January 23rd, 2013 I was six months away from Ordination and away from home on an interview for my first job out of rabbinical school. I had arrived at SFO in the mid-afternoon and by dinner I had already been whisked to- and-fro by various members of the synagogue staff, including the Senior Rabbi. We made friendly small talk as he drove us to dinner at a trendy restaurant in downtown San Mateo. I was hyper-aware of everything from my smile to my clothes to the way my unfamiliar pantyhose made my feet slip around inside my high heels as I struggled to keep up with the rabbi’s brisk clip across the wet concrete. As we sat down to the meal I went over the list of interview etiquette that we had drilled as a class all semester: don’t order anything you have to eat with your hands, don’t order anything that might make a mess, etc... I ordered the safe salmon and the darkest beer they had on tap. We chatted about past jobs, played Jewish geography, and laughed heartily at each other’s jokes. I was at ease, but "on" (alive, awake, alert, enthusiastic!) as we left the restaurant and made our way back to the car. As we made our first few steps into the crosswalk I noticed a black pickup truck turning towards us. “Surely, the driver will see us and stop, and then we will all share an awkward wave and a laugh” I thought to myself as the chrome grille of the Toyota Tundra struck me.
And then the black of the night sky.
And then I was on the cold, wet ground.
The world took on a surreal tone as sounds were muffled, and my vision blurred. I groped around for my glasses, and finding them, touched my hand to where I had meticulously secured a bobby pin just a few hours earlier. It came away warm, wet and sticky. I did a quick status check of the rest of my body as the rabbi made his way over to me. He lent me a hand as I pushed myself up into a more dignified position on the curb that I had just struck with my head, apparently. “There’s a sermon in here somewhere” he laughed as we awaited the EMTs’ arrival.
A flurry of activity followed, punctuated by snapshot moments of humor and the odd-nature of our predicament as we were transported by ambulance to the ER, where the rabbi and his wife sat with me for a few hours while I was bandaged and stitched and ultimately discharged into their care for the evening. I spent the next six months recovering physically and mentally as I learned that concussions can be really inconvenient, especially while trying to finish writing a thesis, and plan a wedding, and make arrangements to relocate to San Mateo (I got the job). Humor has been integral to my recovery - both physical and emotional. When I tell this story I stick with the zany details, because the bigger moral is unnerving - and still unravelling, still working itself out.
A few months before my accident, a young woman I had grown up with named Jessa, was struck by a semi-truck while crossing the street. She did not survive the accident. Six months after my accident, my friend Brandon was struck by an SUV while he was biking home from work. The long and arduous recovery from his brush with death has inspired him and his wife to live their lives more fully in what they call “Bonus Time”. Brandon could have died that day, and, not to be reductionist or cliched about it - that changes a person. If the Toyota Tundra had been going a few miles faster, or if we had been further into the crosswalk, I could have died that night. Jessa did die.
Life is short. Life is precious.
The poet Mary Oliver asks “what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” and that is the question that I ask myself - on my best and my worst days. It took about a year to be recovered from my concussion, and another year after that to be pain-free from the physical remnants of being hit by a truck. As I enter into the fourth year since the accident, I realize that I owe it a debt of gratitude. Without it I would doubtless still be a seeker, but with it I am fueled by the knowledge of my own mortality. Life is too short to spend it doing things that make you anxious. Life is too short to do anything but that which makes the most of this wild and precious life. I am inspired by my own mortality to choose life, to live with authenticity and alignment between the needs of my spirit and the deeds of my work. I hope you’ll join me in the pursuit.