In 2007 I graduated from New York University, tossed my LSAT prep book, and headed off to Indonesia.
I arranged to volunteer through an international coordinator, but it was clear upon arrival that the orphanage I was sent to didn’t need my help. The organization was perfectly self-sufficient.
After completing my commitment to the orphanage, I asked around for other volunteer opportunities. Through a mixture of chance and pursuit, I was soon splitting my days between Yayasan Bumi Sehat, a health clinic and gentle birthing center in Nyuh Kuning, and Yayasan Senang Hati, a home for mentally and physically challenged people 30 minutes away in Tampaksiring.
For general adventuring and to travel between volunteer positions, I rented a motorcycle. I loved that motorcycle but I didn’t have the greatest luck riding it.
Once I accidentally motorcycled into an elephant sanctuary. Another time I came around a curve too fast and gave myself an amazingly painful road rash by laying the bike down on gravel.
Early one morning I was riding on a busy road. Scanning ahead, I noticed an elderly man coming from the opposite direction on his motorcycle. He swerved close to the yellow line, close to my lane. I slowed down.
A moment later, the man’s head dropped. He fell asleep. His bike crossed the yellow line and was coming straight at me at 40 mph. I looked left, there was a truck. I looked right, there was heavy oncoming traffic. I hit the brakes and the horn… I wasn’t wearing any gear except an ill-fitting helmet.
There’s no way I’ll survive this crash.
The instant before impact, I closed my eyes and thought: Well, this is it! What a way to go, living down my dreams in Indonesia!
People say your life flashes before your eyes, but for me it was love. Like a beautiful movie, a montage of loving memories came up, one after the other. Standing in my father’s study, telling him about my day. Sitting across the kitchen table from my Nana, listening to her stories. The way my sister understands me. The way my brother tried to teach me things when we were little. That night my roommates and I pushed our beds together in the dorm to watch a movie. Talking to my friend, Greg, on the phone.
It wasn’t the big stuff, the grandiose gestures. What arose were the mundane moments, the feelings of sharing love with another person. Mostly I remembered the way friends and family looked at me with love, and how much love I felt for them in return.
At some point, I thought of my first true love. How he smiled at me. Riding in the car together, standing in the kitchen together, waking up next to each other. How much I loved him and how loved I felt by him.
Things didn’t work out between us but I felt deeply grateful to have shared that kind of love with someone.
At some point I ran out of faces and feelings. The montage stopped and I thought:
No one in my life doesn’t know I love them.
I accepted my fate and smiled.
I woke up a few minutes later, lying on the side of the road. Before I opened my eyes, I listened to the muffled sounds around me. Is this heaven? I opened my eyes to see my friend’s face just inches from my own. He had been riding in front of me and heard the crash. He was trying to get me to say something, tell him what hurts, make a sound, anything…
I started crying. I wasn’t crying because I was in pain (I was in shock and couldn’t feel anything). I was crying because I was still alive. After such a beautiful experience the instant before the crash, I was so ready to go.
There’s a pervasive notion that death is something to be feared. I always thought I’d feel that, but no. If we pursue our dreams and openly give and receive love with the people around us, there is nothing to fear.
I don’t ride motorcycles anymore, but I do often think of that moment before the crash.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Apprentice Editor: Kimby Maxson / Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: Provided by Author