I do not know why I do my best thinking at the ocean. I suppose it has something to do with all of that extra oxygen in the air, the sense of “being away” from my regular life, and just being in salt water and waves do something to a body. It’s something akin to “resetting.”
Last summer, in a grand sense of adventure, I rented a car and took off for the coast by myself for just a day trip. I was living life on the edge by not taking the rental car insurance (to save a few bucks, you know…better spent on dinner, in my opinion). I didn’t take much but myself, sunscreen, my iPod, paper and pen, towels, and the like.
On the way there, in the way that Texas highways widen and wane with speed limits reaching near 80 mph, but slowing back down to a 30 mph small town speed trap, I found myself in one of those loops, with three or four cars and a semi truck hauling fill dirt. One of us cars would pass the truck, then the other cars would pass *that* car, then the semi would decide to pass one or two of us, and in a cycle we went like this down the road.
Well, at some point, I lost my patience with this two cars forward, one car back rhythm (right around the time “Radar Love” came on the stereo). I had just been passed by the semi for the third time, and being afraid of having my windshield cracked by a flying rock off of his load, I passed him going closer to 90 than 80 mph, and kept the speed high to get away from him. I looked in my rearview to see if the other cars were following me, and realized, as I was looking, the truck had suddenly lost its whole load. An avalanche of dirt was rolling behind him into a big cloud. One of the cars we had been looping with was no where to be seen and the truck slowed to a stop.
I thought about stopping–slowed to about 40–but then I thought “what am I going to do?” I’m not really a witness since it happened behind me. And I am certainly no EMT should someone need aid. I would probably spin into a panic and be just another person someone would have to “deal with.” I did finally pull over to dial 911. Before I had the chance to fish my phone out of my purse, two state patrol vehichles approached with lights and sirens on the other side of the road, followed by an ambulance and fire truck minutes later. I drove on, as did the others cars who had passed the truck.
As I drove, I realized how I had barely avoided catastrophe. If I hadn’t been injured, it seems I surely would have had a totalled rental car on my hands. I would have been stranded halfway between Austin and the coast. I very possibly could have ended up in a strange hospital with a head injury and no one really knowing where I was.
But I continued to the ocean, pondering this thing. This thing I avoided only by a minute or so. Really only because I didn’t want to deal with a possible crack in a windshield. Because I had been speeding through a game of “who is faster” down the highway with strangers in other cars. Because “Radar Love” came up on the shuffle on my iPod.
When I finally made it to the water’s edge, I cried my relief and my sorrow, believing someone must have been hurt. Someone who had shared a moment with me as we tried to pass the same obstacle. I let the water carry it away. I prayed anyone who had been injured was not hurt badly…that they wouldn’t have to face being stranded or the pitiful doom of “no insurance” although the truck driver was likely liable. And I thanked the universe for sparing me and letting me continue on to this moment of relief.
And then I thought, as my worries melted, and all those magical things the ocean gives me came forward, that it was a sign. Life is full of risks. Life is an experiment. Sometimes you win, sometimes you get a big fat kick in the face. But if you never go into life with the intent to find and experience and discover, what is it even worth? I did not regret the trip, even though I had narrowly escaped danger. I figured I could have experienced the same thing in the heart of Austin as easily as a highway on the way to the coast.
I wrote that day on the beach for hours, taking breaks to jump back into the waves until the sun began to set, and I needed to drive back to Austin. I passed the place where the truck had lost its load, but you couldn’t even tell anything had happened. And I wondered for a minute if I had imagined it. And I wondered if it had all been an invention of my imagination. Later I decided that it had actually happened, and it was the dusk that masked the remnants of dirt, tire marks on the asphalt. I said one more prayer, and settled into a thankfulness, knowing it had been worth the risk.
But. The next time I rented a car? I got the insurance.