Sometimes we need a smack in the face

You never know when life will smack you in the face with the unexpected. It happens to everyone, those moments of clarity when you realize you were inches from disaster, walking a tightrope between life and death. It could be a car accident, disease, natural disaster, or a random act of negligence by a stranger...

Remembering such times immediately brings back visceral reactions. Time flows in slow motion. You remember feelings of shock, the lump in your throat, the stomach ache that sets in when you realize you almost lost someone you love — or that they almost lost you.  

Thinking back, I recall these moments in my own life so easily. The first time my husband had a gun pulled on him while at work. The morning my daughter was on her way to school, not three minutes from our house, and the car she was riding in was sideswiped by a van going 50 mph. The call on Christmas Eve telling me my father had a stroke, and the following one that said he’d need brain surgery. And finding out my youngest brother had flipped the car several times while driving back from New York—thankfully, he emerged without a scratch.

Had any of those moments gone differently, I would have lost a piece of my heart.

Of course these moments don’t always have a happy ending. Life is about change and no one lives forever. But I think close calls bear some important messages. To be thankful for the time you have with those you love — to spend more time connecting than arguing. To focus not on the imperfections in relationships, but on what you are learning from the mistakes and conflicts. And to always say "I love you" before hanging up the phone, because you never know when it might be the last call.  

Every day is a gift, and we should try harder to remember that. But we all forget it from time to time, especially when we find ourselves overwhelmed with day-to-day frustrations — paying bills, working long hours, dealing with overtired children, and the occasional fender-bender. Sometimes we forget it for so long that we need a wake-up call. We need to be reminded of what we have to lose. We need to remember to be thankful for all of the love we have in our lives, no matter how imperfect it may be.

Next time life smacks you in the face — with an inconvenient flat tire, a spouse who pushes your buttons at the wrong moment, a ticket on your way to work, or a close call that brings to you the line between life and death — stop and listen. Remember what you may be forgetting. Then, try turning the other cheek — you just might have some sense smacked into you.

Mary Carroll Courtwright teaches psychology, sociology, and philosophy courses at Bryant & Stratton College in Eastlake. Her novel Song of the Messenger, which is set in Cleveland Heights, was published in 2007. Her writing has also been featured on National Public Radio. For more information, visit

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Volume 2, Issue 7, Posted 4:11 PM, 06.10.2009