It was a day to forget, yet a day to forever remember. My dear wife and I had taken a Sunday drive to enjoy the fall weather in Upstate New York. The leaves were full of color, the wind brisk, the ride a delightful escape from daily chores. We are blessed in living close to a major city and also not far from the beautiful Adirondacks. A day of smiles that we had planned for days. Two-lane blacktop roads, twisting curves among tall trees, enjoying the swirl of falling leaves: these have always been our preferences over the big interstate roads. Even our dog Shadow seemed to be enjoying the day.

But the ride home changed everything. We were returning on the same route from which our escape had begun. Some oncoming drivers were blinking their lights to indicate trouble ahead. Rounding a curve, far ahead, lights were flashing. Many many lights. Police, fire, ambulance. Instinctively, I knew somthing tragic had happened. Traffic was being redirected where possible. Just past the intersection we had happily passed just a few hours earlier lay a crumpled motorcycle. The rider was 52, likely out for the same reason we had been: to enjoy the fall season. A teenager had turned her car into a side road, causing his motorcycle to collide at a killing speed. That teenager will live forever with the memory of this. And so will his family. Sadness beyond words.

The rest of the ride home passed in silence, having witnessed a reminder that instant death is always lurking near us. Is this fate? Are we predestined to be a part of a future event? Was this a preordained end to that man’s life? I refuse to accept any of that. Our lives are our own, not influenced by any outside source. Yet, still a reminder that life is fragile; our trip to enjoy fall’s splendor also put our lives at risk, something for which we rarely consider as we live this life.

For me, I have found that encountering death, although sad, is a means to reopen the door to the meaning of our lives. The final assessment, unfortunately, occurs only after we’re gone-which means now is the time to act. What do I want to achieve that is within my grasp? Are there relationships that I need to heal? Am I bringing happiness to anyone else’s life? Are there experiences I’m avoiding that would enrich my life? The moment I die my opportunities end. If I fail, it will not be fate.