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The most important day of my life was the day I broke my neck.

The world changed. Every decision I made after that day was different than it would have been, had it not happened.

You grow up hearing, “Don’t do that—you’ll break your neck!” You hear about people diving into pools, and the horror of being a quadriplegic.

And here I was. I had broken my neck.

I was alive and I wasn’t paralyzed.

How had I gotten to this point in my life? How had I gotten to this emergency room, with a cervical fracture, and my favorite sundress, forever gone, cut off of me when I first arrived?

I woke up with two thoughts: Why I was sleeping in the middle of the day? And why the hell is the back of my head hurting so badly? I heard voices and realized I was surrounded by many people. A sharp object was exploring my foot and leg. Voices. “Can you feel this?” “Yes,” I told them. Then I asked if I could have a pillow because the back of my head hurt badly, and I received a startling reply.

“You were in a car accident. You broke your neck.”

I lifted my arms to feel my face. I had heard “broken neck,” but instinctively, I reached to see if my face was damaged. I was relieved as my hands felt smoothness. Ah, vanity.

My mind began sluggishly reviewing. The last thing I remembered was bringing a glass of iced tea toward my mouth. Then, a flash of another memory: very gentle hands holding my head, hands that may have saved my life. I learned that my companion’s shoulder was damaged, but he had no other injuries. The driver of the other vehicle, the boy who had sped through the red light, was not hurt.

Our vehicle was totaled.

When there is no paralysis, you still run the risk of the cracked vertebra shifting and damaging the spinal cord. In my case, the second vertebra was cracked. It was important for me to stay very still until they could create the brace and “halo” I would wear for the next two and a half months.

I spent the next two days, waiting…Waiting for the brace, waiting for my parents, waiting to get out of the hospital. And while I waited, I thought.

Lying there for two days, keeping as still as I could, so that I didn’t mess up my good fortune, I thought.

Throughout the drilling into my skull to insert the screws that would hold the apparatus in place, through the fear, the relief, and the realization that I had messed up my life so far, I continued to think.

I then made an important decision that has impacted my life everyday since. I decided I was going to be happy.

I had not been happy for a very long time. And now, I was going to turn things around. There was a reason I was still alive. There was a reason I was not paralyzed. I was going to change my life.

But honestly, I did not know how to myself happy. I was living with a person who didn’t love me and was selfish and unkind. It was a destructive relationship that I had stayed in out of desperation. My self-esteem was at an all-time low.

I have to go back a bit to tell of the path that led me to this turning point, my “quantum moment,” at the age of twenty-one.

I grew up in Michigan, always feeling an aching, a calling to me of something that I couldn’t name. I was always torn between a desire to run away and a longing for safety and home.

My first two years of college were spent first at Central Michigan, and then at Eastern Michigan. I liked learning but was never content. It was there, in Ypsilanti, Michigan, that I met Rick. I cannot count the number of times that I wished that I had never met him. But then, if I could, would I go back and change anything? I have read too many imaginative books about time travel. Any change you make, even the smallest, tiniest change can change the course of history. So, sadly, even if I could go back, I wouldn’t change any of the choices I made.

At the age of twenty, I dropped out of school to travel across the United States with a girlfriend. I was searching, but I didn’t know for what or why. I spent the next ten months traveling. It was incredible, but I did not find what I was looking for. We ended our trip in New Mexico, where Rick now lived, and there began a very sad period of my life.

I loved New Mexico. The heat, the air, the mysterious mountains, and the flat, dust-blown areas–all of those things I loved. I thought I loved Rick. I wanted him to love me.

The story of my life in New Mexico could be a whole book, and there certainly is not time for it here. Suffice it to say, I spent some of my unhappiest days there. I longed for happiness, respect and love. I longed for someone who I could respect and admire. I did not have any of that, and my heart aches for my younger self now. I foolishly moved to Garland, Texas, with Rick, for lack of anything better to do. He imagined his fortune awaited him there.

Don’t ask.

I immediately found a waitress job and Rick, as usual, didn’t find work. Five months after we had moved to Texas, as he talked yet again about some ridiculous money-making scheme, I realized that I could never stay with this man. I prayed that night to God to help me get out of this. I was desperate. I needed help. I needed salvation.

Little did I know in what form help would arrive. The very next day, as I sunbathed at the pool, I met someone nice and spent the day with him while Rick was god knows where. He invited me to go to his mom’s the next day for Mother’s Day. I shrugged, and thought, what the heck. I’m not sure what I told Rick when I left the next day.

Lying in my hospital bed, I thought, this is it. This is my wake-up call, the answer to my prayer. I don’t know why I am still living, but I have been given another chance to get my act together. There is a reason I am still alive.

I need to find out why.

The decision to be happy impacted all decisions after that. I still made stupid choices but never stayed with a boyfriend who didn’t treat me properly or who told me what to do.

I pushed myself, supported myself, and finished school. I became an elementary school teacher and I loved teaching.

I fell in love with Eric. We have been so happy together. I know he was one of the reasons I was supposed to live. I was supposed to share my life with him. When each of my three children was born, I thought, “Here is another reason I was supposed to stay.”

The most important decision I made was to quit drinking. Alcohol had always been a part of my life. I realized it was the last thing standing in my way of happiness and meaning. That day, the day I broke my neck, was huge. I live with the scars on my forehead from the screws. I have never considered plastic surgery. They are a reminder of my “life plan.”

I have a happy marriage, three remarkable children, and a life of freedom, love and respect. All the things I knew I wanted, and somehow could not achieve until I saw how quickly everything can change. How quickly I could lose my life.

I want my life to matter, and I have spent the last thirty years since the accident trying to make sure it does. I have taught children how to be happy and encouraged them to lives of meaning. I became a Life Coach and I use what I have learned to help others. I try to be forgiving when I am hurt. I do my best to “do the right thing.”

Recently I heard Wayne Dyer say, “Don’t die with the music still inside you.” I thought, “I am so happy that I didn’t!” I am spending my life living and hearing the music.

What kind of person would have I have been if I hadn’t experienced this trauma? I will never know. But I do feel, in my heart, that I am far better person than I would ever have been, if I hadn’t broken my neck.

Don’t wait to choose happiness.

Really. Don’t wait.

Choose happiness right now.

Diana Fletcher (c) 2009


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