My Longest Day
February 25, 2007, was the longest day of my life. In all I spent seven hours strapped to a body board as doctors tried to determine whether a fragment of the crushed vertebrae had punctured my carotid artery. “We have a jet standing by to fly you to Denver for emergency surgery,” the doctor told me. “But, truthfully, if the artery is punctured, you won’t make it.”
Seven hours is a long time. I reviewed my life, regrets and nostalgic memories both, contemplated a possible future as a paraplegic, called loved ones to tell them goodbye just in case. As a Christian writer, I knew I should be thinking spiritual thoughts, but I have to admit that my main regret was that I had climbed 51 of the 54 14,000-foot mountains in Colorado. I can’t die yet—I have three more to climb, I kept thinking.
That same summer, after the neck brace came off, I climbed the last three 14ers. Now, four years later, I’m back skiing moguls and enjoying this grand world. I feel very blessed, and will never forget the born-again feeling of getting another chance at life. Not everyone has that chance. I have friends who went through similar accidents and never walked again, and others who have permanent brain injuries; the crosses beside the Colorado roads (and on Colorado mountain trails) bear witness to still others whose lives ended abruptly.
During the recovery months I heard from friends, loved ones, and readers whom I have never met. As I read the kind of heartfelt words that people often don’t express until it’s too late, I felt like Tom Sawyer attending his own funeral. On down days, I sometimes rummage in a box and re-read them.
The overwhelming gift I take away from my accident is a bedrock sense of gratitude for life itself. This afternoon I stopped work and hiked along a ridge with a view of snow-capped mountains, sat on a rock and watched the birds flit from tree to tree, startled a herd of deer grazing on the hillside. Spontaneous praise spilled out. For all its problems, this world is a magnificent place. I rejoice that I am still here to enjoy it.
“Anyone who is among the living has hope—even a live dog is better off than a dead lion!…Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do.” (Ecclesiastes (9: 4, 7)