I’m a firm believer that each one of us has specific moments during our lives that shape us. Usually uncomfortable, and sometimes downright painful, these moments move us in a direction that we might never have gone in. For me, one of those moments happened on November 2, 2014.
It was a gorgeous, clear Sunday afternoon in San Francisco, one of those days where you just feel alive because everything is so bright and sunny. I was at an intersection in the Financial District, walking to the downtown area to do some errands. Even though the Financial District was virtually deserted, I waited for the “Walk” signal before crossing the street. I was about halfway across when something blue caught the corner of my eye…a split-second before a man hit me at 25 miles an hour with his blue minivan.
I don’t remember much after that. Eyewitnesses said that I rode on the hood of the minivan for about half a block until the driver slammed on the brakes to stop. (I later found out that the driver got confused and stepped on the gas pedal instead of the brake.) I have no memory of riding on the hood, but I do remember falling. I landed on the pavement on my hands, knees and face and knew immediately that I wasn’t going to be able to move.
At the emergency room, all the doctors and technicians said that they had never seen a “human vs. minivan” outcome look as good as I did. “Good,” of course, is relative, as I later learned, and basically meant that I wasn’t dead. I had plenty of time to think about that during the six months I was laid up on my couch and the subsequent months of physical therapy.
The most difficult day of my healing process was when my doctors told me I wouldn’t walk again and that I would need to use both crutches and a brace for the rest of my life. I cried that day and then woke up the next morning filled with resolve. At my next appointment, I brought a pair of 6-inch heels into the doctor’s office, told the doctors my goal was to wear them, and suggested that they get on board because I was going to walk again.
I still remember the sense of pride I felt as I accomplished what in the past had been mindless simple activities: being able to curl my toes and pick up a facecloth was one of my first successes and gave me the confidence to continue to push myself to re-learn how to walk. I celebrated the day that I graduated to a walking cast and took my first steps without crutches. Friends cheered me on the first time that I walked (slowly) in a brace down a short flight of stairs. The day I walked a few steps without crutches, cast or a brace was the day I knew I had proved the doctors wrong. I was exhausted, covered in sweat and shaking, but was, in my doctor’s words, “a miracle.” It took fourteen months.
But the point the doctors had made about how “good” I looked after the accident kept swirling around in my head. There was no doubt in my mind that I had been lucky: had I fallen under the wheels of the minivan instead of going up on the hood, I would have died.
That moment and realization changed my life completely. I began looking at every aspect of my life and realized that while my life had been a good life, I had played by the rules and hadn’t taken many chances. I realized that I didn’t want to play it safe anymore; I wanted to follow my heart and truly live life.
And so, I did what at the time was one of the scariest things I had ever done: I quit my job and walked away from the security that it represented. Once I had given my notice, the next change was a lot easier: I gave up my rent-controlled apartment in San Francisco (a big deal, given how crazy rents are in San Francisco). I sold and donated a lot of my belongings and put the rest in storage. I had decided to travel.
I’m a nomad at heart, a gypsy. My work as a consultant suits me well, since I’m typically on a plane every week, going somewhere different. But that travel was for work and didn’t give me the opportunity to do what I wanted to do: really immerse myself in different cultures and locations.
First on my list of places to visit was Guatemala. I had become fascinated with Mayan archaeological ruins two years prior and had explored over a dozen sites in Mexico. Everyone told me that I needed to see Tikal in Guatemala. So, once I finished my book tour for my first book, I packed my carry-on bag and headed to Guatemala.
I ended up in the small village of El Remate, in Peten, about 30 minutes away from Tikal. The village is in the jungle and home to a couple hundred families. The main road through town is the only fully paved road in the village and is dotted with tiny shops, restaurants and churches and runs alongside Lake Peten Itza. Chickens, dogs, and pigs wander around freely, holding up traffic when they decide to sleep in the middle of the road.
I rented a one-room thatched-roof hut, near the lake and village cemetery and about a 20-minute walk to the center of town. It had a covered outside patio with a couch and chair. The front door opened to the sleeping area. To the left of the sleeping area was the bathroom – with running water. To the right was the kitchen and eating area. But what really made the hut was the thatched roof. It rose about two and a half stories high, with a bamboo framework and dried palm leaves making a water-tight roof.
Join us next week for the conclusion of this fascinating journey!
My weekly BLOG features INTERVIEWS with best-selling AUTHORS! March: Lee Matthew Goldberg, May: Jenny Colgan, June: Don Bentley writing for Tom Clancy, August: Veronica Henry, October: Life Coach, shaman, author, Jennifer Monahan, November: Susanne O’Leary.
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BOOKS BY TRISHA SUGAREK