Learning from loss
Updated: Dec 28, 2020
I remember the sound when the truck hit us.
It was a hollow and deep “BOOM” that made me think all of our tires had blown. The impact pushed our travel bus into the air.
Then we came down hard.
It was a moment that sent us into a free-fall that felt more breathless because of the high we had been riding just the day before. In that moment, I lost a friend. I gained a new understanding of who I was.
But to have you understand how we got to this low from the previous high, I should start from the beginning.
Traveling duo becomes trio
It was 2015, and my best friend, Yoav, and I decided to fly to Australia and buy a bus. Initially, we were uncertain what we were going to do with it. We just knew that we wanted to travel.
We purchased DJ equipment and began traveling around and performing at street parties. The crowds grew, and pretty soon we became a traveling community, with our bright green and pink Platy-Bus, as it came to be known. Yoav and I led the community in our bus.
Soon we were traveling from festival to festival to perform. When we were not DJing, I began performing in costume on stilts, while Yoav refined his photography skills
It was fun, and we made a name for ourselves among those who follow festivals.
One afternoon, Yoav and I were pulled over in a suburb of an Australian city, arguing over something. A girl popped her head in the back of her bus and said, “Hey.” My friend and I Iooked at each other in surprise.
Her name was Yuli, and she was a rock climber from Canada who had made a stop in Australia as she was traveling the world.
She joined our group and for the next three weeks. It wasn’t long before she installed herself as a sister into our dynamic. Although she was two years older than us, we couldn’t help but become protective of her.
Yuli was tall and thin, with toned muscles and a tan from climbing. We started calling her Yuli the Opossum. She had an ease about her and people were drawn to her. When she was with us, doors tended to open where they might have been closed before.
Once as I drove the bus, she opened the passenger window and crawled part-way. Then she reached out her hand to touch a truck beside us as we drove 70 miles an hour down the highway. She made it look like there was nothing unusual about it.
The day before she was supposed to fly home to Canada, she postponed her flight so she could continue traveling with us.
Our time in Australia culminated in one night. During a festival, we performed on a balcony of a friend’s house. The balcony overlooked a courtyard where several hundred people gathered. Our groupies crowded in behind us in the apartment. The audience danced in front of us, the thrum of the music all-encompassing. The energy of that night was euphoric.
We felt invincible.
The next day we set off for the second biggest festival in Australia. It felt like energy from the previous night had spilled over into the day. The wind was blowing so hard that day we couldn’t talk outside or stand up straight.
While I drove, Yuli sat beside me and talked to me while Yoav slept in the back. We talked about finances. I encouraged her to start saving for the future. Later, I couldn’t help but think about the irony of that.
My friend took over driving so I could take a nap in the back. But soon after our bus got a flat tire. We sat crippled on the side of the highway for three hours trying to fix the flat on the narrow Australian highway, with large trucks whizzing by us. Yuli made a comment about the trucks being dangerous and turned the emergency lights on. The police eventually showed up and helped us fix the tire.
By the time we started driving again, it was getting late. We decided we would pull over at the next gas station and stay overnight.
That’s when I heard the boom and our bus went into the air. A large truck had hit us from behind. When I turned around, I could see its lights and grille smashed into the rear of the bus.
But Yuli wasn’t in her seat.
We ran back to the bed and found her there, not moving. I screamed her name, but she stayed quiet.
We called emergency services and started CPR on Yuli until crews responded and took over. Those were the longest 30 minutes of my life.
When I was in the Israeli military, they taught us that in an emergency, you can’t go into shock. You need to act and act calmly. It’s like being in a tailspin and pressing the gas instead of the break to get out of it. So that’s what I did.
We told the emergency crews what happened. We talked to the police. We answered questions. We notified Yuli’s family. We picked up her family at the airport. I didn’t ask to be in charge, but I suddenly was.
The survivor’s guilt began creeping in. We were fine; Yuli was not. She wasn’t even part of our group originally. She was supposed to be on a flight home to Canada. Why was she the one to get hurt?
They flew her to the main hospital in Australia for treatment. For the next four days, we waited in apprehension. I continued to update families and take care of the details of the aftermath. I felt myself moving into a zone of calm, where I just had to make the next decision, provide the next update.
After four days, the hospital took Yuli off life support and she passed away.
I won’t ever forget her. Her spark. Her spontaneity. The way she seemed to make every place her home.
I’m sorry she died on our watch.
I came away from that accident shocked that she had left our lives as quickly as she came into them. But I also learned something about myself -- about how I respond in crisis. It made me stronger and prepared me for the next time I would have to step up. Going through something so intense also matured my friendship with Yoav. Even though we were best friends for years prior, facing something like this together gave us a new perspective on life and each other.
I've learned both in business and in adventure, if something fails or you make a mistake, you need to fix it right away. You need to respond. Then you need to get back in the game as soon as possible. Pressure is a privilege.
Don’t let fear of the past prevent moving forward. It's is important to deal with the trauma as it arises and learn to navigate it one decision at a time, instead of stuffing it down and ignoring it.
Confronting it head on is the only way you don’t let that crisis keep you from living while you still can.