Three years ago this month, Harper, Walker (with whom I was then 20 weeks pregnant), my mom and I were in a car accident that could have killed us. Our SUV rolled through a sloping, wooded median, into oncoming traffic on I-75 and then back into the median, where it crashed into a tree. I was knocked unconscious; Harper’s pink glasses were found a hundred feet away on the highway; the SUV was destroyed beyond recognition. Witnesses were stunned we all survived.
Events like that accident are a reminder that circumstances can change in an instant, without reason or warning. They’re the inspiration for the Big Questions we ask ourselves: Am I living my life well? Do I have any regrets? What should I be doing differently? They’re the antagonists of dramatic life changes—or, sometimes, of big journeys.
Getting ready for a trip like this is difficult. The logistical challenges alone can seem infinite, to say nothing of the financial costs and the strain of stepping away from commitments at home. Exacerbating any apprehension are the looks on the faces of friends and colleagues, who wonder if we’ve lost our minds. To walk away from everyday life, even if only for three months, is to move against the current. Most of us don’t do so without good reason.
For us, our car accident was one such reason. But it wasn’t the only one. What led us back to the road more than anything else was the fact that we’ve been here before.
Derek’s and my trip around the world eight years ago opened our eyes in a new way. The chance to step outside our busy lives at home, away from our careers and the expectations that came with them, was an opportunity to realize that our way of living, as much as we love it, is not the only way. We saw it in the green fields of southern Laos, where watching grass grow from under a shady porch seemed to be far more common than billing hours behind a desk. We noticed it in a tiny lodge in Borneo, where making dinner involved gathering ferns from the forest, not swinging by Whole Foods. And, more impactful than perhaps anything else, we heard it in hostel after hostel around the world, where the question from other long-term travelers was always, “where are you going next,” never, “what do you do?” Each new experience repeated an important lesson: This world offers many ways to live a good life, and thanks to the tremendous privilege that comes with our nationality, level of education and so much more, we get to choose how we live ours.
That trip in a way taught us how to live, and our accident was a little wake-up call in case we’d forgotten. Those experiences are unique to us, but nearly everyone’s life surely has included some similar reminder to look up, to look around, to step away. It’s the stuff of country-song counseling to “live like you’re dying.” We see it in YOLO t-shirts and Carpe Diem bumper stickers. The advice is trite, sure. But it’s also true.
It’s what led us here, to Salamanca, Spain, where this morning our little family was alone on the rooftop of the 12th-century Gothic cathedral that lords over the center of the city. This is the path we’ve chosen, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.