The human experience is a never-ending series of trials and tribulations — some more significant and life-altering than others. For me, a redwood branch-breaking moment changed my life forever.
This is that story.
Fifteen years ago, on April 14, 2008, I was living in a beautiful home in the rural small town of Guerneville, California, deep in the redwoods. One day, when I went for a run, a redwood branch fell on me, and I was knocked unconscious. I don’t remember anything from the event; I blacked out completely. However, I was found by a kind stranger as I was stumbling and falling in the road, bleeding profusely who told me much later, “You were ready to leave this earth.”
To make matters worse, when my legally registered domestic partner, Tim, came home from work, he could not find me. The police wouldn’t give him any information because he was not considered “family.” (Same sex marriage was illegal in 2008) He had to plead with them before they finally told him someone matching my description was in a hit-and-run accident and taken to the Santa Rosa hospital 45 minutes away.
When Tim got to the hospital, he had the opportunity to see me before going into surgery — telling me, “I saw your brain coming through the hole in your skull.” It was a scary time for everyone concerned. Head and brain trauma is no joke.
Recovery was slow – but positive. The prognosis was that I should be fine — maybe some memory loss and cognitive challenges — but I was a very lucky man that the damage was not worse, and the hearing loss I was experiencing was temporary. Unfortunately, this proved to be not true. I have permanent loss of hearing in my left ear and chronic ringing (tinnitus). But although a large chunk of my skull was broken, and I now had a titanium plate in my head, I was alive. There was still a mystery — what exactly happened to me?
Six weeks later, I posted flyers around the neighborhood asking if anyone had seen or heard anything. Eventually, two people came forward, one saying they heard something falling into their garbage cans and saw someone stumble away, and another saying they found a bloody redwood branch on the road and assumed it was from a deer or some other animal.
After weeks of not knowing what happened, the pieces finally came together. On a windy April 14, 2008, a redwood tree shed a branch that tumbled down and clobbered me — badly. The odds of this happening are staggeringly impossible. I call it my “reverse lottery” day. I think about the miracle of having survived this often … and although it took a while to realize them, the gifts and opportunities that came from that day are staggeringly beautiful.
Firstly, I learned patience and gratitude — how to appreciate the beauty of silence and of deep contemplation. My six-week recovery was a profoundly personal time filled with meditation, reflection, and devouring the book, The Power of Now, by Eckard Tolle. Secondly, I learned to appreciate noise, missing the beauty of uninterrupted sound for the rest of my life (wearing headphones and listening to music temporarily masks the tinnitus). Thirdly, I learned how much I still love to run, even though the doctor told me I shouldn’t. (Dumbass!) Finally, I learned there is a skill and mindset needed to get through the various “life-quakes” we go through, lest we be consumed by the inevitable pain and sadness of life. A mindset of gratitude, optimism, and constantly “reframing” life’s challenges and obstacles so they are gifts and opportunities is the gold I continue to mine from that fateful day.
My ”bough-breaking” story taught me many valuable lessons, but what about your redwood branch moment? We all have one (or more) of them — those life-changing events that alter the course of our lives. Perhaps it was the loss of a loved one, a career-ending injury, or a traumatic experience. Whatever it was, it undoubtedly taught you something valuable about yourself and the world around you.
Reflecting on your redwood branch moment is an opportunity to grow and learn. It’s a time to examine how you responded to the situation, what you learned, and how it shaped you into the person you are today. You may have developed resilience, a newfound appreciation for life, or learned how to find strength in difficult times.
One of the most significant takeaways from my story is the importance of finding the positive in any situation (i.e., the Positive Intelligence® sage perspective that I now include in all my leadership development work). Despite my injuries, I was able to find valuable lessons and opportunities for growth. My ability to find the positive in a traumatic event allowed me to move forward with a positive attitude, a huge jump in resilience, and a renewed appreciation for life.
How about you? What was your redwood branch moment? Share with me what your insights and gifts were. What can you teach me — and the world?
Keep an eye out for my next blog, “From Pain to Purpose”. We’ll continue with this theme of reclaiming our challenges and transforming them into gifts.