On the Shortness of Life

I was driving home after my aunt’s memorial on Saturday afternoon when my car was hit by someone pulling onto the freeway.

My car was slammed across two lanes of traffic into the median; airbags deployed, and my Prius totaled. The other driver’s SUV spun nearly 180 degree; airbags deployed, front axel broken, and his car, too, is what’s called an “expedited total loss.” Miraculously, we both walked away. Severely shaken, but for the most part unscathed.

The entire weekend, beginning with the family memorial and ending with drive home from Southern California with my parents, has me reflecting on the shortness of life. On where we choose to spend our energy. On the limited amount of time each of us has remaining.

I’m know to be intense. An ex- calls my “thorough.” I routinely do bonkers things like start businesses with no experience or do handstands on stage. But my energy, my intensity, comes at a cost. I say “yes” to meetings with strangers; I’m constantly pushing myself to do more, to take on additional responsibilities. I’m not great at delegating or asking for help. As a result, throughout this last year, I’ve spent 70 hours a week working, and not enough time prioritizing actually connecting with the people I love.

In 36 years full of intensity – and more than my share of close calls – this is the most intense near-death experience I’ve had.

And while I’m still processing the experience – doubtless will be for quite some time – here are some of the things I’d like to do differently with however much time I have left.

Slow down

I was driving at the speed of traffic, when the collision occurred. But I like moving fast, in many aspects of my life. I eat fast, I talk fast, and I change my mind, sometimes, too quickly. (Sorry, Mom.) That’s all fine, and fun – right up until someone gets hurt.

I’m reminded of the phrase, coined in the SEALS: “Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.” That’s the kind of fast I’d like more of.

Less drama, more love

I put up with, and, if I’m being honest, manufacturer a lot of drama. I like drama! Most of us do. Why else would we rubberneck at a car accident, as everyone did as I limped past them across the freeway.

I used to bike down steep San Francisco streets at 45 miles per hour. On a bicycle. In traffic. One minuscule misstep… And while I don’t do that crazy ride anymore, that thrill-seeking boy remains with me.

At my best, I’m intense, but also intensely kind and gentle. And I don’t like quite that much cortisol. I think better, perform better, and love better, when I’m not living on the edge.

It can wait

I didn’t have a device in my hand in that moment of the accident – but I have done.

I’ve gotten pretty comfortable texting a colleague, changing the music, checking directions while

I’m driving. And while “fault” isn’t much in question in this case… I can’t help but wonder if I might have been able to swerve out of the way. Maybe not, too. Life’s like that.
But I intend to take this near-death experience as a ‘shot across the bow.’ We got lucky, and I’m not going to bank on that, again.

Focus your attention

My time this year has been scattered, fractured, and intense. I’ve been frenetically building my company, Zander Media. I take meetings 8 hours a day, then do actually work for a handful of hours. And I’m still trying to find room for my own creativity, my art. Not to mention things like a relationship, my family, and my dog.

An old teacher used to say: “What you put your attention on, you make bigger.” When I look back on my calendar from the last 6 months, I’ve been putting my attention on every damn thing.

I don’t remember the accident, itself. But I remember walking away from my car, the airbags deployed and smoking, limped across the freeway, stared into the stunned faces of the cars driving slowly by. The other driver was sitting, remorseful, his head in his hands. He was worried about his son, who was just then in the hospital. He was in shock, even more than me. The bystanders who’d stopped, took pictures of the scene at my request. Someone called the California Highway Patrol. We both felt terrible, scared, shattered.

A few days have passed, and I’m better. Achy and shaken up, but walking around. Damned grateful. My digestion, which was all bolloxed up for several days, has slowly begun to improve. But when I think that my parents, who drove me away from the scene, might have seen the mangled body of their son… . I feel a reverence since the accident. A gratitude that I can’t quite put into words.

I’ve been offered Grace.

I’m writing this, and publishing it, so that I can hang on to the experience. So that I don’t take my dog Riley for granted, but keep precious the gratitude that she wasn’t in the car with me. Life is short, precious, and can end – abruptly – at any moment. Tell someone you love that you care for them. Slow down a little bit, and love more.

Thanks for reading,

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