If a near-death experience goes unnoticed, did it even happen?
Yes, I can confirm, and for that we should always be grateful. I can explain.
Recently, as I drove around my oldest daughter’s college campus, my mind returned to one of the best — but what could have been one of the worst — days of my life.
It was just over 20 years ago, a few years before my wife and I started a family and I became a stay-at-home dad. At the time, I was excited about my new job teaching English at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Another comfort I enjoyed that day was our new leased car: a forest-green Ford Escort ZX2. Although not a sports car, it did have a small spoiler on the back, which I didn’t realize would be the only spoiler I’d experience before the minivan years just down the road. So there I was: clad in my new professorial garb, happily gliding around my new campus in my new quasi-sports car.
Then, it happened.
As I sped down one of the narrow campus streets with parked cars on both sides, a student suddenly walked out from between two cars right in front of me. He was walking in the same direction I was driving, so he did not even see me coming. As I looked at the back of his head, I slammed on the brakes with all my being.
In what seemed like super-slow motion, my green car came to a stop within a hair of the back of this guy’s legs. My face nearly pressed against the windshield; my wide eyes devoured the scene. Then, I fell back into my seat, and my heart resumed beating. But what happened next defied belief.
As I watched the student’s back, he kept walking down the street, gradually crossed it, and disappeared between two other parked cars. He didn’t even know he had just missed being killed by a car!
The reason for his oblivion? Earphones.
At the time, I did not know this incident would contribute to my parenting — and safe driving — philosophies. I believe all humans have moments when they have almost died unbeknownst to them, like this student who went on his way. Consider them “far-death experiences” that remain blissfully beyond our consciousness. I sometimes call this “living in the bonus.” Whether you are religious, spiritual or otherwise, trying to lead each day with a grateful attitude is an especially healthy way to live — and by extension, to parent.
Grateful mindset from outer space or inner space
A related way to cultivate a grateful mindset is through astronomy. Astronomists have documented how fortunate we are that molecules have combined in such complex ways through space and time to enable human life to develop on Earth. In other words, our planet has had many of its own far-death experiences for which we can all feel grateful, regardless of how we explain what makes life possible.
In a surprise display of astronomical gratitude, my youngest daughter once showed her love of our planet by wearing a key chain on her pants that included a little plastic globe. When her 4-year-old cousin saw this fashion piece, she said matter-of-factly: “Nice Earth.” As I witnessed their interaction, I couldn’t agree more.
Similar to contemplating distant death in outer space, focusing on inner space often leads to gratitude as well. All those complicated processes going on inside our bodies to keep us alive at every moment of every day of every year are awe-inspiring. Every human body probably has countless near-misses that we never realize.
Assuming he’s still alive, that college student from many years ago is well into his forties, though he is unaware that he is living in the bonus, and therefore not thankful about it. But we can choose to live with constant gratitude that all those undetected little green cars out there — whether asteroid or embolism — have not crashed into our world so far.