Three and a half weeks ago, my Better Half, six-week old daughter, and myself went to a beautiful wedding in New Jersey. While it was a 2.5 hour drive, we love weddings, and were excited to attend. Little did I know, as we set off for New Jersey, that this day would change our lives. What I am about to write, oh Henry, is kind of personal. I am going through with writing it, because in life, inspiration does not last. It is as fleeting as a shooting star, quickly darting across the vast sky in the Utah Canyon lands. I therefore am writing this as a reminder to myself of this inspiring, life-changing day, so that I can take some concrete steps to hold on to the inspiration.
About an hour into our lovely ride down to the weddng, a ride which I savored because I was able to have alone time with my lovely wife, and we were able to speak without any interruptions, I noticed it began snowing. No big deal, thought I, we live in upstate New York, it snows every day, I am an expert driver in the snow, and we have All Wheel Drive. As we got closer and closer to the wedding, the snow became heavier and heavier. Still, I remained unfazed. At the wedding, I checked my phone for weather updates, and realized that the snow was not really letting up; there were winter advisories for the entire New York City area until 3 AM that night. To put it simply, it was a winter wonderland out there.
After the beautiful wedding, we got some very cheap New Jersey gas, and were on the road. It started off uneventful enough. We took a dinner stop near Monsey NY, and shortly thereafter, were on the road again. About fifteen minutes after leaving Monsey, I was annoyed as the grandmotherly driver in front of me was driving about twenty miles per hour. We were on the portion of the highway which has three lanes, and I switched from the center lane to the left lane, preparing for what I thought would be a routine lane change in which I would pass her. It started off as expected, but as I attempted to change back to the center lane, something unexpected occurred. As I began switching lanes, at about 50 MPH, the car, who I call Hindy the Hyundai started to swerve, and I lost control of her. To our utter horror, we did a complete 180 degree turn, and as we came to a stop, we were dreadfully facing oncoming traffic, on this busy, three lane section of the New York Thruway. At this point, the only words we could muster were, "Hashem!! (G-d!!)," as we braced for impact. After waiting for what seemed like an eternity, just waiting for the end, and witnessing car after car miraculously pass us by, my Better Half came up with an idea that might well have saved our lives. She told me to immediately turn on the emergency blinking lights, and to start honking non stop, to alert the oncoming cars. Through nothing short of the grace of the Almighty, car after car drove past us, I turned the car back around, and we were on our merry way without even a scratch on our car.
My heart was beating faster than the Colorado Rockies will tank this upcoming season, and I was truthfully, unsure that we were still among the living. I had read some crazy stories of near death experiences, and as an observant Jew I fervently believe in the eternity of the soul, and I was unsure where I was. I pinched myself, and asked my Better Half if we were still alive. She started laughing, in a pure expression of ecstasy, and explained that we were in fact still alive. As we passed a minor car accident on the side of the road, I realized how fortunate we were; as the cars were approaching I would have given anything to only suffer a minor accident; and yet here we were, totally unscathed.
From this experience, oh Henry, I came across ten important lessons that I want to share with you tonight:
1) I realized, without any shadow of a doubt, that miracles still exist today. As the holiday of Passover approaches, a holiday in which we remember the incredible miracles G-d did for us in taking us out of the bondage of Egypt, I am able to reflect on my own, personal miracle--the fact that I am able to write this blogg at this very moment. Every car that passed me and didn't hit me was a miracle. It would have only taken one person reaching over for a drink, looking away from the road, texting, or changing the radio station, and everything could have ended differently. If we would have left from our previous stop thirty seconds earlier or later, everything could have been different. We just "happened" to be on the short three lane section of the Thruway, leaving ample room for every car to swerve around me. After this experience I have no doubt that G-d still is in the business of performing miracles for His beloved children.
2) A second lesson I learned, with clarity, is that there is nothing but G-d. My first words after we turned around, were, "Ain Od Milvado." There is simply nothing but G-d. I trusted my fancy shmancy All Wheel Drive; but at the end of the day, I am only here; as are all of my thousands upon thousands of my devoted readers across the globe, as a result of G-d's will, and G-d alone. We put our trust in gadgets, and technology, but at the end of the day, it all comes down to G-d. As the dollar bill says, "In G-d we Trust."
3) A third lesson I learned was that it is important to ask ourselves, on a regular basis, "have I accomplished everything I hope to?" As the cars were rapidly approaching us, I realized that there is so much more I want to accomplish in my life. The talmud teaches, "If not now, when?" The commentators explain, if I do not accomplish now, in this physical world, when can I? After a person dies and is removed from his body, he can no longer accomplish anything-- that is the tragedy of death. As a poet once said, "If you had one shot, or one opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted, would you capture it, or let it slip, yo."
4) On a similar note, a fourth profound lesson I learned is that I need to simply stop wasting so much time. Now with the invention of the smart phone, time wasting is easier, and more addicting than ever. But do I really need to spend so much time reading ESPN articles? Does it really matter in the big scheme of things that Lebron James doesn't care that Kevin Love thinks Russell Westbrook is the NBA MVP? Is reading about that an acceptable use of my precious time? This experience showed me that we are very, very mortal. We need to be real with that. We often go through our early years thinking we are invincible; but our invincibility is simply an illusion. Like every human being before us, we will one day die. We need to think about that, and use our time accordingly.
5) Another critical lesson I learned is that I am here for a reason. I was in a situation in which G-d could have very easily decided that my time was up. Yet somehow, He miraculously spared me. This is true of all of us. If we are still here; if our hearts are still palpitating, we have a mission that we must set out to accomplish. A great rabbi named Rabbi Kook explains that before a person is born, there is no point in his being alive, because his mission and life assignment did not yet exist. Once he is born, there is a mission created that hey--and only he-- can fulfill. If G-d forbid a person is not fulfilling his mission, than what exactly is the point for him to remain in the world? We need to make sure to focus on fulfilling our life's mission.
6) I also learned that there is a spiritual reality going on that I cannot perceive with all of my senses; yet I know it is still there. Just as there are constantly sound waves traveling around that I cannot see, or touch, and yet I know they are present, so too there is a spiritual reality that exists, despite my inability to see it, or touch it. I came to realize this when I began asking the question, in what merit were we saved? We definitely have no way of knowing how G-d runs the world, but perhaps we were spared because the Better Half made a heartfelt tefillas haderech before we left-- a blessing praying for our well being as we embarked upon our journey. Or, perhaps we were saved as a result of a young rabbi's blessing to us. At the wedding I had struck up a great conversation with a rabbi at our table, and before we got up to leave, he asked for me to bless him. Caught off guard, I muttered the first thing that came to my mind. I asked him to return the favor, and he proceeded to give me one of the most beautiful blessings I ever heard in my life. In Judaism we assume words are very powerful; they can build people up, or G-d forbid, tear them down. In this case, his kind words might have saved our lives. There is a spiritual reality, and our every action has massive ramifications of which we are usually unable to perceive.
7) At the same time though, while it is important to consider what might have been the merit that saved us, it is also important to realize that it was G-d Himself who put us in this precarious situation to begin with. Why might that be? There is a concept called making a Cheshbon HaNefesh, literally an accounting of the soul. It is important to look back and break down what we do, and how we can improve. Again, without knowing how G-d works and does what He does, I did realize I had done something on this particular night that I had never done before. About fifteen minutes before we skidded on the road, I for the first time ever, trolled a journalist on twitter. In Judaism, there is no place for "trolling" or cruelty. This was a lesson I will not forget.
8) Of all the lessons I learned, what very well might have been the most crucial one, is that by the mere fact that we are alive, we necessarily have SO much to be happy about. In the initial moments after the close call, I was shaken up. The next day though, I was simply euphoric. I woke up, and gleefully kissed my children before going to synagogue. At synagogue, I said an emotional blessing one says after surviving a dangerous situation. When I got home after synagogue, my children were fretting about not having eaten enough breakfast; they were very near throwing a full blown temper tantrum. The old Danny would have been annoyed; but the new Danny was overjoyed as my son threw a fit for not being allowed to eat a pot of oatmeal two minutes before we were meant to leave for school. As I put my kids in the car, my two year old son demanded to close the door, as he always does. The problem, is that he doesn't know how to put on his seatbelt by himself, and he cannot close the door while strapped in. So he threw a fit. The old Danny would get agitated, but on this day, I exuded pure joy at being able to witness his antics. After I dropped my kids off at school, I listened intently to the gorgeous sound of the wind blowing on this sunny twenty-five degree day. Usually I would have been super annoyed that it was still so freezing despite the fact that it was now March. Today, I had tears streaming down my face, savoring the spine tingling, bone chilling wind. As I approached my house, I heard a loud garbage truck screechy breaks. I started crying again, so overjoyed to hear that magical sound. I said out loud in my car, "My name is Danny Wolfe, and I am ALIVE! At the end of the day, when my children got home, I ran to great them. So many days go by where they get home and I barely look up from the computer. But not today, today I was a new person. I would run around the house looking for ways to help my wife, pick up the toys, do diapers, etc... Of course I wanted to help out, after all I am alive! This day was nothing short of living a day of unadulterated ecstasy.
9) A ninth lesson I learned is very crucial, and it can be easily summed up by an important acronym: JLIG: Just Let It Go, or if you prefer, IJNWI: It's Just Not Worth It. So many of us are fighting with people over the most petty of things. But I got news for you; we are alive; just let it go! When the cars were approaching me, how much did the beef I had with anyone matter? What if something terrible happened to someone I had a conflict with? Then how would l I feel? JLIG. Just let it go. Life is too short to hold petty grudges. IJNWI: It's Just Not Worth It.
10) Finally, a 10th Lesson I learned is that, as Maimonides says, it is very important for a person to take care of himself. We need to make sure we are eating healthy, and exercising, so we can continue to operate in this world, and remain healthy, viable human beings. Life is short, and we need to take care of ourselves. We have a mission we must accomplish. I need to make sure I can be around to raise my children, and to love and cherish my wife. It is crucial that we take care of ourselves.
I learned, dear Henry, that being alive is not simple. Everyone reading this blogg, regardless how difficult your life is, has so much to be grateful for, not only because you're are once again being dazzled by my brilliance, but really by mere virtue of your being alive.
This Passover, as we celebrate G-d's miracles He did for us years ago, I will be celebrating my own miracles He performed for me, and my own rebirth into an appreciative dude who is simply so happy to be here. A few days ago I returned to upstate New York after a Spring Break trip to Denver, where it was seventy degrees the whole time. As I was greeted by sixteen degree freezing weather, I was tempted to complain about the contrast, and living in New York. But I stopped, and realized that if my biggest problems and annoyances are the weather, then I am the most fortunate man alive. With so much in life to be overjoyed about, I have no excuses to complain. After all, I am still alive.