October 7 is a very special day on the calendar at our house.
For example, on October 7, 1993, our first grandson was born. He just went off to college last month. Where did the time go?
On October 7, 1991, our emotions were at the other end of the scale. Two people very close to us died that day, only hours apart in the same hospital, and both of them due to bad hearts.
One was a teenage nephew whose heart had been seriously damaged in a car crash the previous year. He collapsed, while playing touch football with friends. The other was a dear friend whose heart was wearing out from disease. He desperately needed a transplant and he finally got one, but he was so weak by then, his organs began to fail, and time ran out.
And, on October 7, 1978, my own time almost ran out, when the twin-engine airplane I was piloting suddenly lost power.
The plane belonged to the Florida TV station where I had taken a job just four months earlier. Four of my colleagues were also on board, and we were heading from West Palm Beach to Tallahassee, for a state Association of Broadcasters meeting. It was to be about a two-hour flight, with arrival just before 8:30 AM.
The weather was clear, and the air was smooth. The flight began in predawn darkness, but by the time we passed over DisneyWorld, the sun was up, and we had a spectacular view of Cinderella’s Castle.
But, soon our luck would begin to change. It was not long after 8:00, when, during the descent for landing, we got into trouble, big trouble. First, the plane’s left engine lost power, and then, the right engine.
A fuel problem? Couldn’t be. The gauges indicated I still had about half of what I started with. Nonetheless, I decided to switch tanks.
Suddenly the engines roared back to life, so I continued the descent, but less than a minute later, both engines lost power again, and we began to rapidly lose altitude. We were too far away to reach the airport, so I had to find somewhere else to go, but where? We were above a large pine-tree forest, and running out of time.
Suddenly my eyes were drawn to a small clearing. Not much room to land, but it would have to do. I remember the sound of the plane’s wings brushing against the tops of trees at the edge of the clearing. But not much at all, after that.
At impact, I was knocked unconscious. When I came to, I was alone in the plane. The others had all gotten out on their own, one with a broken ankle, another with a broken wrist. I learned later that they had left me inside the plane because they were afraid a fire might break out. And, because they thought I was dead. I was slumped forward, bleeding profusely from my face, and not moving, they told me.
I would be in the hospital for nine days, the first few, with my head wrapped in bandages. When they came off, I was shocked by the extent of the damage to my face, and wondered whether I would be able to continue my television career.
After a few days I was well enough to take phone calls. One of them really startled me. When I answered, a woman on the other end said, “Hold on. Walter Cronkite would like to speak with you.” Almost immediately, he picked up, and there was no mistaking his rich tones. Imagine, the “most admired man in America” had heard about the crash, and wanted to see how I was doing.
As wonderful as that was, I was even more moved by the mail that arrived each day, by the hundreds. Beautiful cards and letters, expressing concern, and promising prayers.
One of the ones I remember most was sent by a woman who revealed that her son had died in a car crash, only a couple of weeks prior to my accident. At such a difficult time in her life, she still felt it was important to reach out to someone else, with words of comfort. It was both heartwarming and inspiring.
And, so was the card’s engraved quotation, attributed to the 19th- century British novelist, Aldous Huxley:
“A man’s life is not measured by what happens to him, but rather by what he does with what happens to him.”
I took that message to heart, committing myself to returning to news broadcasting. I knew I would have to be patient, and think positive, through the many reconstructive surgeries and the long periods of healing that would be necessary. And I was.
I have shared this experience with many, over the last 34 years, hoping that it might help them get through whatever challenges and hardships life might throw at them. You see, I understood Huxley’s message to mean that, rather than engaging in self-pity in times of trouble, we ought to respond to any “negative” event, by reacting to it in a positive way. That is to say, by taking action to make a difference in your life, and even the lives of others.
So, what are you going to do with what has happened to you?