December 12 is my brother Lorin’s birthday. Congrats, bro! Today was a cold, icy day in Western Oregon. And coincidentally, it’s 25 years since a momentous day in my life – a snowy afternoon which found me traveling from Provo to Springville on a lonely road.
But not lonely enough.
It seems one of Springville’s many conservative drivers, contemptuously referred to as “adults”, had chosen this slushy road to plod along with an overabundance of care. He probably left work two hours early just for this exercise, and was headed home to sip hot cocoa with his family and gaze at the snowfall. Meanwhile, I was an important high-school singing star, and had places to be. I was seventeen, and like most seventeen-year olds, 7/8 of my brain was still in a cryogenic sleep exactly as I had placed it age 13, and it was at least 2 years until the thaw would start.
I was driving my mom’s brown Datsun B-210, and as I came up behind a small pickup truck, I slowed the car down to a tortuous 40 mph. “Unbelievable. How could anyone drive this slow? The road isn’t even snow-covered! It’s just a little slush, and I can clearly see strips of pavement exactly where my tires have to go, so it’s perfectly safe. Speed UP!”
He wasn’t listening.
My next response can be explained by the primitive instinct all teenagers have to selectively deny the existence of certain laws of physics. This has been the case since Cain and Abel, who, before their unfortunate disagreement, used to dare each other to jump their cows off of ramps built of rocks.
I pushed the pedal down and pulled out in the center. Just as I moved up alongside the rear of the pickup truck, the car became freakishly free of all influences from the road. The steering wheel moved in my hands as if the wheels were floating on air, and suddenly I was just a passenger en route to some lofty destination chosen by the car. “I’M FLYING!” I shouted. Then the car knocked out a road sign, turned sideways and slid off the left side of the road and down an embankment.
I was a little surprised when the horizon began to rotate before my eyes, and the ground reached up and pounded the top of the car, crushing the windshield. At this point my latent spirituality blossomed, and I started to see the future. I had a vision of myself groveling before my father, and of him sentencing me to clean the basement for the rest of my natural life.
I decided at that moment, as I fell onto the ceiling of the car and closely examined the sage brush and snow through the cracked windshield, that the force of gravity was unfairly arbitrary. I also decided that my dad would not settle for a clean basement, and that I should immediately hitchhike to some faraway forgotten place.
The car finished its roll and landed on its wheels. I walked up the slope to begin my trip. . . . How about Nebraska? But I was interrupted by a sudden stream of visitors who wanted to meet the kid that rolled the car.
Soon I was being examined by EMT’s, who asked all kinds of personal questions. I really wasn’t hurt at all, but at their insistence, I was eventually able to identify a pain on my back. The consequence of saying “my back” when you’re in a wrecked car is that you get strapped to a board and taken to the hospital.
Going to the hospital by ambulance may seem a little overkill, when you consider the pain I was feeling was a tiny mole on my back that got torn when I was bouncing around in the car, but it was actually desperately needed. You see, this was the finger of providence that changed the path of my entire future life.
The 911 dispatch operator arranged for my parents to come stand by the road and watch as I was carried on a stretcher up the hill to the ambulance. As I passed by my parents, I felt something very special. I saw tears in their eyes, and tears came to mine. A great peace settled over me as I realized that seeing me like this had removed their will to have me hanged by the neck until dead for wrecking their car.
I knew at that moment I was off the hook.
In fact, my parents were very accommodating. They met me at the hospital, my mom took me home from school the next day when I realized I felt like I had been in a car accident, and my dad found me a six hundred dollar car that I could crash any time I wanted to.