and death can seem so arbitrary; loss delivers its blow with such indifference. While a great many will try to, we can't possibly decode the mystery that unfurls each fate.
Misfortune. Lucky break.
I'm not convinced that any of these exist.
I am certain only of the mysterious grace that both binds and rips us apart. Life is a wild beast of a thing that cannot be harnessed. Untamed and fiercely loving, she is as ill-behaved and nourishing as a storm... and our arrogant attempts to explain the unexplainable are distractions from drinking in her rains more fully.
To near misses. And to all things unfinished & undone.
... (( ❤ )).