near miss


I am a sucker for word play and any examination of the English language – especially in rant form. One of my favorite language rants is George Carlin’s rant on “near miss”.

I’ve only heard it a couple times and it’s in the middle of this amazing rant on other nonsensical words and phrases in the English language but for whatever reason, “near miss” is the one that sticks.

He rants about “near miss” – when two planes are about to collide but don’t – not being a “near” anything but an actual miss. If they did collide, it would be a “near miss” – if they don’t collide it’s a “near collision”. His facial expressions and animated delivery do it much more justice, of course, but that’s the gist.

I think about his rant when I think about the near misses in my own life. The times I look back and think, “Thank god that didn’t work out!”

The destructive relationships, the dead-end jobs, the dissolved friendships – I look back on them and think of them as near misses because I know I’m in a good place now (or, I know I have the ability to get to any place I want) and I know all the things I would have missed out on if I had continued down those paths. But still, I wonder if any of those things had actually been “near misses” – the George Carlin way – if I had actually gone down those paths and those things did work out – if things did collide – would I still be happy? Could I still be happy? Would I actually know what I missed out on?

Or, do I only know what I’ve been through – finding friends, support, encouragement, dreaming, believing in dreaming, being active, learning, exploring. Do I only know these things to be good now because I’ve experienced them? And now I can’t imagine living without them but, if I had never had them – would I know? Would I know how important they are?

One of my first major near miss moments was at the end of my first long-term relationship. It had lasted seven years – most of them good enough, the last couple definitely not times I would call good on any spectrum but nothing to cause an uproar. Most of the relationship was like that actually – not good, not bad, not moving, not developing – just stagnant and bland. (I would argue now that it was slowly killing me – my physical self and my spirit – but at the time, it just was.)

At the end of the relationship I think we had already decided, multiple times, it wasn’t going anywhere but for reasons of comfort and convenience (and probably laziness), we were still living together. I had started to care less about him, about maintaining any connection with him and spent more time at work and with coworkers, less time at home. When we talked it was short and shallow. We argued occasionally about doing housework and if the heater was on all day but nothing else really.

One day, I got home and the housework had been done and the heater was off. He wanted to talk about working things out. He had realized in the last few weeks the value of our relationship and wanted to make an effort to improve it.

This was the near miss moment. The moment the planes almost collide but something stops them. This was the moment I could have said, “yes” and my world today would not exist.

So maybe the question isn’t if I could have been happy going down that path but what was it, in that moment, that told me I wouldn’t be? What stopped me from saying “yes”?

What stops the collision?


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