It was October 1998, and some friends and I were on our way to Peoria to 'the boat' (aka gambling). The alpha friend was driving, I was riding shotgun, and we'd picked-up a couple of acquaintances in Bloomington-Normal, and were on our way. It was the early evening, and we were all looking forward to a night of fun and excitement. Unfortunately, we had a bit more excitement -- however brief -- than we'd bargained for.
There is an interchange to navigate, northwest of Bloomington, to head toward Peoria. While by no means a difficult interchange, if you're not paying attention it is possible to almost miss it. This occurred on our '98 adventure and, to compensate, our driver swerved over to the exit lane, crossing in front of two vehicles (including a semi), and I remember shutting my eyes because, if I was going to die like that, I didn't want to see it.
A few interminable moments later I opened my eyes and saw that we were on the right path to Peoria. We had survived. That incident has always resonated with me, not just because I thought it was curtains for us, but because of my thought process during the time my eyes were closed. There was a sense of calm underneath the terror. I remember thinking, "Well, I've had a nice life. Can't really complain much if it ends here."
There is something comforting in knowing that, when the end comes (and it comes for us all), you're okay with how things have been. Unfortunately, an almost exact replay of the aforementioned incident occurred earlier this year, and I had the opposite reaction. That has lingered with me ever since, and I'm not sure what to make of it.
A friend had come to town, and wanted to take a drive up to the Costco in Peoria. He had a nice rental car, knew that I was a bit of a car fan, and readily admitted that the idea of venturing 80+ miles to go to Costco was a flimsy excuse for us to just take a ride together. So, off we went and, at the same exact interchange as 1998, pretty much the same thing occurred. My friend was driving, nearly missed the turn-off, and crossed lanes and traffic to make the exit. I shut my eyes, once again unsure if this would be 'it,' and was able to open them again a few moments later, safe and sound.
Only this time during the darkness of the closed eyes, I was not so placid and serene. I thought, "Fuck, no! I'm not ready to die. This can't happen." Thankfully, death did not occur, but the comparison, some eighteen years later, to my different reactions of possibly facing demise were unsettling. Why was I okay with dying in 1998, but not in 2016? I've experienced more time on earth in the intervening years, one could argue that my life is fuller and more complete. Shouldn't it make me more okay with going?