So, there I was, prepared for take-off and securely strapped in the "Troop Seat" running along the right side cabin wall at the back of the HH-3E Jolly Green Giant helicopter. (Ha! As if there is
such a thing as being ‘securely strapped’ in a flimsy contraption made from
shaky aluminum tubing and some loose-fitting canvas).

The helicopter had just taxied out to the helipad, and all I was expecting was the normal elevator-style jump we’d make into the sky as the helicopter lifted itself into the air. I had done
this a few times before, so I was already anticipating the slight nose drop the
copter would next make as soon as the pilot pushed the ‘cyclic stick’ into a
forward moving position. I can’t say why (it could hardly be called
exhilarating), but I have always liked the gentle, roller-coaster effect of dipping
down a few feet before accelerating skyward again during helicopter take-offs.

What I wasn’t expecting was the abrupt roll we made this time as the pilot pulled up
on the ‘collective stick’. Instead of going straight upwards, the chopper only
went into the air a little bit, and then it immediately tilted hard onto its left
side. There was a cabin window directly in front of me, so I found myself
looking straight down at the earth as we drifted from the tarmac over to the
grassy field beside the landing pad. We were so close to the ground I actually
saw the rotor blades clipping grass, and I was certain we were soon going to
turn into a big ball of flame.

That was exactly what everybody on the ground was also expecting, although I didn’t know it yet. They immediately scattered. Some ran for the closest ditch to dive into, and the rest chose to hide behind one of the various heavy pieces of ground equipment you find on airfields.

They knew, as I did, helicopters carrying full ‘tip’ tanks of fuel on their sides
always do two things when any part of their airframes, other than the landing
gear, smack solidly into the earth. First, as was previously mentioned, they turn into blazing infernos as
they hit the ground and the tip tanks rupture, which means there’s practically
no chance for anybody on board to survive. Second, they create massive quantities of flying debris as the disintegrating rotors tear up everything they hit. Large amounts of metal whiz through the air in the form of either chunks or shards, and even rocks or pieces of concrete can be flung with enough
force to punch a hole in your skull.

In fact, the people on the ground in
this instance were more aware of that little reality than most. It hadn’t been
that many months since some of them had seen a tall "A-Frame" hoist on wheels break
free and drift into a helicopter with its rotors spinning. Metal flew in all
directions after the rotor blades hit that hoist, and one mechanic a hundred
yards away had his guts ripped out by a flying piece of hardware. As you might
imagine, nobody on the ground this day wanted to suffer a similar fate.

Likewise, I wasn’t wanting to suffer the typical fate awaiting anybody onboard a crashing helicopter, but I also wasn’t ready to disgrace myself if this wasn’t really as serious as it seemed. For all I
knew the pilot had accidentally pushed the control stick to the side, and the odds were good things would get better as soon as he realized his mistake. We did go back up at least another ten feet, so for a
second there it appeared this was simply a momentary problem. Then we suddenly lurched
hard to the opposite side, and my view through the cabin window turned to nothing but sky. From then on I knew this problem wasn’t being caused by the pilot.

This is where a funny aspect to human nature came into play. I now knew we were in a serious situation, but I didn’t want to behave as if I was scared. I don’t know when I put it on, but I eventually became
aware I was wearing the ‘stone face’. (Well, that’s what I call it, anyway. I don’t know if anybody has ever bothered to put a formal label on this strange mannerism in this type situation, but the stone face is essentially what you wear when you want to prove you are too calm to get rattled over things most people would panic about. Yes, I am aware there are other applications for the ‘stone face’ phrase, but in this instance it’s a
lot more elaborate than merely having a good poker face. What I experienced was my face unintentionally becoming as blank as could be, and by that I mean not even the tiniest muscle would so much as twitch).

I figured out later the biggest reason my face became so blank was because my emotions had almost completely shut down. It may seem a bit simplistic, but that really is all there was to it. Basically, once the emotions drained away, there just weren’t any normal expressions, including fear, I could wear. Not that I was in any way aware of it then. At the time I thought I was proving I was a tough-guy, and that was actually important to me. Oddly enough, despite the fact death was probably only seconds away, I really did care how my demeanor appeared to the other men in the helicopter. The stone face was there, at least as far as I knew at the moment, simply to prove I wouldn’t start panicking.

The helicopter began to seriously flail around.

A wide variety of things were occurring, and my mind was processing a great deal of information, so I won’t even pretend I can describe them all in the correct order of occurrence. Suffice it to say,
I saw or considered several things, and, even though these things may not be presented
in their exact sequence, the next few paragraphs will describe what was going
on more or less all at the same time.

The helicopter was bouncing up and
down, tilting left then right, swinging side to side, and just generally flying
around uncontrollably. My view through the window was constantly changing from
sky to ground to sky again, and the ground view varied between seeing the grass
or seeing the tarmac. Technically we were still flying, but realistically all we
were really doing was desperately bucking, rocking, and wobbling our way
through a sky incapable of holding us steady.

Somewhere along the line I turned my head to the right, in the most deliberately calm manner I
could produce, so I could look towards the front of the helicopter. I took notice of two things. First, I saw the guys with me were just sitting there stoically looking straight ahead, and they were all wearing
the same stone face I was. None of them were showing any outward signs of
concern, but neither did any of them turn their heads to look back at me. They were as frozen in
place as gargoyles.

The second thing I saw was the pilot
leaning to the left enough to be seen through the doorway of the cockpit. He
was pushing the cyclic stick all the way to the left, but at that moment the
helicopter was fully slanting to the right. Eventually the copter rolled as far
as it could to the left, so the pilot swung the stick the other way. The pilot
was struggling to get back in control, but this struggle pretty much consisted of nothing more complicated than swinging the control stick in the
opposite direction the chopper was trying to go.

While all this was going on, I was
also deciding whether or not I should stay onboard. I was the farthest person
to the back, so I was also the closest one to the cargo ramp, and that ramp had
been locked in the open position since before we had taken off. This meant
there was a way to escape. For those of us in the back, our exit was a simple
matter of unlatching our seat restraints and within two seconds we could be
jumping off the ramp. At the height we were currently bouncing around, the
worst we could expect might be a broken leg, and probably not even that.

However, I never took that chance to
get out, and neither did any of the other guys in the back with me. Partly this
was because we all knew there was an alarm bell the pilot could use to tell us
to leave. Since it hadn’t started ringing yet, it seemed possible things might
not be as bad as they seemed. I’m not totally certain about the other guy’s thought-processes,
but I am certain the alarm bell was one factor keeping me in my seat.

Yeah, I know in this particular
situation it was a bit stupid to wait for permission to scram. The pilot was
clearly too busy to take his hands off the controls for any reason, so it was
extremely unlikely he’d ever have a chance to hit the alarm anyway. Therefore,
our unanimous, and unspoken, decision to calmly sit there caused us to ignore our only guaranteed method of survival. Certainly, of the two
available options we had, leaving our lives in the hands of the pilot couldn’t possibly
be considered the wisest choice. He didn’t appear to be winning the struggle for control to any noticeable extant, and, as far as we could tell, blind luck was the only reason we hadn’t crashed yet. Besides, it doesn’t take a genius to figure
out the best time to get safely out is before
the aircraft crashes.

Oh, sure, I definitely considered making
the jump anyway, and to hell with the bell, but something held me back. I hate
to admit it, but the biggest reason I stayed put was I didn’t want to be the first
one to turn chicken. That’s the power of machismo. As long as those of us in the back were in ‘macho-mode’ we weren’t going anywhere.

What I’m trying to say is I made a conscious decision I wouldn’t jump until somebody else
made a break for it first, and that was pretty much
what each of the other guys also decided. I know it seems odd, but the desire to
not do something either stupid or cowardly was stronger than the desire to escape
a possibly crashing aircraft. I can’t explain it, but there’s something about being in a dangerous
environment with a group of macho guys that keeps you from running away.

This should not be confused with peer pressure. Peer pressure is applied externally, and it takes time to influence your behavior. What each of us was experiencing was strictly coming from us internally, and its appearance was instantaneous. Even more importantly, it wasn’t a learned behavior. Of all the EP’s (Emergency Procedures) we had been taught,
none of them had included just sitting there with the stone face. This was
something the situation brought out, and until this very moment I had no inkling this behavior was even in any of us.

I honestly don’t know how long we
were in the air. I only know it was long enough for the pilot to figure
out the best way to hold the helicopter steady was to stop swinging the cyclic
stick from side to side. Our hard tilts sideways usually came several seconds
after the pilot had moved the stick that way, so he stopped moving it as far as
it would go. Things settled down a bit after he started holding the cyclic
stick in the middle position. Now he started moving the stick in small
movements to get us back over the helipad. He’d just move the stick a bit, and
then wait till the chopper reacted. We were still experiencing a few unexpected twists and tilts, but this technique worked well enough to get us back to our
starting point. Then the pilot started to slowly land.

The pilot was on the correct track,
but doing it this slowly was almost a tragic mistake. What was forgotten was
the cyclic stick had been in the proper position the first time the copter had
lurched, so merely holding the stick steady wasn’t enough to keep us from
flailing around again. Just as it appeared we were going to safely land, the
helicopter made another hard lean to the side, and for at least the second time,
if not the third or the fourth, the rotor blades almost smashed into the pad (The only reason I express doubts about how many times the rotors came close to the ground is I couldn’t actually see them when the helicopter was tilting to my back and my view was of nothing but sky).

The pilot quickly moved us higher
into the air and started the whole process over. This time, as soon as he got
us more or less correctly positioned, the pilot pushed the collective stick
down a good deal faster than before, which is what saved us. Our landing was
pretty hard, but it was a landing.

That was pretty much it. Nobody
died, and the helicopter was able to be inspected for damage. A few hours later
the problems were corrected, and we were able to complete the mission. Thus
this story is over. The End

Well, not quite. The purpose of this
tale isn’t to provide the reader with an exciting bit of entertainment. It’s to
pass on some lessons learned from this and other events. There were a couple
initial things learned, which are more interesting than valuable, but over the
next ten years some important secondary lessons were also gleaned by combining
this with a few other incidents. Before I get into discussing these lessons,
however, I’m going to satisfy the curiosity of those who are wondering what
caused this problem.

Basically, it was an electrical malfunction. Helicopters don’t have autopilots, but some of them have a thing
called the "Automatic Flight Control System" (AFCS, commonly pronounced Ay-Fiss),
which is nothing more than a glorified power-steering system. The same way
power-steering makes the steering wheel on your car easier to turn, the AFCS
makes the flight controls on a helicopter easier to move around. Through a
complicated system of control rods, bell-cranks, hydraulic servos and electric
switches the pilot can make gentle movements with the stick and the AFCS will transform
those movements into massive hydraulic pressure to increase the force being
applied directly to the flight control servos.

Without getting too in-depth
into the workings of this system, all you need to know is the ‘hard-over
switches’ send signals to the actuators telling them how much they
should move, and in our case these switches had gotten wet, so they weren’t
sending proper signals. The actuators were pretty much responding to whatever
signal the hard-over switches decided to send out, and, thanks to the water,
the signals didn’t always go when and where they were directed. However, once
these switches were replaced the helicopter was fully functional again.

While the aircraft was being
repaired we took the opportunity to get something to eat. The chow hall wasn’t open at this time, so we went to the rec center. It was here I had my first
initial lesson pointed out. The trip we were attempting to make was to last three days, and payday was five days away, so I had with me just under four dollars, which was actually a little more than I would need to cover my normal expenses. Nonetheless, this stop for food was unexpected, so I found myself standing there trying to decide if I should get the cheeseburger or the hamburger.

This incident took place in the 1970’s, so prices were quite a bit cheaper. A hamburger was thirty cents, and the cheeseburger was forty five. It doesn’t seem much now, but spending the extra fifteen cents might have been enough to leave me short of funds in the event we were forced to spend an extra day on
the mission, as occasionally happened. I wanted the cheeseburger, but my common sense was telling me to try saving as much money as I could to avoid going hungry on a possible fourth day.

One of the guys who’d been in the back with me asked me why I was taking so long, so I told him the reason I wasn’t sure I should risk ordering the cheeseburger.

He just looked at me in complete surprise and said, "Dude! You almost got killed today. Your money could be all burnt up now, and who’s to say we won’t crash the next time we go flying? Enjoy what you can right now!"

This was something of a revelation to me. Believe it or not, I had already stopped thinking about the close call. I’d had a rather interesting life before I joined the military, and had already survived a few close brushes with death, so surviving this one didn’t seem all that remarkable. I suppose it came from a young man’s tendency to feel indestructible, or
maybe I was conditioned to think I’d always be lucky, but, whatever the reason,
at that particular moment I fully expected to survive these type incidents, and I wasn’t too concerned about another one occurring. I certainly hadn’t considered the possibility it could happen again today.

Now that he had forced me to take the incident more seriously, I immediately
saw the wisdom in his words. Preparing yourself for future events is normally a
good idea, but that doesn’t mean you should deny yourself a few simple joys in
the process. The reality is you just might not make it to the future you are anticipating. I can’t say this new idea was glorious enough to be called an epiphany, but I suddenly understood there was more to life than just merely existing. Simply put, being alive is more meaningful if we allow ourselves to live a
little bit along the way. I decided a harmless celebration over still being alive was entirely appropriate, so I ordered the cheeseburger.

Everything went fine for the rest of the trip, so the only other intriguing aspect to this story is the whole ‘stone face’ thing. It was the one phenomenon
we never talked about. As we were eating, the pilot, co-pilot and flight-mechanic all told us how they saw things from the cockpit area, and we in the back talked about what it was like from the cabin area, but none of us who’d been in the back said a word about how nonchalantly we sat there waiting to die- not even to each other later. I don’t think the crew up front ever noticed, so the odds are good they are still unaware of it to this day.

It’s also not that important. All it has ever done is make me wonder if the guys in the back of every crashing helicopter or Osprey type aircraft I’ve ever heard about went to their deaths wearing the stone face. I strongly suspect they did, but that suspicion isn’t of any real value. I have never been able to explain what causes such strange behavior, but, even if I ever did figure it out, that knowledge would have no practical use.

Over the years I have discovered the stone face is not shared by the guys who see it coming. I would end up having three more close calls, two of which were actual crashes, but I also had to deal with aircraft wreckage on flights where I wasn’t directly involved. What I learned is the guys up front tend to die with their mouths open and their hands over their faces. The hands are the part I find the most disturbing.

I never saw combat, so I never personally witnessed how quickly the muscles in the body relax after sudden death occurs from gunshots, but I have seen actual combat film of people being shot, and it is not the way Hollywood portrays. The body just suddenly flops to the ground as if there are no bones in it, and there is no way an arm or any other part of the body would remain in the same position in which it was being held prior to death. This tells me the bodies, or, more usually, the upper torsos, lying in front of wreckage should not still have their hands in front of their faces, and yet they often do.

As far as I know, nobody has ever tried to explain how bodies in front of wreckage can be rolled over to find they are still holding their hands over their faces, but the fact one of my near-misses included such an event caused me to wonder about it. Truth is, that particular incident was the most shocking thing I experienced in the military, so it caused me to wonder about a great many things. The purpose of this blog is to pass on some of those things, and my hope is a few of the issues I resolved for myself will have value to others. Trust me, if I didn’t believe the lessons learned should be passed on I wouldn’t be writing this.

I should also like to state right now I do not suffer from PTSD. I have never had a single nightmare from anything I either saw or experienced in the helicopter world, and, if you think about it logically, that only makes sense. There is nothing in an aircraft crash worse than the torn corpses shown in the gory "tragedy" films we had to watch in Driver’s Ed, and many of the Horror Flicks being put out these days are a lot more grisly than real life. Do the people watching these movies get PTSD? For that matter, do cops and paramedics suffer from PTSD strictly after seeing gruesome bodies? I doubt it.

Additionally, there is a huge difference between being scared during a crash situation and being constantly terrified by periodic bursts of bullets or explosions. A crash situation is typically sudden, short, and beyond your control. Therefore, the fear doesn’t last very long, and, besides, there’s really nothing you can do about it anyway. Also, if you survive, the fear is quickly replaced with massive feelings of relief. That’s a far cry from having to function in lethal situations for an extended period where you can’t afford to ever start feeling relieved because your very survival depends upon your ability to keep your head and make good decisions. The pressures upon the psyche during shootouts and while continually moving around in a deadly environment can’t help but be a hundred times more damaging to your mental condition than a few brief spurts of fright, and I consider myself blessed not to have experienced anything so dreadful.

At any rate, my ultimate conclusion about the peculiarity of hands still being over the face was aided in part by another incident. There was a helicopter at a different time and in a different location where a rotor blade broke off in flight. Legend has it our Sikorsky type copters can lose about half of one blade and still maintain enough control to land, but, unfortunately for these guys, they lost the whole thing. Losing one entire blade throws the rotor head massively out of balance, and the remaining blades end up thrashing around so badly they chew up the whole aircraft as it falls from the sky. (I need to point out this is the only time I’ve ever heard of a rotor being lost in any situation other than combat, so I wouldn’t want to give the impression helicopters are prone to doing such things. It’s exceedingly rare). What makes this event worth mentioning, however, is the pilot was on the radio at the time the rotor broke off. The folks who told me the story later said the pilot was talking and then he suddenly stopped.

Nobody listening to him on the radio had any idea why he stopped talking until some moments later when the screams began, and after that all they heard was everybody screaming until the radio went dead. The reason the people on the other end of the radio were able to hear the screams so long was because the pilot’s hand clenched tighter over the transmit button as soon as he realized he was in danger. It’s a common enough reaction I’m quite sure most people have experienced it at some point in their lives.

This led me to two conclusions. ONE – The muscles clench so tightly when the adrenaline kicks in they simply can’t be relaxed while the brain is still sending signals, so that means the muscles in the bodies with hands over their faces must not have relaxed until sometime after the body stopped skidding. You can draw your own conclusion as to why. I did, and that’s why I said it disturbed me. TWO – The Band-Aid against fear provided by such macho things as the stone face is not strong enough to staunch the arterial flow of sheer, abject terror felt when the end is certain, and you are completely helpless. Given enough time to do so, I believe everybody will succumb to screaming. Nonetheless, if it’s of any comfort, I also believe it’s involuntary. I suspect the body’s unconscious reaction in such incidences has nothing to do with any conscious thoughts coming from the brain.

Okay, I only need to relate one more incident before I can start passing on the important lessons. A couple years after my first close call I was in Iceland, and our helicopters there were often used to deliver important cargo to a remote radar site where only a helicopter could land. On one such journey the pilot asked me to come up to the cockpit and sit in the seat normally used by the flight-mechanic. We were flying along the coast, and up ahead of us was one outcropping of rock with a big hole through it. The pilot told me he always wanted to fly through this opening, and this was the day he decided he was going to do it. He used a grease pencil to draw a circle with crosshairs in it across the windshield and said he was just going to keep the crosshairs in the middle of the opening as a way to make sure we went through the exact center of the hole. Then he headed straight for that rock.

I wasn’t too thrilled with the idea because it didn’t appear to me the hole was anywhere near big enough for us to fly through without the rotor blades hitting both sides, but I just sat there waiting to see if the pilot was serious. I had hoped the hole would start looking bigger as we got closer to it, but it didn’t happen. The closer we got the less likely it seemed we could get safely through, so it wasn’t too long before I decided I didn’t want him to make the attempt. Even so, I kept it to myself. I continued to sit there silently with the hope he would eventually realize we couldn’t possibly make it.

Once again I found myself wearing the stone face, but this time I was seriously scared. This was far worse than being in the back of the out of control helicopter, and it helped me understand why the folks who see the crash coming die with their mouths open. Their experience is much more terrifying.

We got pretty darn close, and by this point I was thoroughly convinced we couldn’t make it, but I also knew there was no way I could stop him if he was bound and determined to try. Part of me also believed no experienced pilot would really make such an attempt if he had any genuine doubts himself, so I still kept my mouth shut.

Just before it seemed too late to avoid a crash the pilot finally pulled us up, and we ended up flying over the outcropping instead of through it. I was intensely relieved, but I never let it show. The pilot didn’t have much of a reaction either. All he did was tell me I could go sit in the back again.

Turned out this was something the pilot only did to amuse himself, and he had no plan to ever really make the attempt, so I do not consider this one of my close calls with death. What’s interesting here is the pilot did this same thing to several people after me, and not all of them sat there with the stone face. Quite a few of them started begging him not to do it long before he got as close as we got this time, and the reason I know this is because other people on the flights would later tell me how each new person reacted.

Here’s what I realized sometime afterwards. The difference in the way the people reacted seemed to have a correlation to the political beliefs they held. Now, I would love to say all the people who toughed it out turned out to be conservatives, but that can’t be proven. I honestly don’t know what the political beliefs were for at least half the folks who didn’t panic, so I’m forced to concede some of the silent ones could have held liberal beliefs. What I can definitively say is all the folks who begged the pilot not to do it turned out to be liberals, and it wasn’t any great trick to figure that out because these were the type liberals who went around spouting their political beliefs all the time.

Please don’t try to make anything of that. It is tempting to use this as a platform for comparing the two ideologies, and I’ll admit I’d like to use it as a way to show my ideology is more rational than the other side, but giving in to that temptation would only serve as an unnecessary distraction from the valuable lessons I have learned. Truth is, this possible correlation is mostly useless. The rules of Logic tell us Correlation is not the same as Causation, so I’d be making a big mistake if I started drawing any political conclusions on such little evidence. No, the sole reason I even mention the political aspect at all is because noticing it is what led me to study it further, and after that I was able to develop a better conclusion.

As soon as I removed political bias from the equation, the only valid conclusion I was able to draw from the remaining data was the people who are inclined to openly express their fears about ordinary, everyday things also appear to be more helpless when it comes to handling unexpected pressure situations. The beauty of this deduction is it still allows me to suspect liberals might be quicker to panic than conservatives. You could now rebut that supposition with dozens of examples of conservatives panicking in scary situations, along with additional examples of liberals quietly being brave, and it wouldn’t alter my final conclusion in the least. If your life contains a long list of things you worry about, you probably can’t handle much pressure.

As far as dealing with scary situations goes, all you need to understand is there seems to be just two ways people choose to handle fear. One choice is to face it head-on and start planning for what you can do in the worst case scenario, and the other choice is to do everything you can, including begging, to avoid having to deal with the dreadful situation at all. One of these choices gives you a better chance for surviving when disaster strikes, and the other choice causes you to spend your entire life hiding from everything you fear. The downside to that last choice is it leads to a rather shallow existence.

Whether or not the choice made can be an indicator for which political viewpoint a person might be drawn towards is an interesting distraction, but that possible correlation is far less significant than the fact I also discovered the people who are naturally quick to surrender to their fears can actually be taught to overcome those same fears.

This is very similar to the old Cowboy adage on how to handle being thrown violently from a horse. The best thing you could do afterwards is, "Get back on the horse." The point being you should not let fear grow big enough to change your behavior. Fear can be extremely debilitating, and giving in to it can prevent you from doing anything worthwhile, so getting back on the horse is the most effective way to get over your fear. As soon as you get comfortable being on the horse again you will be able to do what needs to be done.

This applies to just about everything people fear. Fear must be faced before it can lose its power over you, and the reason you need to learn how to do that is because facing fear is the only way you can fully develop into a functioning member of society. If you never learn to face your fears you will end up being a leech. A leech is a person who has many fears, but the solutions he or she supports for alleviating those fears depend far more upon trying to get other people to make the problems go away than upon finding a way to solve the problems personally. Unfortunately for them, the one important lesson the leeches never learn is most fears are groundless. Fears have an unpleasant tendency to grow much bigger in your mind than they ever turn out to be in actuality, and until you ever figure that out you will always have a meaningless life where every decision you make is based solely upon what causes you the least amount of fear.

Let me illustrate with an ordinary situation just about everybody can recognize. I owned a 1966 Ford Econoline van from 1979 to 1992, and I drove it on many cross-country trips. This wasn’t the first auto I ever owned, but it was definitely the one with the most miles on it. (A thing of beauty it was not). I had people repeatedly tell me I was crazy to drive that thing on long journeys because after looking at it they decided they’d be too scared to risk it themselves. I was constantly bombarded with "What if" scenarios, and I always said those excuses weren’t good enough to not make the trips. What they didn’t understand is I had been on long trips across the country since the 1960’s, and I already knew the two main problems with the "What if" type worries.

The first problem is the situations they were most worried about rarely happened. After you go a couple trips without having anything too distressful occur you tend to realize most worries are about as substantial as the boogeyman under the bed. To decline making a trip I really wanted to make, just because some fantasy event might occur, made about as much sense as deciding I’d rather wet the bed than risk letting the boogeyman attack me on the way to the bathroom.

The second problem with their fanciful worries was I had previously experienced a few of these "what if" situations in real life, and I now knew they never turned out to be as scary as imagined. As long as you don’t die, things will always work out. Before I owned the van I had experienced flat tires, engine breakdowns, and had driven all night through a blizzard in the Rockies. With the van I experienced all those same events, plus I had radiator problems in
the middle of the desert, and I had to deal with a brake line failure. I’ll admit losing the brakes on the freeway was a bit scary, but by using the hand brake and driving slowly I was able to get to a place where the brake line could be fixed.

The whole point is just about everything bad you could imagine, short of getting killed by a drunk driver (which almost happened one night on the freeway when the idiot was driving the opposite way), ended up occurring to me at some point, and the most I ever lost was one day of travel time. No matter what bad thing happened I was always able to get through it, and that is the big lesson everybody should learn. "What if" should never be used as an excuse to avoid doing something; it should only be used to let you know what to prepare against. If you prepare yourself in advance for anything you fear might happen, you will always get through it just fine in the rare event your worries turn out to be valid.

There are all manner of fears people have they can be taught to get over. It doesn’t have to be anything as drastic as deciding to learn how to skydive or bungee jump; it’s done all the time in everyday life. Most people fear public speaking, but almost all of them get over it after they’ve had to do it enough times. Same thing when you taught your kid how to ride a bike. If your kid got scared the first time he or she fell down, you had to talk your child into trying again or else he or she would never have learned how to ride.

Another irrational fear many people have is driving a stick shift, and this one may be the best example for people to understand. Driving with a stick shift is only scary until you do it a few times. As soon as you get used to the clutch, and the timing of it all, it turns out to actually be fun. Then, once you are comfortable with it, you never fear driving a stick again.

That’s what I mean when I say people can be taught to get over their fears. It’s done all the time over little things, and the one lesson everybody should learn is it works just as well against the big fears. If it didn’t, we wouldn’t have a military or a police force, and nobody would ever bother to offer self-defense classes. For that matter, home improvement stores wouldn’t bother to offer classes on how to fix a noisy toilet yourself.

Not knowing how to handle a problem, especially when it is combined with an irrational fear over what might happen, should never be used as an excuse to avoid facing an intimidating situation directly. No, as soon as you realize you are worried about any particular situation occurring you should treat it as nature’s way of telling you what you need to learn. From the moment you first recognize the fear, you should do yourself a favor and start getting some training on how to take care of it.

Naturally, you will never be able to totally eliminate fear from your life, but if you learn what to do in fearful situations you will never be so debilitated by fright you won’t be able to take care of yourself in the event they occur. The main point is just about every fear you have can be removed through training or other direct methods of confrontation, and, as soon as you get over your personal worries, you won’t feel a need to keep demanding the government create new laws for society.

Okay, so far I haven’t passed on anything most of you couldn’t have learned elsewhere, so let’s get to the meaty part. What were the most important issues my close brushes with death created in me, and how were they resolved? The answers all came down to asking the simple question, "Why?"

Before the word ‘questioning’ became associated with some confusion you may have had over what sex you were attracted to, or even what sex you felt you were, it was mostly applied to the mysteries of life.

In the past, when you started ‘questioning’, you were trying to decide such things as whether or not the religion you were brought up in was the one with which you should stick, what the purpose of life even was, and/or was there a God? This is the type questioning I experienced. One of the big ones I worked out for myself was "If there is a God, why does He allow tragedies to occur to some and not to others?"

Unfortunately, I do not have enough room to answer those questions in this blog. I have discovered adding the picture sucked up a bunch of the available space, so I do not have enough room to pass on the answers in a single posting. I assure you it is not my intent to tease you, but I’m afraid I’ll have to refer you to Part 2 to find those answers. However, if it helps, I will be posting Part 2 first so it will show up immediately under this one. I apologize if doing a Part 2 is annoying, but it really is the only way I can get it all in. I have a few more incidents to relate, and until I can make you understand how those events affected my thought-processes, I’ll never be able to adequately justify the conclusions I eventually drew from them.

Whether or not you choose to continue reading, I leave you now saying, "Life to America!"

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