What was the scariest moment of your life?


This scaredy-cat can’t count!


  1. Nicola!
    Thanks for those stories today!
    How were you told about the missing bowel? Did they find the trouble only after you were opened up?
    Passing out during birth! Wowser! Is that common? How do they wake you up again?
    Is that your son? If so, where is he and what is he doing?!!

  2. I’ve witnessed several things during my life that have scared me.
    The Homeless Guy Waving A Machete
    When I was a new attorney, I was walking to a Veterans Administration building on Clark and Congress in Chicago to file some court work with the Immigration Court that had office space there back in the mid-90s.
    While I was walking to the building along Congress Parkway, I saw a homeless guy pull out a machete and wave it at another homeless guy right outside of the Metropolitan Correctional Center. They were yelling and looked like they were going to fight.
    I quickly crossed busy Congress Parkway to put distance between myself and the two crazy people.
    While I was jaywalking, I spotted two cops in a car driving my way. I pointed to the two homeless guys across the street, but the cops must not have seen me and kept on driving. Since it was cold, their windows weren’t rolled down so yelling to them wouldn’t have done any good.
    I didn’t run, but I picked up my pace and quickly went to the secured building away from the scuffling homeless guys outside of the
    I assume nothing happened and that the homeless people picked the worse place to get into a fight — right outside of a heavily guarded prison — but seeing a machete come out during a street scuffle right definitely got my adrenaline flowing.
    The Rolling Van
    I used to commute back and forth from my home in Lake County, Indiana to South Bend every day.
    Most of the time, the hour-long drive on the Indiana Toll Road was boring.
    During the winter, driving could be frightening when there were blizzard conditions or “black ice” but that was part of the deal when driving a place that is known for lake effect snow bands.
    But, this story isn’t about one of those times when the roadway became slick as ice from snowfall that reduced visability to a few feet in front of ones windshield.
    One sunny summer day, I was heading back home after work.
    The drive was beautiful.
    Little traffic was heading west.
    It was a perfect day to turn off the AC, roll down the windows, and crank up the music.
    A little outside of South Bend, I noticed a van driving eastbound.
    I don’t know why, but I felt like something was going to happen. It was an intuition that helps keep us safe, but that we can never explain.
    Before I had a chance to wonder why I felt uneasy, I saw the approaching van swerve into the grassy median, flip over a couple of times, then come to a rest standing upright.
    Watching the van roll over and over was like watching a slow motion movie. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. It didn’t seem real.
    I was still at least a quarter of a mile up the road, so I wasn’t in any immediate danger, but I could feel the adrenaline start pumping as soon as my mind processed what I was seeing happen.
    As I approached the place where the van had crashed, I pulled over to the side of the road to see if I could help out. Other cars had stopped — one was an unmarked police car with flashing lights.
    I couldn’t bring myself to go over to the van because I didn’t want to see what might have happened to the people inside.
    There were people already gathered around talking to the people in the car. I silently prayed that no one would try to move the people inside of the van and wait for the ambulance people to arrive.
    I went a little west on the highway and put some flares out to warn oncoming traffic.
    I always had flares when I was routinely driving the Toll Road — that’s the way tow trucks would find cars that had slid off the road into ditches during winter storms.
    The State Police arrived quickly — their post was a few miles to the east — and started asking people what happened. I gave a statement and was sent on my way.

  3. Amazing stories, Chris, thanks! These real-life frightening moments say a lot about the impressions they leave with us.
    Many of us seek out faked fear in the form of entertainment as a safe Aristotlean catharsis of emotions.
    One would think we feel enough fear and terror in our real lives to serve as cathartic experiences — but the mind must need the entertainment value of the cheap thrill to truly purge those dark emotions.

  4. Hi David,
    You are correct. We all like to be scared — in the comfort of a movie theatre or our own home watching a DVD.
    Maybe that’s a reason why Halloween and similar celebrations are a necessary part of the human condition.

    When I was 4, my family went to eat at a Chinese restaurant with a large golden Happy Buddha statue in the front. Not knowing that Buddhism teaches vegetarianism and having a rather wild imagination it really seemed like the statue was kind of moving. As we waited in the lobby waiting for a table it sounded like there was a muffled cry of children coming out of its large protruding belly. I walked to the left and then to the right, its eyes seemed to follow. Ten minutes, fifteen minutes— it seemed much more like hours. My stomach growled then its stomach growled. I thought I saw blood coming out of its gaping jaw. We were finally seated for dinner. Every now and again I would peek over at the statue because I felt it staring at me.
    After dinner, on the seemingly endless drive home (which was really only about half an hour), I was nodding off. As I was dancing on the fine line between consciousness and slumber the face of the statue appeared once again in the window. Was it flying? No it couldn’t fly. But there it was again.
    I crawled in to bed doing my best to shield myself with the covers. And then I felt it— gnawing, its mouth closing in on my tiny toes.

  6. Chris!
    Yes, it’s interesting we need to invent a night that we can officially scare each other as an agreed-to moment of participative catharsis.
    I wonder if other cultures preserve national days for scaring each other?
    Halloween in some areas has become a month-long celebration.

  7. A S!
    I love your scary story because it is so sweet:!:
    Did you share this fright with your parents as it was unfolding or was the whole thing sort of the original silent scream?

  8. I kept it to myself… they thought I was crazy enough as is. Odd how this childhood memory stuck out as much scarier than being held at gunpoint at my parents store that same year.

  9. A S —
    Yes, I agree it’s fascinating the Buddha stuck with you more than the gun. I wonder why? Did the Buddha scare you on a psychic level while the gun was only a physical threat?

  10. Again, wild imagination (and watching Asian Kung Fu movies).
    My parents had a fastfood joint and the guy forced us into the walk in Freezer. I imagined myself crawling out of the front opening, doing a flying kick to get the gun out of his hand and, while still in mid-air, rearranging his internal organs.

  11. Hi A S!
    Ha! I’m sure that’s it!
    I’m so glad you and your family were okay after the gun.
    Yesterday a local icon around here was shot in the head by a handgun aimed beneath her chin in a robbery. She was from El Salvador and she owned the deli up the street on the corner.
    She never denied anyone anything. Every day she gave away free buttered rolls to poor children in the neighborhood. The robber would’ve been free to take all the cash and lottery tickets he wanted.
    That wasn’t enough for him, though.
    He wanted her life, too.

  12. The guy that robbed us wasn’t a killer. It wasn’t in his eyes or the vibe he was giving off. The guy didn’t get most of the money either. My parents had already taken most of the cash out of the register and put it elsewhere. It was not locked up or anything but the guy apparently didn’t bother to look around.
    I feel for the El Salvadorian deli owner, her family, and the people who’s lives she touched. It is a sad loss for all of humanity when a life is taken, especially of one so giving. It’s as though humanity was robbed of her light, but not her memory.

  13. A S —
    Gosh, you’re lucky your robber didn’t go crazy when he didn’t find what he expected. Today, you can be killed if the money expectation isn’t met… and even if it is that doesn’t guarantee your safety any longer…
    The woman who was killed left her husband and was living alone and doing well and running her own deli for three years.
    Across town another deli owner almost suffered the same fate: A demand for money and lottery tickets and a handgun pressed under the chin. The difference was the gun didn’t go off. The robber shot twice and the gun did not fire for some reason. The robber pistol-whipped the deli guy and left.
    What a world!

  14. Hi David,
    Having a designated time of fright (or at least thinking about death) seems to be universal.
    China has a “Ghost Month.”

    In the Chinese tradition, the seventh month in the Chinese calendar is called the Ghost Month (鬼月), in which ghosts and spirits come out from the lower world to visit earth. The Ghost Festival is the climax of a series of the Ghost Month celebrations.
    Activities at the festival include preparing ritualistic offering food, and burning hell money to please the visiting ghosts and spirits, as well as deities and ancestors.
    Other activities include, burying and releasing miniature paper boats and lanterns on water, which signifies “giving directions to the lost ghosts.” A very solemn festival, the festival nevertheless represents a connection between the living and the dead, earth and heaven, as well as body and soul.
    The Ghost Festival shares some similarities with the predominantly Mexican observance of El Día de los Muertos.

    All Souls Day is popular in Mexico, Brazil, Philippines and other places in the world, according to Wikipedia.

  15. Excellent research, Chris! It’s interesting how scaring on the level of the supernatural is such a common and cherished centerpiece in the culture of community across the world.

  16. A S —
    Can you explain that a bit more? They burn an active credit card? And then cancel it? Do any “ghostly” charges ever appear on their bill later?

  17. They don’t cancel it. So the credit card is “active” for their ancestors’ use.

  18. Well originally one was supposed to burn real money. But that got expensive. Simultaneously someone realize that ghosts may require ghost money. So now one can get billions of dollars worth of ghost money for less than a dollar (which makes me wonder how ghost inflation works). And now ghost credit cards. I think some people have gone as far as to have the ancestor’s name put on the card they burn to them (as an additional card holder to their account).

  19. Now I can understand burning money better than I can burning a credit card, A S, because the gift is irretrievable. You burn it — your ancestors have it — but a credit card can be replaced and re-used.
    Ghost Money! Now that’s interesting! Do you have any?
    Putting a dead person’s name on an active credit card. Hmmm… I wonder if that would be considered credit card fraud or seen as a threat to Homeland Security?

  20. No, I don’t have Ghost any money. I believe one should treat people well while they live. I’m not as into the idea of trying to make amends post-mortem… so perhaps my ancestors would be the same.

  21. How were you told about the missing bowel? Did they find the trouble only after you were opened up?
    Passing out during birth! Wowser! Is that common? How do they wake you up again?
    Is that your son? If so, where is he and what is he doing?!!
    The surgeon left it to my partner to tell me – and he had to do do several times as I drifted in an out – it took several days to sink in. I would wake up and say “what happened again?”
    From what I understand it is unusual to pass out during childbirth – they tend to knock you out with edpidurals these days at any sign of problems. I dont know how they brought me around – I do remember having bruises across my chest where one had held and the other had pulled – trust my daughter for trying to go around the bend the *wrong way* !
    That is my son – jumping between Adam and Eve Tryfan 3000 feet up in Snowdonia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tryfan
    It is my favourite photograph of him – not bad for a dyslexic that had been written off by two schools – it shows his love of life and his attitude not to let anything beat him – it still makes me close my eyes though ……

  22. Sometimes we carry the marks of our fright, Nicola! My, what many woundings you have had.
    I, too, love that photograph of your son! It is both brave and foolhardy in the same instant and thus makes it an article of proof of life.
    There is no doubt that jump marks one as being capable of great power no matter what the mere mortals claim: Gods shall sing in the valleys and dance in the heavens!

  23. Scariest experience 1:
    Reading an adventurous novel based on wild life of Africa at the age of 7 and almost visualizing a gigantic lion staring at me from the window!
    Scariest experience 2:
    Being scared to death after watching Exorcist at the age of 16 (too old to admit that I was scared) and staying up for next three nights…
    Scariest experience 3:
    Discovering an insulin dependent diabetic friend passed out in the restroom while the rest room was closed from inside.
    Scariest experience 4:
    Gradually realizing that I am losing the ability to be thrilled/scared as I would have been when I was little… Scared of being old…?

  24. Those are some excellent stories, Katha, thanks!
    The Exorcist is a terrifying movie! Have you seen Rosemary’s Baby? Now that’s really scary and so artfully done. It’s an amazing bit of cinema.
    I, too, had a friend who passed out in a locked bathroom and fell against the door! She was having a bad reaction to a drug her doctor gave her. Unlocking the door was the easy part but moving 135 pounds of dead weight collapsed against a door was one of the hardest tasks I ever had to overcome because the dead-weight body of someone who has passed out doesn’t roll and it doesn’t move. You have to sort of just push and slide at the same time and doing it by opening a door is almost impossible.
    Ah! With age comes a jaded jaundice for living. We’ve seen it all. We know all the masks. We can identify dangerous people before we even meet them. Is it a blessing or a curse we can no longer be surprised?

  25. Putting a dead person’s name on an active credit card. Hmmm… I wonder if that would be considered credit card fraud or seen as a threat to Homeland Security?

    Making fake airline boarding passes got someone in trouble recently.
    From the Indiana Daily Student:

    The FBI and Transportation Security Administration are investigating an IU doctoral student who created a Web site that generated fake Northwest Airlines boarding passes.
    Informatics graduate student Chris Soghoian reported Friday on his blog that the FBI showed up at his home in Bloomington and demanded he take down the Web site.
    That same day, Massachusetts Congressman Edward Markey publicly called for his arrest because of the site.

    Having a Congressman publically call for ones arrest would be pretty scary!

  26. Slight correction. The Congressman has changed his mind since calling for the IU student’s arrest.
    From Chris Soghoian’s slight paranoia blog:

    Markey announced his change of heart Sunday morning in a press release:
    On Friday I urged the Bush Administration to ‘apprehend’ and shut down whoever had created a new website that enabled persons without a plane ticket to easily fake a boarding pass and use it to clear security, gain access to the boarding area and potentially to the cabin of a passenger plane. Subsequently I learned that the person responsible was a student at Indiana University, Christopher Soghoian, who intended no harm but, rather, intended to provide a public service by warning that this long-standing loophole could be easily exploited. The website has now apparently been shut down.

  27. Hey Chris!
    Yeah, I saw that story about faking boarding passes or something but I didn’t really understand it because it looked like it was a joke website or something?
    Where is the line now drawn between humor and lawlessness?

  28. Chris, that kind of intimidation and falsity of heart is just disgusting. It’s all politics all the time for those power-hungry types and the innocent and the humorous be damned.

  29. Hi David,
    There are certain things you can’t joke about in these days — anything having to do with airports or airplanes is one of those topics.
    I was reading through Chris Soghoian’s blog and he said he found the same information on a senator’s website:

    In addition to calling for my arrest, the congressman may want to call for the arrest of Senator Schumer (D-NY).
    In April of this year, he posted rather detailed instructions for the exact same attack. See: here.
    Sure, he didn’t produce a php script that’d do it for you, but he provided detailed enough instructions that a terrorist or evil-doer with basic computer skills could do it.

    A while back, we were flying on a family vacation a couple of years ago and my oldest son put a plastic water gun into his coat pocket to bring with him.
    We didn’t realize he had it in his poocket until he pulled it out as we were approaching the security checkpoint.
    I took it away from my son and threw it away — even though it was clearly a toy and no threat to anyone. There was no need taking any risks of anyone getting into trouble for an innocent child’s mistake in these days of strict liability and zero tolerance.

  30. I love Senator Schumer’s site, Chris! It’s just that kind of obvious detail the Department of Homeland Security should be addressing instead of having individuals persecuted for wondering about the same security hole!
    I’ve had airline employee friends warn me about traveling with our cat, Jack, and to be careful how we address him in public. Just saying “Hi, Jack!” could get us the wrong sort of attention and that was a decade ago — long before 9/11 and long before there was a Homeland Security department!

  31. I had to think about why saying “Hi, Jack” to a pet feline could be a bad thing for a second or two before my mind’s fluorescent lamp activated. 🙂

  32. Hi David!
    No, I haven’t seen “Rosemary’s Baby” but just read the review and I am intrigued! I don’t like watching horror movies and I think it is the reaction of watching The Exorcist – I was really scared and the impact lasted long than I thought. I don’t remember being so terrified ever in my life.
    “Hatari” was released in India for the second time when I was a kid and my parents took me to watch it but I buried my face in my mom’s lap and screamed at the top of my voice (though no one could hear it because there was enough noise in the movie itself!!!)…my parents had to come out of the theatre – I don’t remember any of it though! 😀
    I agree with you that unlocking a closed restroom is easy part but my friend’s blood sugar level dropped to 35mg. and I had to call 911…I didn’t even try to move him!!!
    For me David, the day I will completely lose the ability to be surprised I will consider myself dead. What’s there in life if it fails to surprise me anymore?

  33. Katha —
    You will enjoy Rosemary’s Baby. It is a psychological thriller. There’s no blood or guts or knives or shooting. It’s all of the mind. The Exorcist is quite gory in comparison.
    Your reaction to Hatari is very human! Have you watched it since?
    Wow! That’s a dangerous blood sugar level! I’m so glad you were there to help!
    Being surprised by life can be a sword with two edges. You can anticipate the surprise and enjoy it or you can let it continue to cut you without recognizing the danger.

  34. 1. Was about 11-12 and was staying at grandparents house in the country. My grandpa was in the back field pushing down dead trees with a big bulldozer. My grandmother and I went back to bring him lunch. He had got out of his seat went in front of the bulldozer and it hopped forward… rolling over his leg. I had to run to the nearest house for help. He was OK in the end.
    2. Walked in on a couple kids that were breaking into my friends house… not sure who screamed louder… them or us.

  35. Hi Jess and welcome to Urban Semiotic!
    Those are some scary stories! I am glad your grandfather was okay in the end. It’s good there was only screaming going on during the break-in — that could’ve ended ugly!

  36. Yes, I think I will like it – next on my Netflix list!
    I have seen Hatari after that but I think I missed half of its charm because I watched it on TV instead of a big screen.
    You are right about surprises being ugly…my strategy is hope for the best and prepare for the worst! :”Life is like a box of chocolates…” 😀

  37. Hi Katha!
    Oh, I’m glad you’re getting the movie! I love how it encompasses old New York City. There is an elegance and charm that permeates the movie and the fact that most of the movie is set in the Dakota — the apartment building where John Lennon lived and later died — is incredible and an old-world thrill.

  38. This might scare some, but might be comforting to others.
    For some, it could be the most frightening thing that they read this week. 😉
    If the House is retaken by the Democrats this fall, some predict it might lead to a time of peace on social issues as many of the aspiring Democrats running are “Blue Dog” Democrats.
    Could it mean an internal power shift within the Democratic party if being “Blue Dog” is perceived as a way to win elections?
    From Electoral-Vote.com:

    Suppose the Democrats win the House, as expected. What then? Good question. Thomas Riehle, a senior Democratic pollster, provides some answers.
    In short, there are a lot of blue dogs in the Democrats’ future.
    Many of the Democrats’ expected victories are in districts like NC-08 , NC-11 , and IN-08 , where very conservative (e.g.., pro-life) Democrats are running.
    They will all join the Blue Dog Caucus.
    Nancy Pelosi will have her hands full trying to walk the blue dogs, the yellow dogs, and all the other color dogs the Democrats have. If she is smart, and I think she is, she will pass on the social issues that divide Democrats and focus on issues they all agree on, such as raising the minimum wage and having the government negotiate with the drug companies to lower drug prices for seniors.
    If bills enacting these things pass Congress, President Bush will be in a bind, because most Americans want them, but his corporate contributors most certainly do not.

    I checked out all of the three Democrats in closely watched races the ones expected to win have expressed some sort of “Blue Dog” Democratic viewpoints.
    IN-2’s predicted winner, Democrat Joe Donnelly writes on his campaign website that he is pro-life.

    I will always vote according to my faith and my conscience on life issues.

    Democrat Brad Ellsworth of IN-8 writes:

    I believe in justice, I believe in hope, I believe in salvation, and I believe in the value of life in all its forms, not just what people say to get elected.

    It might be a new day in American politics — and scary to some — when “Blue Dog” Democrats are the ones who possibly bring their party into power.
    Even in the Senate campaigns, Democrat Harold Ford, Jr. expresses “Blue Dog” philosophies when talking about faith guiding his decisions.
    If both parties become “Big Tents” maybe government will get back to doing what it should be doing — helping make America a better place, rather than fighting bitter social issue battles that only serve to divide people.
    It could mean good things for America.
    Maybe the Democrats will nominate a “Blue Dog” who can be attractive to the majority of voters in 2008?

  39. Hi Chris —
    The Blue Dog Democrats and the DLC are what helped drive the Clinton agenda in many ways:
    The return of the Blues to power can only help give definition to the Democrat leadership and that’s what you expect when disaffected Republicans leave that party and become elected Democrats.

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