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Over the years I've known a good number of people who were "accident" prone. You have probably known someone like this, as well. Several years ago, I had a friend who was this type of person. One of his brothers told me that when he was much younger he caused an 18-car pileup on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Later, when I knew him, the home heating system he had installed in his basement caught on fire, not once but twice, and sometime later their home burned to the ground. The tragic end to this story is when he helped to build an ultralight airplane and it crashed, killing him and a member of his extended family.

We know that millions of accidents happen every day, but something the French author and philosopher Voltaire said may help us to see accidents in a much clearer perspective. He said, "There is no such thing as an accident. What we call by that name is the effect of some cause which we do not see."

What made me think of this was something a man by the name of Dean Dufur handed me following a speaking engagement one evening a few weeks ago. It was a letter written by a bricklayer to his insurance company, which clearly describes the consequences of not thinking before you act. His letter begins:

"In response to your request for additional information in block number 3 of the accident reporting form, I put 'poor planning' as the cause of my accident. You said in your letter that I should explain more fully and I trust the following details will be sufficient. I am a bricklayer by trade. On the day of the accident I was working alone on the roof of a new six-story building. When I completed my work, I discovered that I had about 500 pounds of bricks left over. Rather than carry the bricks down by hand, I decided to lower them in a barrel by using a pulley which fortunately was attached to the side of the building at the sixth floor.

"Securing the rope at ground level, I went up on the roof, swung the barrel out and loaded the brick into it. Then I went back to the ground and untied the rope, holding it tightly to insure a slow descent of the 500 pounds of brick. You will note in block number 11 of the accident reporting form that I weigh 135 pounds. Due to my surprise at being jerked from the ground so suddenly, I lost my presence of mind and forgot to let go of the rope. Needless to say, I proceeded at a rather rapid rate up the side of the building. In the vicinity of the third floor, I met the barrel coming down. This explains the fractured skull and broken collarbone. Slowed only slightly, I continued my rapid ascent, not stopping until the fingers of my right hand were two knuckles deep into the pulley.

"Fortunately, by that time I had regained my presence of mind and was able to hold tightly to the rope in spite of my pain. At approximately the same time, however, the barrel of bricks hit the ground and the bottom fell out of the barrel. Devoid of the weight of the bricks, the barrel now weighed approximately 50 pounds. I refer you again to my weight in block number 11. As you might imagine, I began a rapid descent down the side of the building. In the vicinity of the third floor, I met the barrel coming up. This accounts for the two fractured ankles and the lacerations of my legs and lower body. The encounter with the barrel slowed me enough to lessen my injuries when I fell onto the pile of bricks and fortunately only three vertebrae were cracked. I am sorry to report, however, that as I lay there on the bricks, in some pain, unable to stand and watching the empty barrel six stories above me, I again lost my presence of mind. I LET GO OF THE ROPE!!"

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