I sure am a lucky guy. Most of the time I take my life and all that I enjoy for granted but every once in a while I pause to think of so much I have to be grateful for. Stopping to remember to feel gratitude has helped keep me grounded and positive.
The other day I came across a car off the road in the middle of a blizzard. Since I have a large four-wheel-drive truck it seemed right to stop and see if I could help out. What I came across was a teenager who had driven off the road in his first-ever winter accident. It reminded me of my own experiences in driving on the icy roads back north up the James Bay coast.
This kid had managed to plow his new little car into a farm field but was lucky enough to miss a nearby telephone pole or things would have been very different. There was very little damage to his car although even a small amount of denting and scratching on the new plastic cars can still be expensive.
Luckily, I had a tow-rope with me in the truck so I hooked up to his car and put my old truck into bull-low four-wheel-drive. Well, that little car slipped out of the snow-filled field and in a few minutes both driver and car were back on the road. The car was a little worse for wear and the driver very enthusiastic about his thanking me. He was however very worried about the reaction from his parents when he returned home.
After helping this fellow out I drove on into the storm to make my way home. As I drove I thought about all those early days when I first started driving the family trucks, tractors, four wheelers and, of course, snow machines. I recalled so many accidents as I careened around Attawapiskat at break-neck speeds with friends packed in vehicles or hanging off them. I remembered what it was like back then to think I was invincible.
I thought back about my teen life before I sobered up and just how lost and out of control I was. Every day was a struggle for me. I was depressed and full of anxiety most of the time and once I started really drinking I headed down a very slippery slope where it seemed impossible to get my life back. Booze and drugs were part of life in my small remote First Nation and I grew up with the tragedy that this life brings all around me. Even though I often promised myself I would never drink or do drugs somehow I just ended up in the same boat as most others in the community.
When I was drinking and driving vehicles or snow machines, I was a danger to myself but more importantly to others in the community. The problem was that back in those days just about everybody thought this was normal. After a bender and joy rides, we would wake up the next day and have a good laugh at the scene from the night before or at least what we could remember of it.
Sadly, every once in a while someone died as a result of being out on the land in a vehicle while intoxicated. Sometimes when things go wrong at minus 40 below zero they go very, very wrong. I recall waking up in a jail cell one morning after a night out on the winter road on a snow machine. I had been part of a group returning from Moosonee with some booze and we were drinking on the ride back to Attawapiskat.
I don’t remember much from that ride except that at one point I was racing as fast as I could on my machine in the dark and freezing cold when suddenly I rear-ended the sled in front of me and actually flew over that snowmobile and landed far ahead in soft snow. Lucky for me I was cushioned by the snow, thick layers of clothes on and managed to land in a way that I was not badly hurt. I was not wearing a helmet so if I had hit my head on anything at all at those speeds I would have been killed.
I woke up in a jail cell back in town the next morning. I could not remember much but I felt so depressed at my state and I was deeply embarrassed. These were dark days indeed. Then out of the blue I met my friend Mike who was sober and I was introduced to a life without alcohol or drugs. My life had been in a downward spin and I had just about lost all hope when somehow our paths crossed and I decided my life was worth living. There was a lot to deal with and with the support of my cousin Ron and some good friends from Alcoholics Anonymous I learned about my disease of alcoholism. To this day I am still a student and in recovery…. I always will be.
One day long ago someone stopped for me on a dark and dangerous road, I am reminded it is always good to pass that favour on.