How to Feel Alive

For obvious reasons I have been thinking a lot about life these days, and this week I had two totally unrelated experiences I’d like to share. Just observations…no epiphanies here.

On Tuesday morning I was stuck in traffic on I-10 and as I’m sitting there listening to music and enjoying the morning the car next to me got slammed into by the car behind it. It was not a soft bump…the car that did the plowing into was smashed pretty good. The guy in the car that got hit was rightfully pissed, but a couple of things came to mind as I sped off (everyone was fine by the way). Mainly I thought how fucking random life is. I was inches away from getting my new car rear-ended, but it happened to the guy next to me instead. At the same time, the accident happened right in front of a highway patrolman who was off to the side of the diamond lane waiting to ticket solo drivers. The guy who got hit simply rolled down his window and called to the cop and within minutes I’m sure they were safely off to the shoulder. Crazy how things like that happen.

Last night on the flight home from San Francisco I was reading Greg Graffin’s book Anarchy Evolution. For those of you who don’t know who Greg is, he’s the lead singer of a punk band called Bad Religion and he also happens to have a PhD from Cornell and teaches evolutionary biology at UCLA when he’s not touring. The connection to the car wreck is that one of the chapters I read on the plane last night was about how natural selection alone is not the only thing that influences evolution — there’s a crap load of plain old luck involved. Luck like not getting hit by that car. Luck like surviving a heart attack (or “luck” in even having a heart attack). I wouldn’t call it fate, and I definitely don’t believe it’s part of some grand design…you can only make so many choices yet some things are left to chance. I couldn’t have planned for my heart attack any more than the guy in the car couldn’t have planned to get rear ended. As Mike Tyson once famously said about his opponents in the ring — everyone has a plan until they get hit.

I think the point for me in all of this is to not over-think things. One day you’re driving down the freeway minding your own business and some idiot smashes into you. One day a co-worker quits and you get a promotion. One day you run into an old friend on the city streets of a town you’re visiting. One day you have a heart attack.¬†You never know what life has in store.

The other thing that is floating around in my brain this morning is how alive I felt in San Francisco this week. Yesterday morning I was sitting in Starbucks having a bowl of oatmeal and a latte and I sat there quietly watching all of the people coming and going. Everyone was in a rush and zipping around on their way to work…it was surreal to sit there calmly observing. A little later I was walking down Market Street on the way to the office finishing my latte and I was in no real rush to get to the office. But the street was buzzing with energy. People running to catch buses, folks climbing up the stairs from the BART station, people walking briskly to work in all directions. It was a beautiful morning and I just took it all in and I felt totally alive. It was like I was part of some larger organism called The City and we were all connected. It must be amazing to live in a big city like San Francisco and experience that every day. I wonder if people realize how much energy is all around them. I doubt it…but I highly recommend every so often simply soaking in everything that is going on around you — it’s life affirming! That being said, I like living in suburban Phoenix. But it’s sure fun to visit the big city once in a while to feel that rush of excitement.