Back in the early 1980s, I had my own business building engines. My then-wife and I had just returned from a long trip testing an engine I'd put in a Ford Fiesta hatchback. The car was full of road-trip detritus, and the pillows we'd used for napping had lost more than a few feathers. I pulled the car into the garage and began cleaning vigorously.

At one point, I lifted the folding back seat and, with a mighty shove, pushed it back into the upright position. The rush of air sent a few feathers wafting upward and, as I took a breath, one disappeared deep into my windpipe. Gagging and running out of air, I heaved my body over an open car window in a self-inflicted Heimlich maneuver, to no avail.

I'd always been an adventurer, and, hanging over the door frame, retching, I thought: I'm 50 years old and have survived a car crash (with 541 stitches in my head), flying airplanes (since age 15), even being shot at (during a youthful prank). Was my end truly to be a feather?

I blacked out and was still hanging over the door frame when I regained consciousness. In the middle of a pool of saliva on the garage floor, there lay a tiny feather. I wobbled over to a workbench and sat down. What a hell of a thing, to have almost died on such a gorgeous, sunny day, I mused to myself.

I haven't taken breathing for granted since.

Pat Goodman, Winchester, Va.

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