Kristen Nemoto Jay
When I was 19 years old, I was in a severe car accident. My friends and I had scored last-minute tickets to see a taping of the third season of American Idol in Los Angeles and made it a day trip on a chilly spring weekday. After the taping, we drove back to our dorms in Orange County; one friend was the driver, the other was asleep as the passenger, while myself and another friend were chatting away in the backseat. It was nearly 20 years ago but I remember like it was yesterday. I remember there was an orange glow from the sun that beamed in the car. I mentioned something about the sunsets being so beautiful in Los Angeles even though it’s caused by heavy pollution in the air. We laughed and gabbed some more until my friend noticed we were not wearing our seatbelts. We both giggled and thought that was silly of us to forget while on the freeway of all places and proceeded to each click our belts in. Seconds later, as if someone up above was watching over us, a loud pop came from the back right tire of the late 1990-something SUV we were all riding in. The same ride we had just chipped in to buy a full tank of gas that morning and fill up the tires to make sure our ride would be as smooth as possible. But none of that mattered to the tire that just blew out, which then prompted the world’s worst rollercoaster ride. Our bodies flung from left to right as our driver friend desperately tried to take hold of the wheel; but it was too late. We crashed into the freeway median, which forced the car to spin out of control and then flip over and over and over again. Though this all happened in less than a minute, it felt like forever as I tucked myself in half and waited for the spinning, screams and everything to be over. When I opened my eyes, I looked down to see my seatbelt secure in its place, holding my dangling body up from falling down on my friend. Her seatbelt was also secure as she stared back at me with wide and wild eyes, fully aware that we nearly died.
Thankfully, all of us survived. We walked away, miraculously, with just little cuts and scrapes from the crashed windows. I tell this story often — mostly to “scare straight” folks who still don’t buckle up — to share the reason why I make big deals about birthdays, the end of a year and the beginning of a new one.
Two weeks ago, I celebrated my birthday along with my daughter’s, who just turned two. Since my car accident on that freeway in the spring of 2004, I say a little prayer to myself on my birthday and at the end and beginning of every year. I thank my lucky stars to be able to celebrate another birthday and another year in this world. This messy, convoluted, crazy, wonderful, joyous, loving, aggravating, soul-searching world, which oftentimes we take for granted until something happens to make us feel grateful to be living in it. This issue we reflect on this year but also on how we as human beings can show up better than how we were yesterday. That we take what we learn from our past and shape it into our lives for today and our future.
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