“Near Death Experience” by Andrew Evans, page 3

        Was I simply lucky? Lucky enough to survive severe falls and a few minor head traumas. Perhaps, though my luck tends to give out now and again. When I was living in England I got mugged: attacked by a gang of street thugs who asked me directions before punching me in the head and kicking me on the ground. I saw stars—another kind of euphemism that turns out to be quite accurate—and then I lost consciousness.
         I did not make a pit stop in heaven for bear hugs with dead friends and family, but it sure felt like hell when I came to. Bits of gravel stuck in my face and it hurt to move. I remember lying very still on my back as the CAT scan entombed me; remember a demure British doctor explaining the colored landscape photograph that was my brain—the internal bleeding showed hot pink.
         “You’re lucky,” he explained. Everything would heal eventually, and I would be “fine.” But I am still not fine, because along with ropes, rocks, and Tupperware, I now avoid strangers who stop me on the street and ask for directions.
         I keep telling myself that it’s stupid. Ultimately, you can’t outwit death, nor can you discern what’s inside the gift-wrapped packages that life delivers to our doorsteps daily: the turquoise sea contains bull sharks, that roller coaster a faulty bolt. Right now, a drunk driver’s speeding out of control in the opposite lane and last night, you forgot to close the valve on your gas grill, five feet away from the place where your neighbor will soon toss his still-glowing cigarette.
         To cope with near-death, we make signs. “Peligroso,” is the subtitle for a stick figure falling backwards on a wet floor and breaking his neck. The Weather Channel draws angry angled lines on the TV map, a public palm reading of a hurricane’s possible tour of death. There may be ice on the bridge; this plastic bag is not a toy. At check-in, the airline agent asks if we’d like to fill out an emergency contact form, meaning, “After you’re dead, who should we tell first?” The question begs some thought—who are we nearest to? Close enough to trust with our own death. At first it was my parents, then my spouse. Now I just offer up a random friend’s name—friends who’s numbers still clog my cell phone but who I may not have spoken to in years.
         That’s because on airplanes I am a Hindu. Flying is the only time when I can just leave everything to fate. Either the plane arrives safely or it crashes in a fireball with a great loss of life. I’ve already lived through the kind of scary turbulence that gets passengers pulling rosary beads from their purses and screaming and crying out loud. I’ve already had the European businessman dig his nails into my forearm as we’ve dropped a few hundred feet in the sky. And I’ve done the real-life emergency landing where we all braced our heads in our arms and watched the fire trucks chase us down the runway.
         I’m not a mathematician but I imagine that the very high number of planes in which I fly greatly increases my odds of dying in a plane. Somehow, that knowledge doesn’t scare me or make me avoid airplanes. Tupperware might give me the creeps but each new dingy, outdated airplane fails to make me flinch.
         Maybe if I had actually seen the plane amongst the rubble, things would be different. I was late for work that day in September, riding the bus in Arlington, Virginia. We all heard the crash—a terrific boom—and minutes later, a gauzy cloud of white smoke moving over the Potomac. Sirens whined up and down the parkway, never stopping. Traffic stopped, the bridges closed, the world stopped.
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