Near death experience

Life is a Terminal Illness


Riding my folding bike I arrived at the bus stop at the Fruitvale BART station as the bus pulled away from the curb. Quickly, I turned my bike to catch the bus at its next stop on 35th and International Blvd. I pedaled hard, weaving through commuters as I headed toward the intercept.

Panting I arrived at the intersection of 38th and International Boulevard to find the stop light red and the grid blocked. A new white Mercedes-Benz with two young black women in the front seats, idled at the crosswalk inside the grid like the start of a drag race. The light turned green for me and I started to pedal, rolling into the crosswalk, trying to beat the bus to the stop across the street.

I felt a jolt, looked down to my left, and realized the Benz had hit me. As I lifted off the ground, holding onto my bike, flying through the air, I yelled. I jammed my left arm into the asphalt to break my fall. I landed on my ass and backpack simultaneously. As I hit the ground I lost control of my bike. It fell just outside of my reach. I locked eyes with a Latino man crossing the street, in the same direction, thinking he was coming to offer me assistance. But, instead of helping me, he nonchalantly picked up my bike and attempted to walk off with it. I jumped to my feet, took a few steps toward him and snatched my bike out of his hands as we both walked to the other side of the street together.

The two soul sistas in the Mercedes-Benz drove off as I squinted to read the license plate. Too late! The Latino man played off his aborted crime by patting me on the back and asking if I was okay. When I reached the corner, I surveyed my damaged bike and tried to fold it before the bus arrived, but something was clearly wrong. It wouldn't fold easily. I boarded the bus suddenly exhausted.

I found a seat and assessed my injuries. My left wrist felt hot and tender. The same wrist I jammed one night months ago when I fell near my house returning from Dorothy's. My lower back hurt, but it had been hurting prior to the accident, from my early morning workouts—too many Jack knife exercises. I felt fire in my left hip, but nothing was broken.

Sitting on the bus, I began to seethe thinking about the motherfucker who tried to steal my bike, the sistas in the Benz who hit me and drove off, and the bystanders who didn't attempt to help me. The pain in my left wrist and hip exceeded my frustration with all of them. By the time I reached my stop, I felt happy to be alive.

In the days following the hit-and-run, as my body began to slowly heal, I noticed I was thinking differently. My own denial about death, which I had concealed without knowing it, diminished enough for me to take in a glimpse of reality. Secretly, I believe I'm special. Death happens to other people, I told myself. It won't happen if I don't think about it. If I'm good enough to other people, if I work my 12-Step program well enough, I can prevent death from taking me at the wrong time. I can resolve all my problems, lace up all my loose ends, and die peacefully with all my family and friends around. I don't have to worry.

I don't know if I figured it out while flying through the air or in the days afterward, but life is a terminal illness and as such I need to be aware of death to live. Animals live unaware of death. Zebras don't get ulcers because they only think about lions when lions are present. I, on the other hand, am aware that, at some point, I'm going to die. I have the ability to push it to the back of my mind, which is a kind of death, but I'll get to that in a minute, and go on about my business.

The moments I laid in the street were personal. That was my brush with death. Nobody really cared. The driver didn't care. Latin dude who picked up my bike didn't care, and bystanders didn't care. It was me and death. I have to say, we have a more intimate relationship than I want to admit. Oh, he’s around. He took my mom. He took my dad. He took my friends Antonio and Lane both out of the blue. Within the last thirty days I've narrowly avoided death twice. Prior to getting hit, some nights ago, I straight-armed a car and lifted myself out of death's way again while in the crosswalk with the right of way returning home from Dorothy's house. Death is a stalker.

Life is what we do while death is busy with other people. We all live with the knowledge that death hasn't gotten around to us yet. But have I been really living in anticipation of death? Remember, I said I would get back to the idea of how well I live, pushing the thought of death out of my mind. There is no sense of urgency like the sense of urgency one gets from death breathing down one's neck. DO IT NOW! I really don't know how much time I have left. No one does, but because of my ability to push thoughts of death out of my mind I can drift into a state of complacency.

With humility, I can look at death now. I don't have unlimited time available to waste on trivialities. Thinking about your own death will make you prioritize life like nothing else. Thinking about my own death makes food taste better, makes my relationships a priority. Thinking about my own death makes connecting with family and friends that much more important. Thinking about my own death forces me to live like only the dying can with urgency and in the moment.