On November 11, 2021, my wife (Vicky) and I were traveling back from Tennessee. We were attending to the selling and purchasing of rental properties in the Smoky Mountains. The holiday weekend provided us with an extra day to make the quick westward trip.
Our three boys love tagging along to Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg, because it means junk food, mountain coasters, and wilderness hikes. This time, Vicky and I made the decision to leave the boys with grandma and grandpa, as this was a business only trip.
Deals done and on our way home to pickup the boys, we came over a small crest on Highway 40, just outside of Mocksville, North Carolina, discovering bumper to bumper traffic. Vicky applied a little more pressure on the brakes than normal, but we stopped safely with plenty of room between us and the next car.
Slightly confused with what was causing the backup and maybe a teeny bit annoyed that our efforts to get home as quickly as possible to see the boys was becoming more and more unrealistic, we heard the worst possible sound.
It was the sound of a young man doing everything he could to stop his truck, or maybe just trying to get it to slow down. To this day, when I hear the sound of brakes, even my own, I am transported back to the moment immediately prior to a truck colliding with our stopped mini-van at 60mph.
Our 2017 Toyota Sienna was turned into an accordion in the blink of an eye.
The accident was akin to those slow motion war movie scenes where explosions are going off all around the protagonist, yet he, nor the audience, are able to make out any sounds. A silent ringing (if that makes sense) is what it was.
After checking on Vicky, and determining that we had no major injuries, we were able to exit the van to wait for emergency services.
As I recounted the events to firefighters, paramedics, and police officers, I finally got a good look at the back of the van. I realized that the third row was now where the second row once was.
What hit me was that had we decided to take Nick, Robbie, and Tommy with us, they would be gone. As I typed that last sentence, that thought continues to have a profound impact on me. I don’t think about it everyday, but the incident often crosses my mind. And when it does, I tear up until my body does a little shake that snaps me out of my negative spiral (not sure if that shake is something unique or if it’s something everyone does with a painful memory).
Reflecting on the accident, I am extremely grateful that Vicky and I survived with only minor injuries. I am infinitely more thankful that my beautiful three boys weren’t there.
I wish I could say that the event was an Ebenezer Scrooge turnaround moment. But, I don’t always approach the day with gratitude. I’m not always as patient as I could be. I don’t always take advantage of my time. I’m not always paying it forward.
So even though it is painful when I think about the accident, it’s important for me to remember how fortunate I am.
I believe this scene from Saving Private Ryan captures my sentiments perfectly.
After giving up his life, and the life of his men, to save Private Ryan (Matt Damon), Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) tells Ryan to “Earn this”. Through the ultimate sacrifice, Ryan has been afforded the opportunity to live. Captain Miller is asking that Ryan make that life, one worth saving.
I don’t think you need to survive a terrible accident or have others sacrifice their lives for you in order to recognize how blessed we are. Take a moment in the morning to show gratitude for the day. Then, through your actions and words, “earn” what you’ve been given.