There was a time when I used to be taller. Those of you who were living in Tampa 15 years ago may recall a bizarre accident when a tractor trailer drove off Interstate 75, roared down the embankment and landed on a car below. The truck driver succumbed to pneumonia, sustained after breathing in fumes from fire extinguishers, which were engaged to smother the tires that were ablaze. The cause was even more frantic, since the driver was pinned in the cab of the truck while the tires were on fire.

The car passengers were both alive when help arrived on the scene. The two women were buried beneath concrete rubble and barely visible in their car from the street. Two citizens of the world extracted the women from the car and lay them down under the overpass waiting for help to arrive. The women were flown to Tampa General via helicopter and the truck driver followed by ambulance. One of the women broke her neck and wrist, had severe burns on her arm and face. The other, the driver, had broken ribs, cuts on her head and severe burns on her hand. I was the driver of the car and the passenger was Wendy Patton, then an employee of Ed Taylor Construction.

To this day, I am still moved by the outpouring of support from the real estate community, friends, family and neighbors that rallied for all three of us. At the hospital, Wendy and I were again buried, this time by flowers, gifts and love.

The accident was indeed a line of demarcation in both of our lives and in the lives of the family of the driver. If you have ever had a near-death experience, you know what I mean. You do live life differently, reorder your priorities and relish the normalcy of every day. I altered my work day to be home earlier with my two daughters, then ages 7 and 9. I relished my time with my friends and my parents even more. I started to understand how traumatizing this event was for my parents, now that I was a parent. My parents stayed with us for 6 weeks, while I recuperated. Even though I sustained “minor” injuries, I still felt like I had been hit by a truck. Oh, actually I was!

My friends often said they were similarly moved, and realized that they, too, could have been the driver of the car. Chance is, by its very nature, unpredictable. Wendy and I escaped death by inches and by seconds. The outcome could have just as easily been vastly different for us.

Specifically, I questioned, with all sincerity, what I was doing with my life: how important commercial real estate was to the world, how much I took being healthy for granted, and what value I placed on material things. I spent several weeks in a funk while marinating on these concepts.

I concluded that while commercial real estate was not changing the world, at least not at the level of my practice, it did provide a comfortable living for our family. I was challenged by the work and it was fun for me. It afforded me the opportunity to give back to the community financially. For all of that, I was grateful.

I had lusted for a Baume and Mercier watch and was close to purchasing the model I wanted. While lying under the overpass, newly minted from the accident, I no longer wanted that watch. Actually what I wanted was to take ballroom dancing lessons, increase the monthly benefit from my disability policy, have my girls collected from school and taken safely home, and buy a new purse. My favorite red leather purse was crushed in the car.

I suffered from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that was triggered by the whir of a helicopter, the rumble of a truck, driving under an overpass and smelling of gasoline or diesel fuel. These triggers no longer recall the trauma of the accident although the effect lasted about 5 years. I had little trouble getting back behind the wheel. I did have trouble getting people to allow me to drive them to lunch.

Fifteen years later, the strong feelings about reordering my priorities are much diminished. Living every day like it is your last lasted only a few months for me, maybe even a year or two. The experience did not galvanize me to change much, if anything, in the world I live in. I downshifted into the pre-accident world without a protest.

Fifteen years earlier, at nearly 40, my view of my remaining 8 lives looked expansive. At my age now, and you do the math, I treasure the value of every day in a vastly different way than the post -accident way. My girls are starting their own lives and I want to be there for them at every stage of their journeys. My parents are getting on in their years and there is so much we have not done or said. My friend’s children are charting their own lives as well, drawing my friends away along with them.

So each glass of wine, each dinner, every flop on the couch, each trip to the beach, each party, every holiday weekend is infused with more life and meaning, since we never know what may happen, by chance, to any one of us.

Tape MeasureEveryone is afforded 24 hours in every day, time is our equalizer. Make the most out of every day.

PS: If anyone happens to recall the accident and asks me about it now, I say that I am well yet I used to be a bit taller!

PPS: Wendy Patton is doing very well, now considered bionic with 6 titanium screws in her neck. She and her husband Andy are the proud parents of two daughters.