On this, the last day of what was the most pivotal year of my life, I give pause to reflect on my incredibly good fortune. Little did I know what lay before me only just a few short months ago. So many of the demons that once plagued me have been laid to rest. This has given way to habits and attitudes that have made possible the fulfillment of many lifelong dreams. Knowing the path that I was on before this year, it is nothing short of a miracle that I am alive to be writing this now.
Here’s a funny story I remembered today:
At the age of 19, I stayed a brief period in a flop house in Lincoln, Nebraska. I was shacking up with some of the guys who worked with me at the Husker Car Wash. These were all college kids working for beer and poker money.
They let me rent a room for a few hundred bucks a month while I looked for something more permanent. Having a 10×10 room to call my own was an upgrade from sleeping on friends’ couches or in my car.
The entirety of my worldly possessions at the time included a 1980 Honda Civic Wagon, a sleeping bag, a guitar, a milk crate of Beatles records, a clutch of books and the clothes on my back. I travelled light in those days.
My second night in my new digs was more comfy than the first. I managed to find a cardboard box I could use as a table and a candle to light up the joint while I read at night. (I wasn’t gonna spend my beer money to buy a second-hand lamp at the thrift store!)
The guy that “ran” the house was super cheap; he would never turn on the heat. A drafty old house in the frigid Nebraska winters is only a step above sleeping in your Honda. To keep warm at night, I wrapped myself up tight in my sleeping bag fully clothed.
I tied on a few too many one night and fell asleep with the candle still lit. I am a restless sleeper and I roll around quite a bit most nights. On this night, I knocked the candle over, first onto the cardboard box, and then onto my sleeping bag.
It should be pointed out that this sleeping bag was, as were the rest of my possessions, second-hand. I am pretty sure this sleeping bag was made prior to the time the government fire retardant standards were instituted.
Lucky for me, old sleeping bags make a lot of smoke when they catch fire. Unlucky for me, the flop house didn’t have smoke alarms. But, my buddy Matt smelled the smoke from his room and came to investigate.
He barged into my room and yelled, “Wake up, Dude! You’re on Fire!”
Imagine waking up to find yourself swaddled in an ancient sleeping bag that is completely engulfed in flames right next to your face. Being the resourceful, quick thinking young chap he was, Matt picked up a few of my half-drunk beers and doused me with them as I tore myself free.
After the flames were extinguished and the smoke had dissipated, the only logical thing to do? Have another beer!
Over the years, the take-away from that event has evolved.
- Immediately following the incident, my thoughts were obtuse: be more cautious with open flames and borrow a lamp until next payday.
- A few years later, I realized that it would have been far better to sacrifice a night or two of beer money to get a second hand lamp and a better sleeping bag.
- In preparation for the birth of my first child, testing the smoke detectors took on special significance for me.
- As the years went by, I had convinced myself that this terrible accident was a sign from the universe that I wasn’t living right.
- In this moment, I have come to believe that I was saved from what could have been a horrible tragedy because I was living right.
At that time, I was free. I held no animosity toward anyone. I would’ve given (and I regularly did) everything I own to anyone I felt needed it more than me. I was kind and honest. I just wanted to wander and learn. The universe looks out for people with that attitude. Even in the face of my incredible stupidity, the universe took care of me that night because I was living right.
Like this story, the year that just passed was also a time for shifting the way I see things. Altering how you recall events in your life enables you to escape the crippling self-criticism that accompanies bad things that happen to you. If an attitude or a thought doesn’t help you get closer to achieving your goals, change it or leave it behind.
P.S. Remind me to tell you the story about how I almost got shot with a .45 when my roommate Ross was cleaning his gun one night…