Except for NPR and a few XM Radio oldies stations, I haven’t been much of a radio listener in the last couple of decades. In the 80s and 90s I would listen to KOMO in Seattle and Olympia, and then KSL radio in Salt Lake as I would drive to work, so when we moved to Maine and people asked me how I was doing, and I responded “better than I deserve,” they would invariable respond with “Oh, you listened to Dave Ramsey.”
Well, no. With all due respect, I had never heard of him. But for the last 10 years or so, it’s been my go-to answer to that question. There were times I would say, “If I were any better I’d have to be twins,” and sometimes I truly felt that way. But the older I get, the more I realize that I have truly been blessed beyond my deserts.
Sometimes when I say this to people, they’ll come back with “Oh, you shouldn’t say that, I’m sure you deserve it!” And that’s a nice thought too. But as I cast my mind over the past almost-70 years, I realize that I have been preserved from destruction or serious injury more times than I can count, and I’m sure more times than I’m even aware of.
- When I was about two years old, I remember standing in my darkened kitchen (this would have been 1953), turning the burners on and off and watching the pretty blue gas flames dance around. That funny big knob in the middle didn’t seem to do anything, so I ignored it; what I didn’t know was that this was the kind of oven that had no pilot light and needed to be lit with a match. While I was playing with the burners, the oven was filling with gas and soon the inevitable happened. The oven door flew open with a thundering roar, but I was so tiny that it protected me from the flames other than having my hair singed and a huge contusion on my forehead.
In New York City where we were living, it was common practice when building skyscrapers to blast into the bedrock using dynamite and massive metal blankets woven out of thick cables and dragged around by steam shovels. My mother later told me that whatever I heard one of these explosions my eyes would get big and I would stand stock-still and ask, “Boom?”
Left an impression on me for sure.
- In 1962, I was flying from New York to Salt Lake (I would have been around 11) to visit my uncle and his family. I was on United 725, which lost hydraulics and had to circle around for hours dumping fuel while the crew worked on lowering the gear manually. I wrote about that adventure earlier. I do recall someone asking me about the event after we landed, and 11-year-old me responded, “it was kinda boring.” They chose not to include that quote in the writeups about the event, not sensational enough I guess. But it could certainly have been a disaster.
- Seven years later I was working at the United Seamen’s Service in Naples, Italy. Mama was “la direttrice,” and I had a year in Italy as a student, general factotum around the club, and enthusiastic traveler. One day I was vacuuming around with one of those old canister vacuums and went a bit too far; but instead of the plug coming out of the wall, it came out of the vacuum. Like an idiot, I went and picked up those bare wires, and got the shock of my life. And don’t forget, in Italy the voltage is 220. It pretty much knocked me on my honus, and I have learned since then that many people have been killed by a 220-volt shock. I was, to put it mildly, very fortunate.
- In 1972, I was still a military dependent. Having learned to fly in Key West that summer in a Cessna 150, I was able to continue lessons at the Hill Air Force Base Aero Club at drastically reduced rates, switching to a Piper PA-28 140. During one of my solo flights, I was puttering around above the Great Salt Lake and went up to about 9,000 feet (the airport is at 4798 to start with, so I was almost a mile up) to see what really happens when you do a cross-control stall. And I found out. The plane flipped over on its back, entirely as described in the literature I had read, and immediately went into a spin. Since I’m writing this, it’s clear that I was able to stop the spin and pull out, but it was both terrifying and incredibly difficult. Had I been any lower, I probably would have augered in.
- In 1972, my father and I were driving his little Toyota from Los Angeles to Provo, Utah, to look for an apartment – I was attending school there and he wanted to move from LA to be closer to me. He insisted on driving all night (that is, he insisted that I drive all night while he slept.) I began getting drowsy. I opened the window, and he shouted at me that he was cold. I tried playing the radio, and he shouted at me that he couldn’t sleep. I was slapping myself to try to stay awake, and the inevitable happened… I woke up in the ditch doing 70, overcorrected, danced on the brake, and flipped the car over, whereupon it spun down the freeway on its top emitting sparks along the way. It was amazing we didn’t do one of these. We both escaped with only a few bumps and bruises. Angels were with us that day.
- 6. In July 1989, we had a young man from Japan stay with us for a week or so. We were living in Salt Lake, and so we took him down to Yuba Lake for a day on the water. My daughter, then 8 years old, was floating around in an inflatable raft, and the wind started carrying her out onto the lake. I thought, “Oh, I’ll just swim out and get her back.” Moron. The wind blew her a lot faster than I could swim, and I soon found myself tiring. And of course, I had no life jacket on. I was in trouble, and called to nearby boats to come help me… but none did. They were too busy drinking beer to notice a drowning man. By the grace of God I was able to get myself into a deadman float and work my way to shore, but it was a very close call. I came close to ending my days with Davy Jones.
- 7. Not a near-death experience, but still significant; in 1993 I had a chance to visit my Italian family in S. Pietro Apostolo, way down in Calabria (in the toe of Italy’s boot.) I had taken my computer along, and had done a lot of genealogy research, met relatives, collected lots of dates, taken lots of photos, and was delighted to have learned so much about my overseas relations. On the way back to Rome, the overnight train stopped for a while in Naples. I was asleep, and awoke to find someone in my compartment removing my bag. It was dark. I had my contacts in, and waking up I couldn’t see very well. I was able to take my bag out of his hands, whereupon he fled – but had I not awakened, all that precious research (along with all my belongings for that trip) would have ended up in the hands of some young thug. And I might have been knifed for my trouble.
Almost all of these events were precipitated by my own stupidity. Things could have turned out much, much worse for me and my family. But by the grace of God, they didn’t. I was spared, and protected, even if I wasn’t living my life as well as I might have been. I still have challenges. I still face trials. But thus far I have awakened each day not dead, with new opportunities and new blessings. The Lord is kind, and I am grateful. ¹
I am truly “better than I deserve.”
The Old Wolf has spoken.
¹ There will be those who say I was fortunate for other reasons – coincidence, or no reason at all, since the universe doesn’t care one way or the other. Whatever makes them happy.