July 3, 2008 · Updated 12:40 PM
"If you need a reminder, there are a couple in this edition of the News-Times.Oak Harbor Superintendent of Schools Rick Schulte was riding his bicycle through the intersection at Front Street and Highway 20 in Coupeville Friday evening when a woman driving a Ford truck at highway speeds ran a red light. She collided with Schulte, who miraculously walked away with a broken arm, scrapes and bruises.Also this past week, Oak Harbor Councilman Rex Hankins passed away after battling cancer.The line between life and death is remarkably thin. It's tempting to ignore that fact. But occasionally we get a reminder.I drove a rural road 10 miles to work for my first reporter job at the Creswell Chronicle in Creswell, Ore. My wife and I lived in Eugene at the time. The rural route was much more pleasant than my other option, Interstate 5.It was January, a deadline day, and my mind was filled with the responsibilities ahead of me - finish the last stories, lay out pages, etc. It was a great morning for daydreaming, too. A warm morning sun was climbing over the tree tops, snapping our string of below-freezing temperatures.The last thing on my mind was a frozen roadway. But when I drove my Subaru sedan about 50 mph into the shade thrown by a bank of Douglas fir trees, less dreaminess and more caution about black ice would have served me better.Tires can lose their hold on asphalt very quickly. When they do, there's not much a driver of an automobile can do. If I had thought of the proper corrective steering maneuver at the perfect moment, it still wouldn't have changed the fact that my car was sliding sideways toward the roadside ditch at high speeds.I remember those few seconds as clearly as any in my life. It occurred to me that I might die. But there was no time to for a sentimental life review, believe me. I braced myself, yelled at the top of my lungs and watched my car head for the ditch.The impact was explosive. My arms and legs went flying, and it felt like my seat belt was the only thing holding me to the earth. I'm not sure how many times my car rolled. A couple, at least. After a cacophony of shattering glass and crunching metal, things suddenly turned peaceful.I found myself hanging upside down in my seat belt. The motor was still running, so I reached up and turned the key. I unfastened my belt and dropped to the car's ceiling. My lunch - peanut butter and jelly sandwich, carrots and apple - was scattered there. So were computer disks, cassette tapes, and the other bits of detritus that normally resided on the floor.The car seemed to be nestled upside down in the ditch. It appeared there was just enough room for me to climb out the driver's side window, so I rolled it down and shimmied out onto the road.The next car along happened to be driven by a nurse. She stopped and cared for me. The next car after that was driven by a construction worker with a cell phone. He called my wife, then the sheriff's office. People were amazing.Besides a healthy case of whiplash that still makes my neck crack 11 years later, I walked away from that accident without a scratch. A brush with death has a way of heightening your appreciation for life. That sunrise is a bit more stunning, that cup of coffee a little more pleasurable, that call from an old friend more touching.Isn't it ironic that we have to nearly lose our life, or experience the death of a loved one, in order to remember one of life's most important lessons? We're all here for a short time. Live your life well."