There were two moments in my life when I almost died. I mean "really" almost got killed, kicked the bucket, entered the mysterious world of complete darkness, and I am not joking. I would rather forget about these bleak memories, as they were indeed moments of dreadful panic. However, it is therapeutic to unbury these hidden demons and expose them through the catharsis of writing. In this entry, I will describe both these episodes the best I can, starting with the most recent (though it is already more than 15 years ago) as it is the freshest in my mind.
1. Crete (1986).
Thea and I were strolling along the beach during summer vacation, when the high waves crashing down on the beach were so irresistible that I had to run and dive into the water. I had not noticed the warning flags flapping in the wind, and without thinking I just took a huge flying leap into the raging Mediterranean Sea. Because of some storm out at sea, the currents were unpredictable, and before I realized it I was caught in an undertow, being pulled out to sea and under the surface of the water. I could feel the sand losing its firmness below my feet, almost life quicksand, and I had to struggle for air, barely being able to raise my head above the water before the next wave came crashing over me. As the inevitable end approached, I thought about two things. First of all, I wondered why I had studied so unbelievably hard the last four years to get a degree in Physics when in an instant that knowledge would be for nothing. I called Thea. "Help, help me!" So much time and energy and wisdom snuffed out by chance. I should have enjoyed the last four years better, making it more meaningful than cramming late into the evenings for inane curlicue esoteric formulae. It just did not make sense. Secondly, and this is what saved me, the first thought leading to the second, I remembered as a kid reading about undertow. How one should not fight against it which was hopeless anyway, but that one should move sideways to the pull. So I did just that, it was very very hard, but slowly and surely I moved perpendicularly to the outward downward pull, and I approached the beach to the left which curved around. I was saved and fell to the sand. I was shivering and shaking. It took me about thirty minutes to recover from the foolish mess I had gotten myself into. But in the end, I stood up, brushed the sand from me, and continued my walk with Thea along the beach back to the campground as if nothing had ever happened. Should have payed better attention to those warning flags.
2. Monterey, California (1979).
I had visited a fellow Stanford fraternity SAE brother at a summer house on the outskirts of Carmel where he was visiting his girlfriend. It was late in the evening, and I gave him a lift back to his house in Pacific Grove. The road connected point A with point B ran through the forest along a windy route and the drive was poorly lit. As is usual we chatted and laughed and recounted things. Without realizing it, I misjudged a tight turn to the left, and I overcompensated by steering too far inwards, slamming my breaks. The car spun around twice and came to a screeching halt on the wrong side of the road. Stopping motionless with that smelly burned rubber smell. On the blind curve facing impending doom of any oncoming headlights that could come at any instant. If at that moment a car or truck had come bounding around the bend, I would have been no more. Before waiting for the headlights to appear, I put the car in reverse, swung around to the other side, and then we continued our way. Though this was obviously a close brush with death, my friend and I just shrugged it off with a chuckle and some quick comments about how "cool" such a maneuver would have appeared on some action film. Should have paid better attention the that notorious curve.
Have any of you had similar experiences in life where the closeness of impending death has changed you forever?