I’ve never been a big fan of Halloween. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t allowed to trick-or-treat when I was a kid, Halloween being “pagan” and all. I would beg my mom to let us go trick or treating, to no avail. She did take us to the fall carnival at the church where we couldn’t be Frankenstein, but we could dress as anybody from the Old Testament. Moses seemed to be the popular choice. Or was it Noah? Hard to tell those two apart…
As a young twenty something adult, I still didn’t celebrate Halloween much outside of the occasional party, but that all changed sixteen years ago. Now I celebrate it every year. So what changed?
I had just arrived home after finishing my shift waiting tables, when my old roommate, B.J., calls me up and invites me to go to a club in Dallas. I quickly agree and we set off for a night of little sobriety and much debauchery. We were supposed to wear costumes- he went as Dracula, and I went as a black man at night. We partied like it was 1999, because it was in fact, 1999. We were just doing what Prince told us to do; he is royalty, right?
Later that night, we left the club to head home. As B.J. drove us home in his tiny car (remember the Geo Storm?) we quickly approached two cars in the two center lanes of a four-lane highway. It was difficult to discern the fact that two cars were actually stopped in the middle of a busy highway. B.J. swerved to avoid slamming into the cars. That’s when we were struck by another vehicle barreling down Central Expressway at ninety-plus miles per hour. I know because we were going at least ninety miles per hour ourselves.
Before we knew it, we were spinning across the highway, being hit once, then twice, then a third time, like bumper cars, each hit causing our car to spin in different directions, completely out of control.
As we spun rapidly out of control across the busy highway, I couldn’t help but resign myself to the fact that I was about to die. There was nothing I could do to stop it. The only thing left to do was accept the inevitable.
Now, I know it’s cliche to say your life flashes before your eyes before you die- which is curious to me, because if your life flashes before your eyes when you die, wouldn’t you have to die to have your life flash before your eyes? And if you die, how do you tell anyone about your life flashing before your eyes? But, I digress- my life didn’t flash before my eyes as much as it unfolded before my eyes. I had always viewed my life as a story that I was reading and experiencing at the same time. I had finally reached the last chapter of my life and I was faced with the painful realization that my story was a tragic one, characterized by aimlessness and lack of purpose.
Thankfully, that wasn’t the end of the story for me or B.J. The car finally stopped spinning as it crashed into a wall on the other side of the expressway. I looked up just in time to see an eighteen wheeler pass by just seconds after we cleared the highway. We checked on each other to make sure we were both okay before climbing out of the car. We examined the damage- the front and back-end along with both the driver and passenger sides were crushed like an aluminum can. There is no way we should have survived, not to mention walk away unscathed. We sustained minor injuries but nothing major.
During the weeks that followed, I thought about the accident. How did we survive? Why did we survive? Why did I survive? Up until that point my life had been unfruitful. I hadn’t lived up to my potential or accomplished anything worthwhile. All I knew how to do well was work hard and I wasn’t allowed to do that for a couple of months. I was weighed down by feelings of inadequacy and regret. I was tired.
As I sat alone at home one day trying not to take another pill for pain, I was bored enough to open my bible. I turned to a page where Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 NLT)
As I read the passage over and over, I pondered the truth of those words. If I would just give up trying to direct my life in my own selfish way and give in to what I already knew to be good, right and true, I would find rest for my soul. Sounds simple enough. There is a path, a way, set before us that we either choose to follow or waste copious amounts of time and energy trying to avoid. Taking the major thoroughfares of life can be exhausting. When we go the way marked by humility and gentleness, however, we find peace. Not a trouble free life, but peace.
After that Halloween in 1999, I slowly climbed out of my wreck of a life and started down a different road filled with purpose, a purpose beyond simply taking care of myself and my own needs alone. I haven’t arrived yet, not by a long shot, but I’m on the road, headed in the right direction. Without the person of Jesus Christ, I would not know the way or have the means to reach my destination. Nor would I have the strength to even climb out of the car, metaphorically speaking. The knowledge of his selfless life, death and resurrection grip my imagination and allows me to believe I can, like him, start again (and again and again) even after I crash in the fast lane of life (again and again and again). He gives me hope. He gives me peace. He gives me rest.
That’s why I love being a massage therapist. I get to help people find rest, if only for a short time. My hope is that we may all find a life that gives us rest forever.
So now I celebrate Halloween each year, although we rechristened it “Life Day.” On Life Day I was given new life, a second chance and a renewed purpose. Everyday has the potential to be Life Day, so don’t let the day get away. Take advantage of the opportunity for restoration and renewal given to you every morning. Happy Life Day, live well!