Today, July 12th, is my birthday. Most years, you’d have to remind me that it’s my emergiversarry because, hey, I’m busy enjoying my life. But this year it is sticking in the front of my mind. I made it another year. Why does it feel like “I made it”, rather than, “oh yeah, it’s my birthday” this year? Well, the reason I am writing for the first time in over a year is this: I’ve got life events to process, and it just so happens that two shockingly sobering experiences have landed in my lap in the last 48 hours.
First, 2 nights ago, I watched some UFC fights with a group of friends. Whoop dee doo. I don’t find fighting all that sobering anymore. Oh no, a few punches thrown between two people who agreed to get together and get punched! The unmitigated gall of these hooligans.
What was sobering was the drive home. And a glorious drive it was. I was dressed in a white tshirt, some khakis, and a pair of purples shoes I had bought for a movie. I was riding my Harley. It was my first bike ride since some wheelies on a dirtbike as a stunt double 2 weeks ago. I was loving the sound of the machine underneath me. I was soaking in the feeling of the cool night air wrapping around me as I glided. It was 11 at night, the streets were mostly empty, the air was cooling down, and I had absolutely no reason to rush. It was one of those “stop and smell the roses” kind of rides. Although I never would, I found myself reflexively wanting to take a video with my phone so I could look back on this moment as a benchmark for what life can feel like. No sooner had I drifted into this story of my future recollection than I was rudely and abruptly yanked back into the present.
As I reached about the halfway point on my cruise home, driving about 80kph, the driver of a late-90s Dodge Intrepid decided that the possibility of oncoming traffic didn’t seem scary enough to warrant open eyes. Before I could register what was happening, 50 feet in front of me was a shitty old car, occupying the wrong side of the road, driving straight at me.
All I could conjure before reflexes took over was, “wha–”
Before I could process, my back tired had locked, skidded, and started drifting to my right. Oops. Let go of that foot break, Ben. The oncoming car then started drifting to its left (my right) to continue cross-road. With my headlight shining bright and directly into the front seat of the car, I could now clearly see the side profile of the driver. Almost instantly, my tire caught traction again and suddenly I am back upright, still flying toward the golden car that is slowly creeping it’s way across the road. Now where? The SUV behind me lays on the horn, assumedly to alert the drifting car of his ignorance. If I keep going straight, things are going to end poorly as I would hit the car perfectly in the middle. If I go right, he’ll keep going and I will likely clip his hood or he may even hit me. So…oncoming traffic it is.
And just like that, it was over. The whole incident might have lasted 3-4 seconds. I managed to swerve into the oncoming lane — missing the Intrepid’s rear bumper by about 18 inches — then quickly deking back into my own lane. Thank god, there were no other vehicles occupying that oncoming lane. The SUV behind me kept honking on repeat. In a matter of seconds, I shifted back into a lower gear, grabbed the clutch, and turned to look back over my right shoulder. No more Intrepid. No more SUV. Just the low rumble of my Harley, the dark calm of late night suburban streets, and the uncomfortable flashes of what just transpired.
“Jeeeeeesus” slipped from under my breath as I flicked the bike into neutral and cruised up to the red light in front of me. I shoulder-checked again, not really believing that a 5-second window had almost just ruined my life. I was angry. I was confused. I wasn’t sure what I felt.
That was July 10, 2021…yet another Momento Mori for Ben. Safe to say, I could use more gentle reminders of my mortality. My heart rate felt elevated still 36 hours later…today…my birthday.
I woke up this morning like almost any other morning: groggy, yet excited for the week. My prototypically naked offspring and naturally beautiful wife were awaiting me in the kitchen, proud to me hiding birthday presents that I didn’t expect. It was exactly as a morning should be. Hugs. Food. Coffee. Affirmations. Rushing out the door. Ah. What a good start.
Later in the morning, I am on our regular film set. We’re on the second floor of a building in downtown Kelowna. Jordan and I are recording a course while Sarah plugs away at computer work. We get done a day or two of exercises and decide to take a quick breather (mostly so I am not dizzy or out of breath). I grab my water bottle and lean back against the extensive windowsill that occupies an entire wall of the office.
Me: Sarah, are you a reader?
Sarah: Yes I am!
Me: What kind of stuff do you read?
[we continue blabbing about young-adult fiction, classics, biographies, etc]
Sarah: I think I have actually read all of the books he’s…written…
Jordan: What? What’s going on?
Sarah: [eyes widening as a look of disbelief washed over her face]
Sarah: Oh my god, that crane just collapsed.
What looked like Sarah appalled at my words was actually her witnessing an atrocity over my shoulder. I spin to look over my right shoulder to see that the end of our usual alleyway view had indeed been altered. Jordan stares. I stare. Sarah stares, trying to explain what she had just witnessed. We’re all stunned. All I can conjure is a low “fuck”. The largest crane in downtown Kelowna was suddenly missing from the side of a building that was only 1.5 blocks away. After what felt like an hour, but I believe was closer to 90 seconds, it dawned on me that I might just be the most qualified person within 5 blocks to help stabilize anyone who’s injured. After verbally running the concept by my equally-stunned colleagues, it was go-time.
Within the next few seconds, Jordan and I are downstairs, running through the alleyway towards the site of the incident. As we arrive on the scene, droves of construction workers are pouring out of the building. Some of them are confused. Many of them are panicked. A couple of them are covering their faces to calm themselves and camouflage their tears. There are young men sitting on alleyway curbs, gaze aimed down, hearts racing, and hands shaking.
I look around for anyone who might be in charge. I spot a man just feet away and manage to murmur a proposition to the tune of, “How can I help?” This was met with, “We’ve got it handled”, to which I manage, “I’ve got First Responder Training. Let me help.”
It was made evident that I should find a guy in a camo shirt and ask him where help was needed. As this man emerges from the wreckage, a woman comes running around the corner of the building, clearly distraught, carrying a spine-board.
Woman: “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god”
Man in camo shirt: “You can’t go in there. It’s not safe.”
Woman, nearly crying, “I don’t care, I have to.”
She then jumps into a construction elevator which begins scaling the side of the building. At this point, standing maybe 20 yards from this conversation, I had a strong urge to yell beyond the fence to the supervisor to offer my help. If you’ve ever spine-boarded someone or had to keep someone stable, you know it’s a very difficult job (if not impossible) to do alone. I’ve been first on scene for some crazy shit before and this felt like the time to act.
The second I shift my weight forward to approach the man in the camo shirt, I hear sirens. Police cars start piling in by the dozen. A fire truck pulls around the corner and stops 20 feet from us. It is now becoming obvious that the situation is…not good. Now what? Do I insist on helping now that more qualified professionals are here? Probably not a smart move. I want to help. But I’ll likely get in the way and put myself in danger. But I want to help. But I can’t. Shit. Time to go back to the office, I guess.
Let’s fast forward through a whirlwind of the next few hours. Staring into the abyss. Evacuations. Checking on my daughter who’se only blocks away. Checking the news to find that there are indeed multiple fatalities. Flashing back to the faces on those workers coming out of that building, not to mention the face of that panicked woman with the spine-board. The realization that we were standing nearby when someone has unexpectedly checked out of this life forever. The nagging feeling and contradicting thoughts that I should have run in to help in the few minutes between my arrival and that of the firefighters.
So…besides trying to figure out why my life often sounds like a movie, why do I write this?
To look back upon. To remind myself that these things do happen. They happen to me. They have happened to me before. They will happen again.
I am not one to use scare tactics to provoke action. Nor am I the type to write with the aim of inspiration. But I felt compelled to write bout this experience today to remind myself and the reader of this: your time is coming. You. Will. Die. It might be a workplace accident. It might be a drunk driver. It might be an unexpected disease. It might be a fluke accident. It might happen on your birthday. It might even tease you twice in a 48 hour period. But it’s coming.
You are going to die. Live accordingly.