I’ve had a number of near death experiences and out of these I’ve learnt one very important lesson.
Christmas Eve 1969: I went for a dip at Sydney’s Coogee Beach. The beach was fairly deserted. I entered the water and moments later I was heading out to sea, swallowing seawater and saying a thousand ‘Hail Marys’ and ‘Lord’s Prayers’. They worked; I managed to get back to shore. Nowadays I take greater care.
Fast forward to October last year: Having passed through Cowra NSW in transit to the Brindabella Mountains with my younger brother, a cattle truck travelling in the opposite direction blew the driver’s side front tyre. The truck careered out of control towards us, smoke everywhere and aerial rubber aplenty. With nowhere to move, we thought we were gone. At the last second the driver regained control and passed by my side with only millimetres to spare. “Unbelievable driving,” my brother shouted through white lips. “Unbelievable luck,” I thought.
In January this year my hometown of Toowoomba, a city with no river or creek to speak of, experienced what Queensland Premier Anna Bligh described as an “inland tsunami”. The world watched in horror as people, property and motor vehicles were swept along in a ferocious torrent. Two died. I was relieved to report that my family was fine… our only inconvenience was that, stranded in Brisbane, I couldn’t get home for a week, such was the state of the roads and bridges.
Invincible is not a word in my vocabulary anymore
The run off from Toowoomba cascaded down the Great Dividing Range and joined a deluge from other sources, particularly the Lockyer Creek which, in my experience has, until now, been a dry bed doubling as a quarry. Withcott, Helidon, Murphys Creek, Gatton, Grantham, Marburg and Laidley lay ahead and suffered the most dreadful fate.
These events frightened the state, the nation and the world. Yet Cyclone Yasi was only days away and it was predicted to be the angriest cyclone to cross the coastline. Unbeknown to anyone, further tragedy was in store across the Tasman, with Christchurch about to be destroyed by an earthquake.
Invincible is not a word in my vocabulary anymore. If I’m driving in rain at 7pm and there is lightning all around, a cloud of fear surrounds me. During one recent fierce storm, visibility was reduced to almost nothing. I could just make out the white lines on the road, but then sheets of water submerged them and I was in trouble. I thought of my vehicle being washed away, never to be seen again. Then I thought of all those people who have died recently in floods, cyclones and earthquakes…
I am thankful, very thankful to be alive. Life is precious. We only get one crack at it so take advantage of every moment, or better still, as the Thoreau so eloquently put it; “I (want) to live deliberately, I (want) to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life”.
Greg Johnson is the CEO of the Optometrists Association Australia Qld / NT Division.