Avoiding Deadly Mistakes

IMG_0447A prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions. The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences.
Proverbs 22:3 NLT

Sharon and I returned yesterday from an enjoyable weeks’ vacation in Asheville, North Carolina. It’s different up there. Hills, mountains, rocks, creeks, and waterfalls, along with cooler temperatures and low humidity, were a nice change to the end of summer in Florida. But we’re not exactly mountain people, both of us having some fear of heights, and seeing the sights of western North Carolina was not without its challenges.

The first full day there we set out on a trip to Linville Caverns, deciding to take the “scenic route” along the Blue Ridge Parkway. It was quite scenic, but as you might expect in the mountains, there are occasional sheer drops just off the road, which we both found somewhat disconcerting. Nevertheless we drove slowly and enjoyed ourselves, stopping at a couple of scenic overlooks while staying well back from the edge. Then the fog came in.

I’m not sure if it was actual “fog” in weather terms, or more of a cloud on top of the mountain. Either way, it was a bad experience. Visibility became quite poor, sometimes just ten feet or so. Unfortunately, once you’re on the Parkway, which runs across the ridge, it’s not so easy to get off, as exits are few and far apart. So praying, driving slowly, and focusing on the faded double yellow line we endured until we could descend at the next junction.

Maybe the locals drive in conditions like that all the time. I don’t know. There were some other cars and pickups with North Carolina plates on the road. For me, it was scary knowing that it would be  easy to make a simple mistake and leave the road with potentially deadly consequences. I won’t do that again. Live and learn. Next time check the weather forecast first.

It left me thinking for the rest of the week about how precious life is, and how easy it is to die from the consequences of a mistake, bad decision or accident. Within a day we saw this news of two young women hikers who had wandered off the safe path and fallen to their deaths, and that brought to mind other recent tragedies including the French couple that died unprepared for the New Mexico desert. Beyond the headlines, I have personally known people who’ve died from a single mistake or bad decision – sometimes their bad decision, sometimes the result of another’s bad decision. I’m sure you have too.

The most extreme examples are easiest to bring to mind – climbing Everest, free diving to new records, or “extreme sports” in general. Therefore, it’s easy to think, “I would never do that” and not learn any lessons. Yet, we all suffer from the same condition.  Bad and potentially life-threatening  choices are common in more everyday behavior such as:
– going offshore in a boat without adequate safety equipment
– driving while intoxicated (you or somebody else)
– riding with someone who is driving while intoxicated
– “horseplay” with machinery
– taking the curve too fast
– not buckling your seatbelt
– being in “the wrong place at the wrong time”
With a moment’s thought, you can bring to mind many more examples.  If you’re stuck check the morning newspaper.  Truthfully, it’s very easy to die from a mistake or bad decision. Happens all the time.

I’ve drawn two lessons or meanings from this weeklong meditation on accidental death. The first is the need to be prudent about my choices in life. Life is full of risks; many are worth taking, but some are not. For example, is it okay to drive 85 mph on the highway? Discernment is necessary. What are my motives? Am I putting my life at risk? Have I properly assessed the risk? Have I minimized it? Is the risk worth it? I want to be responsible steward of my own life, and my family needs me to stick around. I should think about that. Perhaps you should too.

The second lesson is that, no matter how prudent we think we are, we will screw up a lot, and that as Christians we are to be forgiving. God has forgiven us and we are also to forgive. It’s easy to blame ourselves for our own bad decisions and to react with anger or derision about others’ mistakes. Perhaps you’ve thought, “That was stupid” (or “careless” or “criminal”) after hearing of an accidental death. I know I have. But who hasn’t also been similarly stupid, careless or even criminal at times and escaped consequences? I know I have.

Lately, hearing of tragedy brought on by bad decisions, my responses are tending towards sadness, compassion, and forgiveness, and my thoughts to “there but for the grace of God go I.”

Thank you God for delivering me from my own foolishness. Keep me safe. Guide me with your Holy Spirit, and help me to live prudently. Amen.

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Hickory Nut Falls at Chimney Rock, accessible via a “gentle” trail walk.

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How many people climb on the rocks despite the sign?  How many BECAUSE of it?

A sign on the trail – How many people climb on the rocks despite the sign? How many because of it?