Prairie Home Companion. One Saturday, probably the summer of 1986, Garrison Keillor concluded his monologue with this thought:
There is a difference between a “close call” and being “called.” “Called,” he said, meant dying. Called to heaven or to god or something. Anything short of that was a “close call” and a cause for celebration. A few months after this, I was driving down Jackson St. in my home town. I know about when this was because Juliana was a toddler in her carseat positioned behind me and I wasn’t yet pregnant with Alice. I was stopped at a light. I didn’t have good sight lines for the traffic coming down the hill on my left. When the light turned green, I pulled out slowly into the intersection. A carful of teenaged boys, busy chatting, ran the light; they didn’t see it had turned red. They bumped into the driver’s front corner of my car, not too hard, no one was hurt. We all drove down to the corner where we could pull into a parking lot to exchange information.
The odd thing is that while driving that tenth of a mile, I heard Garrison in my head: this was a close call. If I had pulled out a little faster, if I were a little further into the intersection, I would have been hit broadside. My beautiful nearly 29 year old daughter might not have made it to age 2. I might not have lived long enough to make her baby sister. We could have been “called,” died, done, kaput, all over, or maimed. But we weren’t. It was a close call. It was a cause for celebration.
By the time I got to talk to the boys, while I was shaking from the adrenaline, I was also nearly giddy with relief, and had to hide that. I needed to be angry and stern. They were all terrified and wildly apologetic. They were scared out of their heads. Good. When I spoke with the parents later that day, they were clearly responsible parents, furious with their son, and grounding him for a long, long time, at least as far as driving privileges.
This all happened about 28 years ago. I continue to hear this notion in my head surprisingly often. My Alice was once injured in an act of random violence. It was a close call. She’s fine. A friend had cancer and survived, even if she lost her breasts. It was a close call. Nearly hitting some god damn idiot on a bicycle who pulled right out in front of me, at night, without warning, without any lights or reflectors, and my brakes worked perfectly. I got to roll down my window and scream bloody murder at the guy. It was a close call. A newbie at a dance recently, in her death grip of nervousness, nearly ripped my thumb off, with a good twist. My thumb hurts, but I am not in a cast like my niece is for having fallen on her thumb. A close call. This all came to mind this week when a dance acquaintance posted that her dear son was brutally attacked on New Year’s Eve in Brooklyn, a random act of violence. He was serious injured, just terrible, but he did not die. He wasn’t called. For as horrible as it was, it was a close call.
Is it fate when something bad happens, or good things, for that matter? Kismet? God’s will? Hell no. Shit happens. What you do with these experiences is what matters. Does the experience break you or teach you something valuable? Do you accept that this terrible thing happened, and find the lessons there, the gratitude, huge overarching gratitude, that he or she wasn’t called, but survived, even if diminished, he or she survived. Nearly 16 years ago I torqued my knee in a dance class and it changed the course of my life. It led me into leading a life of chronic pain and you know what? I have learned a lot. I have learned so much that I almost, not quite but almost, appreciate all that has happened. “Gratitude” is my guiding force. I have many physical limitations but I can go contra dancing and dance every dance, from the first dance to the last waltz, for 3 hours, 2 or 3 times a week. Gratitude? Big time.
Martha Beck wrote: No part of your experience is wasted. Everything you’ve experienced so far is part of what you were meant to learn. I would say, everything you’ve experienced is an opportunity to learn something.
I always loved this quote, don’t know where it comes from: When we come to the edge of all the light we have, and must take a step into the darkness of the unknown, we must believe one of two things. Either we will find something firm to stand on or we will be taught to fly.
Either way, we must discover what really matters. Was that experience the end of the world as we know it, were we, or he, or she called? Or was it a close call, and a cause for celebration?