In my life, I've done some crazy things, things that defy reason and in retrospect lead even me to say, "What was I thinking?"
There was that Sunday morning drive I once took with legendary race car driver, Dale Earnhardt. I thought we were going for a simple spin around Daytona International Speedway, just to see how the steep embankment felt. But the mischievous Earnhardt had other ideas.
We climbed into the pace car and he took off like he was on the final lap of the Daytona 500, trying to pass Jeff Gordon for the win. Earnhardt was never one for holding back.
I am quite certain we were going 300 mph, even though the Pontiac Trans Am could supposedly register only 160 mph. Earnhardt, though, could find horsepower where no one else could. As the concrete wall of the first turn threatened to smash through my window — it was within 2 inches of the car — I swallowed hard and promised God that if he delivered me safely back to pit road, I would be wiser with the flesh and blood he had given me.
It would be neither the first nor the last time I didn't keep a bargain with God, even when he kept his end of the deal.
When you die, some say your life flashes before your eyes, but I believe it's possible that when you think you're going to die, your broken promises to God flash before you. It has been my experience that he likes to get his point across, one way or the other.
Take, for instance, the day I broke the Earnhardt promise with the full thrust and enthusiasm of my being. I didn't just break it. I broke it wide open in a no-holds-barred way. It started like this:
My friend Chip called, and with a touch of mischief in his voice, announced that he could get me a ride on one of the World War II bi-planes that was part of the Red Baron Pizza Squadron. They were cute, open-cockpit planes that had been used for training during the last great world war.
"Really?" I was interested.
"Sign me up."
The squadron was going to be in Athens, so I drove over, suited up and climbed in. Somehow I'd forgotten that as a young, reporter, I had done something similarly when I rode in a stunt plane with racer Bill Elliott. While in the air, he turned off the plane and began a deadfall nosedive. Seconds before we hit the tops of tall, Georgia pines, he restarted the engine and pulled the plane up.
I know. I should have learned a long time ago. But remember: God gets even. He reminds us of our stupidity at the most inopportune times.
The pilot strapped me in, checked my helmet, then mumbled, "Hang on, tight."
He wasn't kidding.
At first, it was a nice flight with the scenic view of birds but then two other bi-planes pulled up close, wings almost touching. The pilots signaled to each other and video of my broken promises to God started to roll. They performed loops, hammerheads and, worst of all, barrel rolls.
In laymen terms, this would mean me hanging upside down in a plane, thousands of feet in the air, secured by shoulder harnesses that could, in possibility, break and drop me on top of someone's trash can or clothesline. Remember: I was in an open cockpit.
I did not think of the ones I loved and would leave behind. I did not think of mistakes or regrets.
Here's exactly what buzzed in my mind, "I thought I was smarter than this." My fingers clung to the side of the cockpit, wondering how much holding on I could do.
This time I didn't bother to make any promises. I just asked for mercy. Despite my stupidity, I got it.
Ronda Rich is the Gainesville author of "What Southern Women Know" (That Every Woman Should).
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