Most of us take years to enter a mindset where we live in the present moment. Some people will never find it. For me, all it took was a single, tragic, second.
My story began when I was sitting at home. A typical Thursday night.
A friend of mine was returning home from a three-month backpacking stint around various countries in Europe, although invoking my very own green-eyed monster, I had agreed to pick her up from the airport.
It was about 10pm, and her flight was due to land around midnight. About an hour’s drive there; plenty of time. Checking my phone, I had a text from several hours prior saying her flight was on time and the number of the gate I should be meeting her at.
I already knew she had some crazy stories to tell from the periodic updates throughout her travels, so I was excited to hear them all in person.
About 10:30pm, I got into the car, buffered one of my favourite Spotify playlists and embarked on what was to be one of the most life-changing events of my entire life.
The drive there was non-eventful.
Making my way over to the gate, I received a text that my friend had landed, but was waiting to collect her bags. I headed over to the nearby Costa to grab us each a coffee, mainly for the little caffeine boost on the journey home.
My friend and I have been incredibly close for several years now, even to the extent where it seems we can read each other’s thoughts and know exactly how each other are feeling, even when we’re miles apart. I was excited to see her.
As I waited, I remember an eastern European man dropping his bag off next to me, asking me in extremely broken English to watch his bag while he queued for a coffee himself.
Absolutely not! Can he not see the armed police walking around with their semi-automatic rifles? I don’t know what’s in your bag man, take it with you!
I finally managed to convince him to take his bag with him as I was reunited with my travelling comrade. We exchanged hugs and sat to drink our beverages. She had brought me a fridge-set of lollipops from the Romanian airport she had just left, as a thank you for picking her up.
We jumped onto the airport shuttle and returned to the car in the parking zone, hearing about all the amazing things she had been up to during the past few months. As a lover of travel myself, I found these stories enriching, enthralling and some of them downright disturbing (most notably one night in the party haven of Mykonos, which I’m not going to spare the details).
The stories continued for the rest of the journey as my friend sleepily recalled her adventures and how it sucked to be home. We were diverted several times on the way home and, thanks to her semi-jetlag and tiredness, we also managed to get lost once, but it was easily redeemed.
We reached her house in our hometown around 1:30am, potentially one of the quickest and most effortlessly airport runs I’ve ever undertaken. We chatted with her mum who was up waiting for her, despite her heading straight off to bed, for several minutes before I decided to jump in the car and head home myself.
I kept the radio off as I drove through the night, thinking about her adventures and where I would like to travel to next. I’ve already done a lot of northern Europe, perhaps somewhere like Spain or Portugal? Maybe even Morocco?
I head onto the dual carriageway on a route I had driven a seemingly infinite number of times before. After all, I traveled this road every day for work for the last 4–5 years. Tonight, it was practically empty.
It all happened in what felt like the longest yet most instant split second of my entire life.
As I rounded a blind corner, the lights in front of me illuminated beyond belief. My eyes quickly adjusted to the light and, as if in slow motion, all I could see was a pair of jeans, a striped t-shirt and hoody and a grey face, eyes staring straight back into mine.
Everything changed in that moment.
The windscreen cracked and concaved into the passenger seat of my car.
There was a “bang”, like a revolver being fired millimetres away from my ear.
I shouted ‘FUCK’ louder than I have ever said that four-letter word in my life, yet it sounded so muted. So distant.
Everything went black.
A second or so later, my body fully controlled by auto-pilot, instinct, or some other form of self-control, pulled the car over to the edge of the carriageway.
I grabbed my phone, which was on a little shelf in the middle of the dashboard, the overhead light bashing against my arm, rather than being secured in its usual location in the roof.
Without even thinking, I turned on my hazard lights and called the police. All my senses were heightened. I could smell, see and everything so much clearer than I ever had before.
I got out the car as a truck screamed past, the lights blinding me as a used my right-arm to wave him into the other lane, my left clutching my phone as I recalled details to the police.
I started to walk back the way I came.
I won’t spare you with the details of what discovered. Clinging to my phone like some kind of power/safety object, the police asked me to check the pulse of the individual I had just hit, confirming whether he was either alive or dead.
There was not a shadow of a doubt in my mind.
When you watch a movie, and you see somebody hit by a moving car, they typically roll off or over the top, brushing themselves off before continuing the chase.
Oh, how movies can be so deceiving.
The police turned up after 6 minutes of me holding them on the line (now around 3pm), closing off the road and taking me to one side. The ambulance turned up, and I was told to head over to one of the police cars.
I told them everything that had happened, did the usual drink and drug tests to ensure I was clear and then asked if I could sit in the back of the police car for a bit, since we had to stay at the scene while officers did what they had to do.
I got into the back of the car, and I closed my eyes.
I focused on my breathing.
At first, my inhales were sharp. My exhales jagged and irregular. It took me about ten seconds to get them even. To get them long and deep. I sat for what could have been a minute or ten minutes; I wasn’t sure.
Exiting the car, I was told the individual was pronounced dead at the scene. I was offered treatment for shock. I declined. Never in my life I had been more alert and more focused. Never in my life had I been this present in a moment I was living in.
We stood on that dual carriageway for another three hours.
Not once did I break down. Not once did I lose control. I had never felt more at peace with a situation in my entire life.
Around 6am, I was taken to my parent’s house and asked if I could wake them up, so the police could explain what had happened and what was going to happen next.
Of course, waking your parents up at 6 in the morning telling them the police are downstairs and want to speak to them is a wake-up call no parent wants to hear. My mum rushed down first as I was making cups of tea for everybody. My dad sleepily followed.
The police went on to tell my parents I had been involved in a suicide accident where an individual had run onto a dual carriageway in front of my car.
(These details were later confirmed officially and the reports after learning about the history of the individual and the mental health and current social problems he was suffering in his life, although I declined to learn the ins and outs of the case).
We were told it was simply a case of ‘wrong time, wrong place’ and if it wasn’t me, it would have just been somebody else.
My mum, being most mothers I know, became slightly hysterically and didn’t know what to say.
Consequently, my father then fell onto the cold tiled floor of the kitchen in what we later found out was an emotionally-induced shock.
We joke to this day he should never get up before 7am.
The police instantly rushed to my dad’s side and called for an ambulance. Mum got worse, so I had to take her by the shoulders, faced her away from my father (who had badly hit his head) and looked her straight in the eyes.
I told her to breathe.
I told her to inhale for four seconds and exhale for four.
I took her outside and sat her down on a garden bench telling her to focus on her breath, making them as long and as deep as she could. She was calm within minutes.
Leaving her outside, I returned to the house, paramedics arriving to take Dad to the hospital. Mum wanted to go, but I suggested she stay home with my brother, and I would go.
I needed to distract my mind.
It was the same paramedics that had to attend the scene earlier that morning. They told me I would need to go to counselling for what I had gone through and it could take days, months, or even years to fully accept what has happened.
I spent around five hours in the hospital as my Dad was cleaned up and taken for several scans before being told he’s going to be okay, but should book a follow-up appointment in a few weeks.
We returned home around 1 pm that afternoon where I slept one of the deepest sleeps of my life.
I understand this is a deeply traumatic experience.
Don’t worry; you don’t have to tell me.
Of course, my heart and sincere condolences go out to the family that lost one of their loved ones, their children and brothers that early morning, and I know words cannot describe or amend any pain you could have and still be feeling.
To me, this was a life-changing moment.
On the dual carriageway, I was repeatedly asked whether I was okay and whether I understood what had happened. I acknowledged it every single time.
At the hospital, I spoke to my friend whom I had picked up and explain what happened, as I did with several friends, and not one of them could think of the words to say.
They didn’t need to.
My parents said they would always be there to talk to me if I needed to. To this day, this is not something I have needed.
I’m not saying this to sound like I’m cold-hearted, or absence of feeling. I’m not at all. For several months afterwards, I was subject to panic attacks, mainly when I was in a car. I didn’t drive myself or alone for at least 8 months after that. I still have the odd panic attack to this day.
However, throughout the entire experience, I was told time and time again just how well I was handling the situation, even from the moment of impact.
My mind was able to take control of the vehicle and pull it safely over to the side of the road, instead of veering off into the central reservation and harming myself or another driver.
I was able to answer every single question the police asked, give them every detail they needed and allowed them to get on with everything they needed to do without becoming a liability.
When I returned home, I was able to look my mother straight in the eyes to stop her having her own mental breakdown where her son had gone through such a tragic experience, and her husband was lying unconscious on the floor.
I’m not saying I should wear a huge ‘S’ on the front of my t-shirt everywhere I go.
I’m saying I learned everything I needed to know about the power of living in the present moment.
On the news and the internet, we hear about stories where everyday people commit incredible acts of courage and bravery. Firefighters risk their lives to save people from burning buildings. Everyday people are conducting insane acts of bravery to be labelled as heroes.
But this is all due to the fact these people are living in the present moment, whether they are forced to, choose to, or naturally fall into it.
Flight or fight springs to mind.
We live in a time where anxiety, stress and depression have reached the point of epidemic. So many of us are caught up in the past, the future or what other people think about us that we forget to focus on the Now.
Before this incident, I had practised meditation on and off for about 3–4 months, still trying to form the habit.
Think about often you pay attention to the things you’re actually doing. While you’re reading this, are you eating your breakfast or dinner? Perhaps you’re sat on a bus or a train listening to music. Maybe you’re reading with the television on in the background or laying in bed, supposedly going to sleep.
When you eat dinner, how often do you focus on the actual action of chewing and swallowing, focusing on the taste and the texture of the food?
Is your mind off elsewhere, thinking of emails you need to reply to in the future, what you’re doing later that evening or at the weekend?
Perhaps you’re focusing more on social media, and what everybody else is up to in their everyday lives, rather than focusing on what’s going on in your own and your own happiness.
Despite this being easily the most dramatic and downright crazy experiences of my life, there are positives that come from it. I have never been more in touch with the present moment than I am now.
This is a vital part of any life, and the reason I’m sharing this story with you is simple.
Not everybody is going to go through an experience such as this, but I’m hoping that sharing my experience can inspire or shed some light on the mindset it has presented me.
I’m not a religious person, but I would say I’m somewhat spiritual. I believe, along with the massive amount of studies that have proven it, that things like social media and smartphones and the way the world is heading, is a leading cause of depression and anxiety, but you don’t have to live your life in this way.
Becoming mindful of the things you do, whether it’s driving home from the airport, going to work, watching TV or even having a conversation with somebody. Our minds are constantly chattering away in our heads.
I believe our instincts, especially flight or fight, are still hardwired into our brains from the last few million years of evolution, but it’s only in the last couple of decades we’ve developed a life so comfortable we no longer need it.
Striving for function, our minds then try to create and analysis every single detail of our lives, thus leading us to feel anxious, to be scared and finally to slip into a pessimistic way of life and way of thinking.
I believe it’s so important to bring your mind back to the present moment, where you can focus on what you’re doing and start to enjoy life again. There’s no way I would be able to drive again if I had let the experience affect who I was as a person in a negative way.
If I overthink the situation occurring every single time I got into a car (which believe me, I do, just not overly), then that would have a severe knock-on effect to the rest of my life. I needed to accept the situation is extremely close to being a once-in-a-lifetime experience and it occurred on that specific day; not today, not in a month, not in several years time.
So, next time you’re thinking about the future, or something that happened in the past, there’s a little saying I like to remind myself;
The past is the past. The future doesn’t exist. All that could ever matter is happening Now.
Thank you guys for taking the time to read this piece. As you can imagine, it wasn’t the easiest piece to write, especially re-living it several times when editing, but I feel like it’s a story people can learn from.
All the best!
Originally published at medium.com