We all intellectually know that life is short and somehow we spend a lot of energy avoiding that thought. I was reminded of the frailty of life this week while vacationing in Florence, Italy.
Many of the cobblestone streets are narrow and the sidewalks even narrower. It is also quite crowded. There is a constant negotiating for sidewalk space with other people going with or against you. At the same time I am trying to relax by enjoying the sights. There is some risk to this combination of forces.
I was standing just behind my wife looking into a shop window. There were people milling both in front and back of me. We were on one of the more narrow streets when suddenly I felt something touch my hair that felt like a light breeze. Then I heard a horn. I looked up and a local bus had passed me traveling quickly around 25 mph. The mirror of the bus was about five feet off of the ground. With the road being so narrow a portion of the mirror was overhanging the sidewalk about a foot when it passed me. It was traveling so fast that it was 20 feet past me before the driver was able to hit the horn and I looked up. I was within three to four inches of my head being slammed to the ground. The good news is that it would have been quick.
I was relating the story to our incredibly gracious Florentine host who wasn’t surprised. “I had a friend of mine killed in London about 30 years ago after his head was struck by a passing bus mirror.” Then I was talking to another one of our American friends who has lived in Florence since 1979. She told me that it happens frequently and she has been wary of the possibility since had moved here. Neither of them were reassuring.
On life #5
This incident is my fourth significant close encounter with dying with this one being particularly intense. Being comfortable with death is a skill I am not inclined to learn although the philosophers point out it is a necessary part of truly living. The response it does foster in me is gratitude. I have long realized that life is one day at time and that I am incredibly fortunate in many realms. The first one being is that I live in a free country with food on my table and a shelter over my head. Another is that personally thriving after the length and intensity of my suffering has allowed me to share insights with others. They in turn have taught and inspired me.
A brush with death also reminds me that the goal of the DOCC project is to enjoy the day you are in. There is a tendency to look at this process as a stepwise formula with the goal being the end of pain and suffering. That is the opposite of what actually happens. What does work is to get happy regardless of your circumstances, including the pain. You will then have the energy and passion to move past mental and physical pain and create the life you desire.