Sunday, November 27, 2011

Near Catastrophes Can Make One Reflect on Life's Blessings - and obligations

This Wednesday afternoon, I was driving to spend Thanksgiving holidays at our country home where my wife lives. Holiday traffic was predictably congested. Between Washington DC and Manassas, about 25 miles West, my average speed was about 10 MPH. Traffic congestion can drive me crazy! I felt stressed and tired. Then the traffic cleared. My spirits rose as I cruised along, accompanied by the sounds of Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro” from my iPod stereo speakers.

About 40 miles out, where route 29 turns off towards Warrenton and Charlottesville, Interstate 66 narrows from four lanes to two. Normally there is no congestion because the traffic divides more or less evenly. Today it was different. Down the road, a holiday traveler, possibly unfamiliar with the route, experienced some confusion or emergency and came to a dead stop. I had become a bit relaxed and inattentive after being freed from more than three hours of congested driving. Fortunately I was able to brake, swerve and turn on my flashers, praying that the drivers behind me, too, were sufficiently alert. They were – there was no chain reaction crash to mar holiday festivities, at least for this group of travelers.

With adrenalin pumping and the opera turned off I continued down the road, reflecting on other near catastrophic experiences that might have changed my life. As a late-teen-aged young man these were often the result of bad judgment, in particular three foolish risk takings that nearly turned out badly and could have cost me my navy-funded college scholarship, or worse. There were the usual juxtapositions of automobile and alcohol, imperiling me and my companions, but fortunately no serious accidents. During my naval service, there were the periodic typhoons, accompanied by 80 to 90 foot waves, that coursed through our North Pacific Ocean patrol station. Later when, I worked in Sri Lanka, visiting yearly for more than two decades, there were acts of random and intended violence that killed several friends and in which I could easily have been enmeshed.

Driving along, I reflected that life is a fragile chancy business, with one’s well being dependent, more than we recognize, on circumstances and the behaviors of human beings over which – and whom - we have little control. Near catastrophes remind us to fully appreciate life’s blessings, every minute of each day and night. And they should remind us too, of our obligation to make the fullest use, for good purposes, of the time, talents and resources with which we have been blessed.

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