It was just before midnight on October 27, 2002 and we were standing out on the bluffs overlooking the ocean in Santa Barbara just a few blocks from Clark’s house. Suddenly, the ground beneath our feet began to give way.
That’s when we fell off a 90 foot cliff.
Did we mention it was our first date?
We’ve used the anniversary of the fall every year as a way to remind ourselves that all of life is a gift. Each day should be seized. Shortly after our accident we felt this with great intensity. But it’s hard to maintain that kind of intensity. That’s why we’ve put a date on the calendar and have said that on that day we’ll remember to celebrate life.
October 27 is our day. It’s a celebration of life.
Our fall occurred in Santa Barbara. At the time Clark was renting a little house on “the Mesa” in Santa Barbara and his house was just a few steps from the bluffs that overlooked the Pacific Ocean.
Here’s the story, told by the both of us…
CLARK: There had been another girl who had flown out to Santa Barbara to visit me. A girl from New York who I’d gotten to know over the past year. We’d seen each other at events and had gotten together for dinner when we’d been in DC a few months earlier. We decided that we needed to really see if this relationship was going anywhere.
We were talking on the phone and planning the trip. She booked her flights.
And then I met Monica.
We instantly connected.
When I dropped the other girl off at the airport early on a Sunday morning I went straight to Monica’s house and took her to breakfast.
A week later I took her to breakfast again. Then we had lunch together. Then we went to my house and she made dinner for us. We watched a movie. (Mr. Deeds)
It was around 11 o’clock and not quite ready for the night to end I suggested we walk out to the overlook just a few steps from my house. From atop the 90 foot cliffs we could sit out and watch the moon glistening on the Pacific Ocean.
And we talked. We had what you may call the “Defining the Relationship” talk.
We lingered a little longer. Now it was late. After midnight. Not really wanting the night to be over but realizing the night had reached it’s end, we got up to head back. I suggested we take one last look. And we walked out to the edge.
What looked to us like solid ground was really badly eroded dirt.
My last memory was realizing we were going to fall.
Monica: It was a great night, a great day. You know when you are at that magical phase of a relationship, every look, every word is amazing. We we so right together and I could feel it. I remember standing there on the cliff feeling like I was floating then feeling like I was falling. I was! Since it was dark and I had never been to this spot I had no idea what I was in for. As I started to slip the reality set in.
I started sliding and grasping for anything I could hold onto. I hit my shoulder at first and this jolt made me think this was going to be the end of my life. I remembered being so thankful that I was right with God. That there was no need for a last minute prayer of forgiveness because that had been taken care of. I thought of my family and how sad they would be. I was being tossed around like a rag doll and then there was a loud crack on my head and a thought…that is going to hurt! Then nothing.
I woke later on the beach and remembered the fall but assumed it was a dream. I was convinced that I was shipwrecked. Washed up on the beach in the middle of the night…this was the only possible answer. Struggling to stay conscious, I tried to move and found that I was unable to turn over or sit up. I had three fractures in my pelvis and had several broken ribs. The next few hours passed as minutes as I drifted in and out of consciousness. I prayed that God would get me off the beach. It was my only hope.
Clark: Monica remembers the fall. I don’t. When I hear her talking about all the thoughts that went through her mind in the seconds of the fall I am amazed by the human mind. It’s just amazing. But I have no recollection of the fall.
My last memory was realizing we were about to fall. My next memory is more than two hours later. In those two hours I had crawled down the beach the equivalent of 4 city blocks. I had then crawled up 385 steps back to street level. I have no recollection of any of this.
My last memory was realizing we were about to fall. My next memory is seeing headlights in the distance and just trying to get a hand up to wave down the driver. I lost consciousness again. I don’t remember a lot of what happened after this. But apparently the driver did stop and call 911.
I remember emergency crews being on the scene and working on me. But I had no idea where I was, how I had gotten there, or what had happened to me.
And with no memory of what had happened to me I also had no recollection of the fact that Monica was still laying at the bottom of the cliff.
Finally–and I remember this as clear as can be–as they were pushing my stretcher into the ambulance I had a flashback. That’s when I was first able to tell them about Monica.
Monica: I was praying that God would get me off that beach. I couldn’t move. And in His own way, God did get my off that beach.
The emergency team arrived in what seemed like minutes. After seeing that I was conscious I asked if any of them were church goers. I wanted someone to pray with. None of them were, so I said that it wouldn’t help. I guess in my pain I didn’t have time to be politically correct. They then told me that my boyfriend was alright and at the hospital. I blurted out “did he say he was my boyfriend?” I had fallen and I was so happy. Then the momentary elation gave way to the excruciating pain in my back.
Strapped to a backboard they carried me down the beach. Each bump was terrible. As they carried me up the stairs I was terrified that if they dropped me I would be a unwilling louge rider down those 300 steps! As we reached the top a news crew met me and they pushed me into the ambulance. Funny how your body goes into survival mode and until that moment, until I knew I was safe, I wasn’t afraid. In the ambulance the gravity of what had happened started to set in.
Clark: I was in and out of consciousness for a while. I remember bit and pieces of things. I don’t really remember being in the ambulance. But I remember being at the hospital and being completely aware of what had happened. I had fallen off a cliff with a girl I had just met, JUST started dating, but was already deeply in love with. I kept asking everyone, “Have you found her yet…. Have you found her yet… Have you found her yet….”
The answer that kept coming back was that they had not.
Then they finally told me that they had found her, that she was on her way to the hospital, and that she was going to be okay.
I had a major head injury. I had a fractured skull and had been scalped. There were a lot of people working on my head.
And in my mind I could not escape this terrible fear that they had found her and that something terrible, something very terrible had happened, and that they did not want to share this news with me while they were working on me and have be flip out.
When Monica finally arrived at the ER she was in the room next to me. A wall with a window, the window covered by a curtain, separated us. Finally realizing they could shut me up no other way, the medical staff opened the curtain and propped up both me and Monica so we could see each other.
Monica: Clark doesn’t remember the fall but I did. He remembered the hospital but I don’t really. I have just bits and pieces. When I arrived my family was there. They had been called by our pastor and rushed down to the hospital.
A call at 2am in a house with teenagers isn’t cause for too much alarm, but instantly they all knew something was wrong. Everyone in my parent’s house was up. They were told it was bad and the Surgical Search and Rescue team was dispatched to find me, but hadn’t yet.
When I finally arrived they looked terrified. The ER staff told my parents that they had found me in a small patch sand amidst the jagged bolders. Had the tide been high, or had I fallen a bit to the left or right I wouldn’t have made it. There was a lot of crying. Relieved, tired, thankful crying.
Beyond that the next few days are a blur.
Clark: In the ER I had my pastor and my boss. I don’t know how many people have fallen off a cliff and had their boss in the ER with them at 3:00 o’clock in the morning. I tend to think it’s a unique experience. It’s been 5 years since I worked for Floyd but I still consider him a treasured friend. Later he would even emcee our reception when Monica and I were married.
The next morning he called around to some people in the office and said he wouldn’t be in until later in the day, that’d he’d been at the hospital all night… that “Clark had fallen off a cliff with his girlfriend.”
The universal reply: “Clark has a girlfriend?”
Falling off a cliff is quite the way to announce that you’re in a relationship. (The Facebook Relationship updates have NOTHING on us!)
I remember the first time I met Monica’s grandfather… I was just putting down my bedpan.
Monica and I had adjacent rooms. She had a broken pelvis so it was easier for me to get around than her. So I’d get in my walker and go next door. I remember visitors coming in and saying, “so tell me about this girl…”
I am pretty sure I already knew then that she was to be my wife.
Monica: Those next few days were strange. People came to visit and I told them through a huge smile about Clark. My good friends knew this wasn’t just a boyfriend.
I forced myself to get up and take those three steps that I was required to do for my release. I probably should have spent another day or two in the hospital, but Clark was getting out and I wanted to be out too.
It wasn’t just that we had gone through a life changing experience together, my life was changed.
We fell off a cliff. 90 feet.
We were not the first to fall off that cliff.
We were just the first to survive.
Looking back on the weeks that followed we can only laugh now.
A few days after getting out of the hospital we went to the symphony. We weren’t the only people at the symphony in walkers. We were certainly the youngest though!
Both of us were on so much pain medication that we were prohibited from driving.
Monica’s mom would drive us everywhere. She’d take us to the movies and we’d be sitting in the back seat of the car holding hands like we were 13 again.
The fall binded us us together perhaps more quickly than most couples. Monica was preparing to move to Ireland for a year at the time. Her imminent departure also brought about some serious discussions early on.
But looking back neither of us ever doubted that we would be man and wife.
Surviving an accident like this does change you.
How did we survive our fall from a 90 foot cliff?
God saved us.
It just wasn’t our time yet. We’re still here for a reason. And that’s why we make such a point each year to celebrate the anniversary of the fall. It’s not a celebration of the fall. It’s a celebration of life. We celebrate that we’re here and we get to enjoy this wonderful life and this wonderful world. And the fact that we’re here for a purpose!
The celebration isn’t just for us.
Every breath each of us takes is a gift.
We’re so thankful for all the life we’ve experienced since The Fall.
Do you know what you want out of life? What you value? Do you know how to arrange your life around the things that you value most?
Check out Clark’s book, unWorking, available now on Amazon! You can get it in paperback for just $14.99 or on Kindle for the CRAZY low price of $3.49. You can also go to unWorkingBook.com to read the Prologue, Introduction, and detailed Chapter Descriptions.