“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” ~ Neil Armstrong, astronaut and first man on the moon
My Louisiana cousins suggest that we go catch crawfish. Growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, with no prior crawfish expedition experience, I jump at the chance for this new, first time adventure. I have eaten these tasty mudbugs many times with my relatives at the camp in Slidell, the location of our annual vacation trip. This trip is a promise my dad made to my mom before they were married – she agreed to live in Birmingham and he agreed that they would visit her hometown each year. New Orleans, actually, was her hometown, but Slidell became the place we visited because the family camp was on the bayou.
After packing the trunk of the car with nets, bait and croker sacks, we head for the swamp. In the driver’s seat is Clem, my older cousin and rounding out the foursome is my younger cousin Wayne, a friend and me; three experienced guys and one rookie. Clem pulls off the main highway onto a dirt road. Quickly, it becomes much darker because of the shade, compliments of the surrounding trees loaded with thick vines and moss. A few minutes later we are deep in Louisiana swampland, traveling on a road that looks like it has not had a vehicle on it in quite some time.
After parking the car, the veterans assemble the nets with bait and put on their wading boots. Before getting into the water, a couple of snakes have already been spotted. Without any reservations they step into this murky sea, unable to see the bottom and anything that lurks beneath the surface. I do not like snakes and alligators do not rank much higher and this water holds both. “Are they crazy? “ is the silent question rising in my mind.
I am glad to be the rookie because I get to stay on dryer ground, which is still pretty wet in a Louisiana swamp. I walk in stride with Clem on my left and the twosome on my right on a small path surrounded by dark waters. They mention, almost as in passing, to watch out for the snakes. “They won’t bother you if you do not bother them,” is the advice I hear. I am sure they are having some fun with the city boy from Birmingham. Having a mom with New Orleans roots is not going to elevate their respect or erase the real gap that exists. I grew up in the city and they have been to the swamps many times. Plain and simple, I am scared to death, but do not offer those thoughts. A city boy from Birmingham, I am also a young teenager with a tough image to maintain, even if it kills me.
Having traveled only a short distance, I see a sunny spot in the middle of all of this darkness. Lying right in my path, completely stretched out in the sun, is what appears to be a long, dead water moccasin. Its skin is very dry. I surmise that it has been dead for some time. Passing to the side of this creature, I make a remark to my cousins about the dead snake. All of a sudden – before I have time to figure what caused its demise – the snake raises its head, making the distinctive hissing sound they make right before they attack. The white inside of his mouth is visible, (thus the classification “cottonmouth”), and his head is positioned directly toward my right leg! This moment will be remembered forever – hopefully by me (if I am still alive)!
Time stands still. I hear myself saying “No, it is not dead!” as I take one more step before it happens. This four-foot moccasin is so close to me that it needs only a fraction of a second to insert its huge fangs into my leg – fangs I can now clearly see. I cannot move fast enough to escape. On my speediest day, I would be too slow for this great escape. And, alas . . . . I am too slow today!
The amount of venom in a four-foot moccasin is more than a one- or two-foot snake. Most snake bites do not kill people. But, some do and others cause permanent damage. Snake anti-venom is not as common today as it will be later. It is a bit ironic that one day in the distant future, I will own a transportation company that will transport snake anti-venom to rural hospitals in Alabama to help possibly save a life or prevent someone from having lasting damage. Today it looks like I am going to need that kind of help.
I had only one set of instructions – do not bother the snakes –which I have already violated. Up to this point, I have never been bitten by a snake. I have no time to contemplate the pain or even death, if that is the outcome.
I sure wish I could back-up time. I would have not even joined my cousins on this swamp adventure. What was I thinking!? I am a kid, in a foreign environment, getting ready to receive a life lesson – to never be forgotten. Oh, that there was a time machine for moments like this!
Then, it happens . . .
Nothing!! Nothing happens. I keep moving. The snake stays poised, ready to strike. This would be an easy hit for the snake – a sure thing. I have invaded its area. I have bothered a deadly four-foot snake. It remains motionless as I very slowly and quietly move away. It is like a scene in a movie that is put in slow motion. The action is only a few seconds, but it seems like eternity.
This moment was a long time ago, but I can see it clearly – just as if it happened today. Something bad – even death, possibly, stood at my door, but did not come in. I could have been fighting for survival, or living with some permanent physical damage. My cousins would have done all the right things in providing aid, all while taking me to a hospital for emergency treatment. Who knows what would have been the outcome? I was so young.
Have you ever had a near death situation? Perhaps, it was not as dramatic. Maybe, it was much larger. If you are an adult, you have made some choices which ended up with your life at stake. You got on a different plane, train or bus one day and escaped a major event. You left a minute earlier or later before a crash at an intersection you travel every single day. The doctor does not give the medical diagnosis that you feared. We have all had at least one close call. Some have had multiple events. You have also participated in conversations with family and friends concerning the close calls they experienced. The dreaded event which did not happen seems pretty common. We know because we have been there and we have talked about it. Have we not? What was your close call?
This does not take into account all the other times, for which we have no knowledge – the ones we have not counted. Our time here on earth is short. To depart this world as a teenager is something we all understand is way too early. But, even those that depart at age eighty or ninety have a short life. The longest life is short when time is used as the measurement.
What does a close call mean to you? How would you label it? How have your friends or family described the event you or they experienced? Do any of the following sound familiar?
It was fate
I have not finished all that I am supposed to be doing here on earth.
I am living on borrowed time.
I was lucky.
I have a second chance.
It’s just life.
It was another day at the office.
It was a miracle.
I just knew.
God was watching over me.
No big deal.
I had this feeling.
It was not my time.
There are others. Perhaps, your parents or grandparents had a saying that has been passed down from one generation to another. What are the actual words you use?
Your description matters. Even at the most basic level, the words you choose may tell a powerful story of survival. But, they can do much more. They can speak volumes to the life you have lived and want to live since that moment. They can illuminate the path ahead if we so choose.
One fact remains that trumps even the escaping death experience. You are alive. You are here. You have been given an opportunity in life to live longer – a chance to make a difference. One more inning – one more pitch – one more attempt at bat. You have been given an immeasurable present, the gift of time.
Are you using your gift, the one you have already received, to make a difference? How would you describe how you have lived since the close call? Are you satisfied with your answer? What would you like to do in the future?
As we reflect on the shortness of life, I would like to suggest to you that there are no small moments. You may be more inclined to remember the dramatic ones, like the snake bite that did not happen, or the intersection accident a mere minute after driving through. The close calls are the easy ones to recall because it is death that we faced and overcame.
But, life is way more than survival. Do you not agree? We have a chance today to make a contribution, a moment to serve, an opportunity to make a difference and only a short time to do this. What would have been your legacy? What is your legacy now? What would you like your legacy to be? Answer now because life is waiting.
In Og Mandino’s best seller, The Greatest Salesman In the World, he said:“I will live this day as if it is my last. And if it is my last, it will be my greatest monument. This day I will make the best day of my life. This day I will drink every minute to its full. I will savor its taste and give thanks. I will maketh every hour count and each minute I will trade only for something of value. My last must be my best.”
If you live as long as I have already lived – perhaps you are there now – you will make an interesting observation, noticing something very real as you look back. Some of the most innocent moments, small in our eyes at the time, turned out to be huge in our life. We did not see it then. We see it clearly now. There are no small moments.
I hope that no intersection moment, swamp incident or other chance event shortens your life. But, I wish so much more for you than just survival. What is your desire? What is your fervent hope? What will be your legacy?
Neal Armstrong landed on the moon on a Monday, when he made his famous statement. Monday is the first step into your week and a giant leap into the rest of your life. How are you going to use the wonderful gift you have received? How are you going to use your time?
I will start by . . .