"All right, let's bring it home. If you was hit by a truck and you was lying out there in that gutter dying, and you had time to sing one song. Huh? One song that people would remember before you're dirt. One song that would let God know how you felt about your time here on Earth. One song that would sum you up. You tellin' me that's the song you'd sing?
- Sam Phillips, Walk the Line
I've heard people say that sometimes your brain will shut down just before traumatic experiences and you won't remember anything that happened. That may be true, but it surely wasn't the case for me. I remember every detail.
I looked up and saw headlights. There was no time to react. The truck was moving too fast.
I remember my body's impact with the front of it. Swept and thrown upward, I bounced off the top of the truck like a rag doll and spun up in the air. The streetlight above took over as the focus of my vision that the truck's headlights had been before. This light turned in circles in the morning darkness. For a moment I felt nothing. I was completely separated from earth.
Then I hit asphalt.
Adrenaline is a funny thing. I didn't feel myself making contact with the road so much as I was simply aware of it, like I wasn't living this myself but only watching it happen to somebody else. Because of that, I don't know exactly what part of me hit the road, but later the pain and lacerations on my face and right arm would let me know that these areas had absorbed the main force of the impact.
"Hey! Stop!" somebody yelled as the truck sailed through the intersection of Hurt Road and Powder Springs Road. The driver slammed his brakes, screeching the truck to a halt.
Wait a minute
, I thought to myself. I'm still alive. Aren't you supposed to die if you get hit by a truck?
Emboldened by the adrenaline racing through me and numbed by the shock of the accident, I decided to attempt standing up. But my right leg refused to cooperate. I slumped back to the ground in the middle of the road.
I heard footsteps. A man from the nearby Quick Thrift gas station ventured into the middle of the intersection and knelt down beside me.
"Are you OK? Say something!"
"I'm OK. I think my leg is bleeding."
He looked down at my leg. "Yeah, your leg looks a little banged up. Help is on the way." He was trying to put a positive spin on the situation, but I could tell from his face that he was looking at something gruesome.
I began to shiver. Even though it still gets pretty warm in Georgia in October, the mornings can be pretty chilly.
I was supposed to be going to school for band practice. We were scheduled to perform in a big marching competition that night, and I had really looked forward to it. My plans for today had obviously changed.
I don't know how long it took--it seemed like a couple of minutes and an eternity at the same time--but paramedics were soon on the scene. Sirens filled the air, and the bright lights of an ambulance flickered and bounced off the side of the Quick Thrift. Two guys in uniform hopped out of the ambulance. One came running up to me, while his partner stayed behind to prepare a stretcher.
Even though I was still in shock, I figured an attempt at comedy might be in order. "You guys want to buy some doughnuts?"
The paramedic tending to me chuckled. Then it was all business. "Hey, buddy, are you OK? Can you tell me your name and where you are?" Routine questions in accident situations.
"My name is Mark," I said. "And I'm on the road."
I've spent most of my adult life on the road. With my bandmates in Third Day, a rock group we started in high school that is still making music twenty-five years later, I have traveled pretty much everywhere--basically anywhere people will have us--and put on shows. Our lead singer and I used to be flat-out amazed whenever we traveled somewhere new. We would announce it to each other. "Dude--we're in Illinois!" "Dude--we're in New Mexico!" I think we stopped doing that after about the third lap around the country.
As I write this the road has taken us to Iowa, where we are getting ready to do a little rock show. Later we'll do a soundcheck and an autograph session. Much later we'll perform. But for now I'm sitting on the bus watching a documentary about Genesis--the band, not the book. When I'm home I'm not much of a TV watcher. Between shuttling kids to activities and errands and home responsibilities I just don't have the time. But when we're out doing shows it's a great way to fill these huge swaths of time we find ourselves with.
Being a musician, I find some of my favorite shows are these rock documentaries where they give you all the nitty gritty behind-the-scenes details of a band's career. The series Behind the Music is a perennial favorite, but these shows have been made in some form or fashion for decades.
When I first discovered Behind the Music, I was mesmerized. I watched one on Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and was amazed at how they started out happy-go-lucky, a group of friends making music together. Then they got successful and had to deal with some internal conflicts and some drug problems. But now the band is in the best place they've ever been.
Then I watched the Fleetwood Mac episode. It was even better. The band started out happy-go-lucky. Just a group of friends making music together. Then they got successful and had to deal with some internal conflicts and some drug problems. But now the band is in the best place they've ever been.
Or take the Aerosmith episode. A few friends got together and made some music, and then they got famous and it got really hard to handle the success. They got into drugs and they started fighting. But then they learned to appreciate each other and the life that the band gave them. Now they're in a better place than ever.
Wait a minute. All these stories are exactly the same.
As much as I love Behind the Music, the stories all run together after a while because the show follows a formula. As with so many other things, we want to watch music documentaries and see a reflection of ourselves. These kinds of shows are doing what we all do every day of our lives.
How many times, when asked how we're doing, do we reply by framing our life like the end of a Behind the Music episode? Life is the best it's ever been. We had a rough patch, but now we're better than ever. Or at the very least, no matter what's going on, we tell people we're OK.
Inside us, something else is going on. "OK" is a form of wishful thinking. Even if we don't really feel fine, we want to. There's always a plan and a hope. If I can get through this rough patch then I'm going to hit smooth sailing, and everything is going to be OK. But it just doesn't work that way. All of us are trying to get to a place where everything's worked out and everything's easy. We're on the road to happily ever after, aren't we?
In The Road Less Traveled, M. Scott Peck says the core problem faced by modern-day humans is that we expect life to be easy. And like my bandmates and me being blown away the first time we went to Nebraska, we are flat-out amazed when life's not easy. But we don't chalk it up to the fact that maybe life is harder than we thought. Instead of learning from it, we look for someone or something to blame.
When I look back on my life, I can see that it didn't work like an episode of Behind the Music--and still doesn't. Try as I might, it's definitely not happily ever after. Good things happen and bad things happen. Sometimes they're happening at the same time.
It has never been easy. I have been dealt some rough blows. Accidents, injuries, losing a parent to cancer. While your road hasn't been the same, I'm sure it's had tough stretches as well. The road we're on includes sickness, job loss, tragedy, and death.
Even when we get where we're trying to go, it's rarely what we thought it would be. Surprisingly, success can be a trial in itself. The whirlwind created when we get busy doing something we love can make for a rocky journey that's tough to navigate. But while the terrain might be unfamiliar, the tools we use to navigate life are the same.
Each of us has a unique story, but together we're all on Hurt Road. We make our plans for how our lives are going to go forward, and the next thing we know we're landing in a ditch we didn't see coming. But we get up and we keep moving. The beauty comes because we're not walking alone. We can help each other and we can support each other. And, coming or going, God's got us. I have to keep learning this truth over and over, each time I start thinking again that I can walk my own road with my own plans. These are the landmarks that help me live freely, knowing that there is no right road or wrong road in life. We don't really get to choose that anyway--we just get to trust God, coming and going.
Hurt Road will be available on September 5. You can preorder it here.