12/16/2013 05:13 pm ET Updated Feb 15, 2014

Why I Am Grateful for Unfortunate Events

I do not believe in a higher power that is manifested in the form of an omnipotent being. For those of you who do, I sincerely applaud you because I tried it, but it felt like zipping up a dress three sizes too small. It was uncomfortable and I felt ridiculous, even though for others it fits just right. I am more of a yoga pants kind of gal anyway. I do believe, however, in learning lessons. Today I revisited a lesson that I will continue to have to relearn until the day I die because I believe that is our condition as human beings. I learned gratitude today.

I know in my head that I should be grateful, and just a few weeks ago was pushing wads of turkey into my mouth to remember this lesson, but to really be grateful means feeling it in your innards -- stopping to step back and look at everything with a new eye, and take in the supreme joy of life. This joy slowly fades and when it does and we have forgotten that warm, shiny feeling, life grabs us by the balls until we begin to look again, to really see again.

Today was a very cold day. My lovely wife shivered her way outside to my Hyundai Elantra and turned it on 15 minutes before I had to leave in order for it to heat up and for the ice on the windshield to melt. Yet after that time had passed, it was still a little iceberg and I had to scrape as much of the ice off my car as I could with my AAA card. I couldn't waste any more time trying to wait on my car, so I had to drive with a four inch square of unblocked windshield, squirt antifreeze every few minutes and put my icicle wipers on full blast in order to see the road in front of me. The heat was not working, although I let it keep blasting frigid air in my face just in case, and it was taking a long time for the windshield to thaw.

I was almost to work when I noticed it. What is that gauge that looks like a wavy thermometer? And why is the spinner hovering around the red H? I had just enough time to start to panic about this before huge billows of smoke started pouring up and out of the hood of my car. My car was completely enveloped in smoke and ice. I was in the left turn lane, yielding to oncoming traffic on the highway at that point and my first thought was "Get out of the intersection!" so I did. I quickly looked to my right and turned. Hard. So hard that when the huge logging truck driving in the right hand lane (which I had abruptly turned into not knowing the truck was there) almost hit my car, I spun out and into a ditch on the side of the intersection. The truck just kept on driving.

I could have just been killed, and I literally never would have seen it coming. My first thought was how grateful I was that my children, ages 8 years old and 3 months old, were not in the car, especially if it would have been hit. I cannot imagine what my wife would have felt if she had heard that her wife and two children had been involved in a car accident, or worse, had been killed. I escaped unscathed from a potentially fatal accident. Besides the smoke emanating from the car, it, too, was perfectly normal. I turned my hazards on and sat... and sat.

I was finally able to contact AAA through my dad (I had left the AAA card at home after scraping my car, and my wife never answers her cell phone) and after two hours the tow truck guy came to take my car to a local shop. He had the car heat on blast for me, which left me sweating with happiness, and some country music I didn't recognize playing on the radio. We talked the entire ride. I told him about when someone in Greenville stole my naked lady hood ornament off of my '92 bright blue Cadillac DeVille (with chrome, oh yeah!) and how you can still see that car driving around with just legs attached to the hood. I told him about my stove catching on fire a few days before Thanksgiving and how I put it out with a fire extinguisher in one hand and a Bud Light in the other, which saved our kitchen (the fire extinguisher, not the beer). I told him about our Scion breaking down a month ago on a bridge coming back from a corn maze in Wilmington and renting a car to get my son to his play on time. And, if you are wondering, no it isn't out of the shop yet and my wife rides her bike to work most days. Then it really hit me. "Wow, when I say it like that, I have had a lot of crazy shit happen lately!" and I busted out laughing. I mean seriously, come on!

But seriously, how lucky am I? "You sound like you have had some bad luck lately!" My life flashed before my eyes at least three times in the past month between car accidents and a kitchen fire, and you think I haven't learned a lesson? I am an English teacher. We find a deeper meaning in every little thing, whether it was intended or not.

I don't care if you call it the "Universe," "God" or "Life," whatever paradigm fits your life, I was learning a lesson and that was to be grateful. There will never be enough money for your family and your kids. You will never have the nicest stuff, especially if you feel like you have earned the right to have it. There will never be enough time. This life, which is filled with so many uncertainties, is all we have and has no end to how much it gives to us if we stop to recognize it.

I was given a split second of chance which saved my life today.

I was given a ride with a stranger that made me cozy and warm, gave me safe passage, and made me laugh out loud. I was given the chance to give the babysitter the day off and spend more time with my baby boy, and wrap Christmas presents. I was able to see my stunningly beautiful wife again before she went to work (and give her a ride in the rental so she didn't have to ride her bike). I had the time to sit down and think and write about my day. I am truly grateful.

Thank you, my wonderful friends, for being compassionate and empathetic and helping me and my family. Thank you for loving me, with all my imperfections, and for sharing your lives with me. Thank you for helping me continue to learn, and to be better. Thank you, broken radiator and thermostat, for giving me a feeling of gratitude, and a little bit of terror and indigestion, in my innards.