Chunks of one’s life are measured in different increments:
• Years – How old you are, how long you’ve been married, how much time you worked somewhere.
• Months – How far along someone is in their pregnancy, how much time remains before a school year ends or a vacation begins.
• Days – The period of time which must elapse before the next weekend arrives.
But in reality, the course of one’s life often comes down to our action or inaction during a fateful few seconds. That point was driven home to me last Wednesday night.
I’d been watching radar all afternoon as showers rolled through the Hannibal area and thunderstorms fired to our south and west. Late in the day a warning was issued for Ralls County regarding a thunderstorm that was moving northeast. I noted with interest that the severe storm was just the southern end of a line of storms that was going to sweep through Hannibal.
Fearful my new car would wind up with hail dents as our family’s other car had a few years earlier, I set out to finish the story I was working on before the line of red on the radar reached downtown Hannibal.
Of course, I didn’t beat Mother Nature. As a result I found myself running down the sidewalk through the pouring rain and into the teeth of a gusty headwind.
I was about halfway to the parking lot when I heard a rumble up ahead, only it wasn’t the rumble of thunder I was hearing. Looking up I saw that two large sections of the auto parts store’s sign, located next to the newspaper, were being peeled off by the wind and were heading in my direction.
Instantly recognizing that the wind-blown sheets of aluminum presented a significant risk, I immediately slammed on my brakes and reversed course, hoping that I could stay ahead of them.
Fortunately, after a couple of initial bounces, both pieces of metal fell flat onto the sidewalk. Noting that the sign sections were down, at least temporarily, I again headed north and scurried as fast as my 57-year-old legs could take me past the potential hazards.
After reaching the car, by now thoroughly soaked, I sat there for a few moments, contemplating what had just happened, or to be more precise had ALMOST happened.
Had I been out the door of the Courier-Post 5 to no more than 7 seconds earlier, I would have been beneath the sign sections when they blew off.
To be honest, I’ve contemplated meeting my end in a storm, but it was always as the result of being hit by a bolt of lightning I was trying to photograph, and not being sliced and diced by a piece of wind-blown aluminum.
Page 2 of 2 - But a few fateful seconds that had kept me inside the Courier-Post a bit longer may have saved my life.
Was it the few extra seconds it had taken to shut down my computer?
Was it the bit of time I’d spent talking with Sports Editor Jason Farmer about a potential headline?
Was it the moments it took to walk across the newsroom to the office of Editor Mary Lou Montgomery to give her a goodnight wave?
Or was it simply because I’d stood in the paper’s doorway fumbling to open a happy-face umbrella before realizing that it would be useless against the wind-driven rain?
Some will dismiss the incident as someone being the benefactor of blind luck, pure and simple. My wife, Nancy, contends my safety was an answer to her prayers that day.
I count myself fortunate. Not just because I wasn’t injured or worse, but because I got to see what many people don’t – that only a few seconds can make a big difference in a person’s life.