As a Christian, I did not believe a person could cheat death. After all, the Bible says in Hebrews 9:27:
And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:
I believed that each person had a divine appointment with death and until that day came they could not die. God was the giver of life and only he could take life. I now realize how many perverse problems this belief has but I will leave THAT issue to another day.
As an atheist I believe we all bump up against death quite often. Anyone who has raised children knows it is amazing that any child makes it past the toddler stage. Think of the nasty falls toddlers take. Most toddlers somehow survive but not all of them do.
Our youngest daughter did a header off the porch on to a slab of cement when she was a toddler. She survived. Another young child I knew of fell off the kitchen table and hit his head on a carpeted floor. He died. Such is life. One lives and one dies. Luck and randomness seems to be the arbiter of who lives and who dies.
I am a fifty-six year old man in poor health. Death always seems to be lurking in the shadows of my life. I do my best to ignore death but sometimes all the mental gymnastics in the world can’t keep death from making itself known.
I take a number of medications that could, if I took enough of them, kill me. On days when the pain is unbearable I have those thoughts…you know THOSE thoughts. Just take ten or twenty of these and it will all be over. Those who have struggled with chronic pain and disability know what I am talking about.
My immune system is quite compromised. I catch things easily. I have had pneumonia twice and I worry about catching it again and not being able to fight it off.
I have blood drawn every two or three months. Every time they stick me with a needle I am at risk of a bacteria or virus entering my bloodstream and killing me.
Every day I know that I breathe in killers that have evil intentions and if my body doesn’t fight them off they will kill me.
Yet, here I am. I could die today, tonight, tomorrow, or twenty years from now. (and believe me, I would be quite happy if I got another twenty years of living) None of us KNOW when we are going to die or even how we are going to die. That’s why we must take every day as it comes, living the day at hand to its fullest.
As I contemplated writing this post I pondered the various times in life that I have cheated death. I want to end this post with a list of those times.
First grade, California, circa 1963
My Dad moves us from Ohio to California. One of the houses we live in is up on a hill in Chula Vista. One day my siblings and I climb into a car that is parked in the driveway, (I think it was my grandmother’s car) and all of a sudden I reach up to the gear shift and put the car in gear. As the car rolls down the hill I jump out, leaving my younger brother and sister alone on what would be the ride of their life. The car rams through the neighbor’s fence at the bottom of the hill and careens across the road. Amazingly everyone comes away unscathed. Well outside of the whipping my brother and sister got for being in the car and rolling it down the hill.
Eighth grade, Ohio, circa 1971
It’s winter and I am walking up the street with a group of friends. We have to stop walking because there is a train blocking our path. After waiting for a few minutes I decide I am not going to wait any longer. Ever the daredevil, as my school friends can attest, I decide to climb under the train to get to the other side. Just as I start climbing underneath the train it begins to move. Like the proverbial bat out of hell, I scurry to the other side narrowly missing getting mashed by the wheels of a train boxcar.
Ninth grade, Ohio, circa 1972
One summer day I am at baseball practice when all of a sudden I feel funny. I tell the coach I am not feeling well and he tells me to go home. By the time I get home it is quite clear that something is seriously wrong with me. My eyes are swollen shut and my throat is closing off. My parents rush me to the emergency room where they find out I was likely having an allergic reaction to a bee sting.
Ninth grade, Ohio, Circa 1972
On another summer day I am with some friends swimming in a pond along I-75 in Findlay, Ohio. It is one of those ponds contractors dig to get dirt for road construction projects. We frequented this pond quite often but this was the first time we have ever gone swimming. Prior to this we had caught fish out of the pond and skated on the pond in the winter. After we get home from swimming we notice we have a rash and our skin is beginning to blister. Unbeknownst to us, we have been exposed to some sort of chemical in the water. We later find chemical barrels floating in the pond.
The summer of 1975
A group of us decide to go swimming at the lake. I decide to drive, so everyone piles into my 1960 Mercury Comet and off we go. After we leave the lake I take everyone home, everyone that is except a younger friend. I am 18 and he is 15 or 16. As we are driving down a back country road in Williams County he asks if he can drive. I say, sure. So off we go driving down the road on a carefree summer day. All of a sudden my unlicensed friend loses control of the car and drives it headlong into a ditch bank. And…just like that…the car flips end over end totaling the car. Amazingly neither of us is severely hurt. I say amazingly because the car had no seat belts and neither of us were thrown from the vehicle.
I am the pastor of Somerset Baptist Church and I am working on the jet pump that provides water to the church. The pump is leaking and I am tinkering with the pump to see if I can get it to stop leaking. I tell the man helping me to turn on the power to the pump. In an instant electricity courses through my body. The only thing that saves me is the quick action of the man helping me. The pump was not grounded properly and I was standing on a wet concrete floor. Needless to say, I was violently sick from being zapped.
I am the pastor of Somerset Baptist Church and I am out on visitation with one of the men in the church. We are traveling east on the highway nearing the town of East Fultonham. All of a sudden, we both look to our left and we see a car barreling down the hill right at us. All we can see is two glaring headlights heading straight for us. I think, this is it. We are going to die. But we don’t. Somehow the car misses us. To this day I am uncertain as to how the car missed us. At the time I thought it was God working a miracle. Now? Hell if I know.
I am not feeling well. The doctor has been treating me for several months and I am not getting better. Finally he runs some more tests and finds out that I have mononucleosis. By this time I am in big trouble and I end up in the hospital. My immune system is trashed. My tonsils and adenoids are pure white. My spleen and liver are swollen. My temperature is 104 degrees. The internist treating me comes into my room and tells me, there is nothing we can do for you. Your body is overrun with infection and unless your immune system kicks in there is nothing we can do. For the first time, I come face to face with my own mortality. I think, I could die. Fortunately, I am still alive but I think it is likely that the health problems I have today found their seed in this near-death experience.
When I was a Christian I had an explanation for all of these events…God. No one dies before their time. I now know better. I now know I was actually quite lucky. My wife is lucky that she still has her husband and my children are lucky their father is still alive. (at least I hope they think this way)
How about you? Do you have a story to tell? Please share it with us in the comments.
Graphic drawn by Ryan Hudson at channelate.com Great comics. Please check them out!