“Want to go for a ride?” My eyes lit up from hearing those words, even if only vaguely understood with my spotty Italian comprehension skills. The body language was clear, his expression taunting, and the motorcycle was right there in front of us. I hungrily shook my head yes, thinking silently ‘why not?’
Today is as good a day as any to die.
With helmet secured I tentatively touched this near-stranger’s back before being launched into grabbing him for my life. We accelerated down the windy coastal roads of Vico del Gargano, challenging the power of his machine with every straightaway. Right when I thought we had hit maximum velocity, he would whip around another corner and surprise me yet again. I shrieked from the pure thrill of it, managing to somehow enjoy the obvious threat of death. My stomach turned as I saw where he was going: the tunnel, a straight drive that lasts for a few kilometers, definitely long enough to get some serious speed. As if hearing my thoughts, he kicked the motorcycle into full power. I screamed as I gripped his waist, feeling the thrust of the machine as we momentarily were caught frozen in mid-air, one wheel holding us to the pavement.
I clearly remember thinking that any wrong move – on either my part or his – could be the end. It would be so easy, right now, to imbalance myself, slip a leg, let go, and it would be over. A helmet could only do so much to protect me.
The tunnel felt like an eternity. I raised my eyebrows as peered over his shoulder, daring to know how fast we were going: two-hundred and sixty kilometers per hour and climbing.
It was strange; on that ride, my mind raced incessantly at how I could die at any moment, yet I didn’t feel afraid of death. It was a mix of a tingle at the possibility, a thrill at the probability, and pure tranquility as I reminded myself that it hadn’t happened…yet…yet…yet…and that if it did, so be it. It was a feeling of acceptance, of allowing whatever to be to just be.
If I were to die, that would have been the window; I was basically handing myself over. Nothing happened besides that I got the thrill of my life – a worthwhile fifteen minutes I’d say – and a confirmation that alignment with timing and events in your life exists, whether you recognize it or not.
A few days later I was driving into town on the very same windy mountain road, this time comfortably navigating in a small car with my friend by my side in broad daylight. I was perusing upwards on a shady straight patch of road, slightly inhibited by a blind spot, when I suddenly saw a car flying straight at us at full speed. I instinctively slammed on the breaks, instantaneously and quite miraculously giving the other driver just enough space to squeeze past the two cars he was attempting to pass and whiz out of my lane. Both my friend and I were awe-stricken, completely speechless. She broke the silence by shrieking, “We almost died! That asshole!” I was nervously laughing, jolted into a state of shock and agreeing with everything that she was saying. Indeed, we had almost died. Had one thing happened a fraction of a second later, the near grazing of metal on metal would have been a head-on collision.
I felt shaken to the core, much more so than my previous voluntary flirting with fate on the motorcycle. I guzzled on water trying to calm my nerves, but couldn’t shake off the shock until a few hours later. That was it. That would have been my death. Not some silly thrill ride, but a real accident. But here’s the thing: I was okay. I lived.
Both experiences taught me the same lesson about everything happening on purpose. Contextually you could argue that they were the same: both brushes with death while driving, even on the same road. However, these events could not have felt more different for me as the one experiencing them. In the first case I was willing to put myself out there, to hand myself over. The second was an unpleasant surprise, a shock that sent my “what if” sensors rolling. The commonality, the truth in both is that “what if” is only an abstract, whereas “what is” is the reality, and my reality is that apparently there is more for me to do in this life, because I am still here.