FLINT - A friend, Hal, wrote this on Facebook the other day:
"Today is the four year anniversary of the accident in which I lost the lower part of my left leg. I wanted to let you know I am doing great. I am very glad I survived the accident and have been able to enjoy some great experiences the last four years.
"A while ago I ran across an article about some of our brave troops in Iraq who have also lost limbs in the war. One of their inspirational observations that hit home with me was that they very well could have died the day they lost their limbs. They choose to call that day their 'Alive Day.'
"Like them, I could have easily been killed or worse my children could have died that day. So please join me in celebrating my 'Alive Day.' Please no presents. All I ask is that you reflect on the good things you have in your life and be thankful for your health and the friendship and caring of good people."
By the time I finished that, I was near tears, as you probably are right now. We all need a reminder now and then that, despite our troubles, there's usually a lot to be grateful for, and Hal's story is certainly that.
So I asked him if he'd mind answering a few questions about the day he lost his leg and his experiences since - how did it happen, was he angry, how did he possibly get to the point where he could write such a beautiful message?
"Sure, I'm willing," he responded.
His story goes like this: He took his family to a Cub Scout outing at a local orchard and "when we got out of the van, we started to walk toward the entrance to the building where I guess they sell cider. But the kids noticed some kids they know playing at the playground to the left of the building."
So off they flew, with Hal trailing behind.
Suddenly, he found himself lying on a landscaping bed, his left foot missing.
"I looked around and realized what happened. A tractor with a snow blade on the front was pushed up into the landscaping bed right next to me. I later found out that the owner's wife was driving the tractor, which they were using to move some wood. She was attempting to get it into gear and having trouble. She finally got it into gear and pressed down on the accelerator at the same time."
She lost control and lurched forward, striking Hal's leg and tossing him in the air.
"All I could think was that I would never be able to play with my kids like I was planning. Then I realized my kids were probably standing about 20 feet away seeing all of this, so I started yelling to get my kids out of here."
People nearby saved his life by applying a tourniquet and calling for help. But his leg, doctors later told him, was gone forever.
"It's hard to describe how you react to news like that. At the time, so much was going on it was hard to picture what life will be like. I guess you kind of assume it is going to be terrible. As time goes on you begin to realize that this is how it is going to be and you are going to have to deal with it the best you can."
So he got on with learning how to get into cars with one leg, how to get in the house, and, later, how to adjust to life with an artificial limb.
"I really felt the need to show my kids that I was going to be all right. Having kids and knowing they are watching how you are going to react at least for me was incentive to fight through whatever negative feelings I was dealing with. My kids went to a therapist for a while but they were very resilient. Kids can handle more than we think."
Was he angry, bitter?
"Yes, sometimes I was. There is a lot of frustration that goes along with this experience. But I do not think I have much anger now, I try to use this whole ordeal as a lesson of what is important in life. It does not always work but I think it has caused me to look at little things as less of problem and step back and be thankful for what I have.
"I actually think what happened to me has made me a better person because maybe I am a little more appreciative of what I have and maybe I was spared to make things better in some way. I can tell you I am probably closer to my kids than I might have been, and for me that is fantastic."
"That is why I share my Alive Day message each year. I really hope it helps other people but it also helps remind me of how things could have been much worse."
There you have it. Things could have been worse for him. And no matter what you're dealing with in your life, things could probably be worse, as well.
So be happy. You're alive. And that's all that really matters.
EDITOR'S NOTE - Andy Heller, an award-winning columnist for The Flint Journal, appears weekly in the Daily Press. He graduated from Escanaba Area High School in 1979. For more of his work, visit his blog at blog.mlive.com/flintjournal/aheller. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.