The theme for the personal experience stories that will be told at the State Theatre this Sunday is "Close Calls, Narrow Escapes."
I agreed to be one of the seven storytellers, so I've been rummaging through my cluttered memory bank for a tale that fits the theme.
Then I went for a bike ride.
On Cherry Lane at North Atherton Street, I stopped at a red light. When it turned green, I resumed pedaling.
I am pleased to report that almost all the drivers on Atherton Street obeyed the section of the motor vehicle code of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania that requires them to halt the forward progress of their vehicles at red lights.
The one that did not stop missed me by an eyelash.
Another driver, who would have made an excellent witness for the prosecution in the manslaughter case if I had been killed, called out to me.
"This is your lucky day," she said. "You should play the lottery." Moments later, I sat in my backyard savoring the spring weather, my enjoyment made keener by the knowledge that I could have been undergoing the ministrations of emergency medical technicians.
As my heart rate returned to normal, I couldn't help but think of how things might have played out if the red-light runner had hit me. Oddly, I didn't think about the pain and suffering I would experience, assuming I survived. I thought of how inconvenient it all would be.
I thought, first, of my three children. Two of them are in the spring semester homestretch. How would they take their final exams if they had to journey to Pennsylvania to gather at their dad's bedside? What would happen to their big sister's pending honeymoon trip to Italy?
Next I thought of my department head. With so little time left in the semester, would he bother finding a warm body to preside over my classes, or just pull the plug early and give my students whatever grade they had earned to date?
I realize these are ridiculously peripheral concerns, under the circumstances; I suspect my mind jumped to logistical matters because it's preferable to imagining what it would be like to be battered and bruised and facing a long and painful rehabilitation.
My death scenario was similarly practical-minded. Without my paychecks coming in, would my beloved be forced to sell the house? Would she rent out a room? Would she be one of those widows who wouldn't be able to bear the finality of disposing of my clothes and shoes, or would she briskly purge my useless possessions and move on?
Once I had run through these cheery imaginings, my thoughts turned to my other close calls, the ones I would have told about on Sunday if I hadn't had the near miss on Atherton:
1) Driving, Colorado: My sister and I were headed back to Denver after skiing in Aspen. Our car skidded into a guardrail, which kept it from plunging down a mountainside.
2) Hiking, California: I was on a cliff high above the Pacific Ocean. The ground gave way. I landed on a ledge about 10 feet below. If there had been no ledge, the next landing spot would have been the rocks on the beach, several stories down.
I don't believe in guardian angels any more than I believe in lucky days, but my racing mind was going to all kinds of unaccustomed places. Maybe I was spared on those two earlier occasions, and now on this one, because there's some important thing I'm supposed to do before I die. If so, what the heck is it?
Does this mean I can take crazy risks until my assigned task is revealed to me? And will a grand piano immediately crash down on my head once I've accomplished it? If so, I should try to put off finding out what I'm supposed to do for as long as possible.
In the meantime, I decided the bystander at the scene of the near-accident was right: I should buy a lottery ticket.
Here's where the whole lucky day idea became complicated. Should I let the computer pick my numbers randomly, or should I use birthdays, anniversaries and other meaningful digits?
I decided it didn't matter: If it's your lucky day, whatever decision you make will be the right decision. I went with the significant dates.
That night, I went online to check the winning lottery numbers. Wouldn't this be a cool column if I avoided getting squished by a car and then bought a winning lottery ticket?
Alas, that is not what happened. It may be the case that there is no such thing as a lucky day, only a lucky minute.
You know what, though? I'll take it.
"State of the Story," organized by the indefatigable and irrepressible Pam Monk, takes place at 5 p.m. Sunday in the Attic at the State Theatre. Admission is five bucks. That's what it cost me to play the lottery. An evening of storytelling is a much better deal.
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