May 3, 2012, Judy and I experienced an unforgettable life-event. We had taken an after-dinner walk, still in full daylight. We circuited through our Urbana University campus, and were now within sight of our off-campus home. We crossed a secondary street intersection, “protected” by a stop sign. Any vehicle approaching the crossroads from our right would be stopping. I vaguely recall a vehicle a block away heading in our direction. We glanced to our left, and continued across. Mid-way we both sensed (saw, heard, and/or felt) something to our right. I remember uttering “Holy Shit!” at near the instant of impact as a two-ton SUV crashed into us.
Taller than Judy, I rolled up onto the hood, as the driver slammed on the brakes, which then ejected me forward tens of feet. Judy took the full force without the hood roll-over. I can close my eyes still and see her air-borne, backward, landing hard on her bottom and elbows, and then her upper torso whipsawed the back of her head onto the pavement. I landed beyond her, somehow rolling as I hit the macadam.
Judy was lifting herself into a sitting position, as I found my feet (and my cell phone), intent upon calling ‘911’ to report our plight and the license number of the tan SUV, squealing away from us in reverse. The driver (with passenger) raced the full block, escaping to the east. Judy suffered a concussion, 38 stitches, permanent peripheral vision impairment, and continuing PTSD roadside walking and driving (or riding) in traffic-congested zones. My left wrist crushed, ribs broken or badly bruised, I felt sore all over for weeks.
We were fortunate – no life-threatening injuries. The paramedics arrived within minutes, immediately tending Judy’s bleeding head wound and securing first her and then me on back-boards, slipping us into matching emergency vans, and transporting us to the hospital, sirens sounding and lights flashing. Our neighbor on the corner was cutting her grass, looked up as we were in mid-flight. She said later, “I feared you were dead; you were caught by angels.”
The driver? His passenger snitched on him the second day later. His license had already been suspended from prior vehicular violations. Over the 46 hours between impact and arrest, he had sold the SUV, and replaced the invalid tags on it with another set, similarly expired. No wonder the license number I reported did not generate the owner’s identity. Turns out this man, with his long record of arrests and even incarceration, lived in the apartment complex across the street from us – with his girlfriend and their toddler child. The driver is near the end of his six-and-one-half-year sentence in a State prison. I pray he will emerge a better man, ready to re-enter society as a productive citizen and responsible father.
What does all of this have to do with my life and vocation? My love of nature? Five years ago, we received a powerful wake up call. We awoke to the harsh and sobering reality that life is fleeting and fragile. We control little. Tomorrow is not a sure-thing. Each day is a gift. Those who are precious and mean the world to us could be gone in an instant. The lessons? Embrace life fully each day – every minute. Love and hug those whom you hold dear. Don’t waste purpose, passion, and time on the superfluous. Break from the digital world of distraction, fluffed with mediocrity and bereft of meaning. Savor the moment.
I now view the natural world around me with greater appreciation and insight. I more consciously look, more purposefully see, and more deliberately feel. And with greater discipline, I interpret what I see and feel via my writing. I want to spread the gospel of nature’s richness and wisdom… of humanity’s absolute dependence upon the natural world that sustains us.
As the hit and run enlightened me, I know that our existence as a species is likewise fragile and fleeting. Are we committing the equivalent of driving irresponsibly? Operating only for the moment, rushing to our next appointment, negligent of the lives and world around us. Throwing our trajectory into reverse after the impact is too late. Hit and run? Not an option — there’s no place to run. The laws and consequence of nature are unavoidable… unforgiving.
Did the SUV driver understand the consequence of driving impaired? I’m not intimating that he was under the influence of alcohol or drugs – because police did not identify or confront him for nearly two days, there is no way of knowing. Nevertheless, he was impaired – by poor judgment, inattentiveness, lousy attitude, or other distractions. In some ways, what led to the driver’s crime may not differ much from our own headlong rush into humanity’s planet stewardship point of no return.
Mr. Smith (I do know his name, yet I see no need to air it in this essay) is paying a price. I am convinced (and hopeful) that he is redeemable. Does the same hope extend to humanity? If only Mr. Smith had awakened with the birth of his son, or at some other point prior to his encounter with Judy and me. He could have avoided going six years without his girlfriend and little boy. What price are we societally likely to pay if we do not awaken?
I am grateful that we suffered no greater physical harm. Angels did catch us. I accept the wakeup call as a blessing. My life is changed… for the better.
May 3, 2012 opened my eyes – to a larger purpose. As a forester and doctoral-trained applied ecologist, and a former university CEO, I envisioned and created Great Blue Heron, LLC. Through my writing, speaking, and consulting, I am devoting my life to championing the cause of nature-inspired learning and leading. My ultimate intent is to enhance lives and enterprise success, even as my efforts sow the seeds for responsible Earth stewardship.
Nature-inspired learning and leading accepts and promotes that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in, or is compellingly inspired by Nature. I hold that every human enterprise can benefit from applying Nature’s wisdom. However, most individuals and businesses are blind to that natural wisdom. How can we overcome the blindness, and awaken the senses so that we might achieve success for humanity… before it’s too late?
Great Blue Heron can help you and your enterprise find your way.
Accompanying Photo: Taking a break from drafting these thoughts this morning, I watched Big Blue stalking our shoreline for breakfast. Since May 3, 2012, I make time for immersing in such escape and inspiration.