Sunday, April 13, 2008

Reality check

Driving along a local highway, Saturday morning. On my way to run an errand. Traveling a little over the speed limit, listening to the radio, checking the clock, enjoying the sunshine. Without warning, a police car ahead, on the shoulder, lights flashing. Great, a speed check. I’ll probably get a ticket, since there aren’t many people out yet—slim pickins increases my chances. Nice.

But no. The cop doesn’t budge. He’s just sitting there in his cruiser, watching the cars in his rearview, undoubtedly noticing the distinct decrease in speed that comes as soon as each driver spots him. And then I notice that from the cop car onward, there are flares. Lit flares. And more police cars, a handful of them. And a fire truck.

And a wrecked car.

The car is a PT Cruiser convertible. It’s literally crumpled into an embankment along the road. The car is on its side, and thankfully there’s no sign of a driver or passenger. But I can see that the roof was down when it wrecked. I can see it’s in pretty bad shape. And I can also see, now that I’m passing the destroyed vehicle, that there is an ambulance at this scene. An ambulance that, while sitting along the roadside with lights revolving, does not appear to be in a hurry to go anywhere.

That’s not a good sign.

And in that second, I’m reminded of the tenuous filament that holds our souls to this little revolving rock. One minute, someone was joy-riding, wind in his hair, no cares. And now? Who knows. The stationary paramedic vehicle isn’t filling me with much hope.

Then, I am past. The open road stretches before me once again; accident and flashing lights and rescue personnel are left behind to pick up the pieces—perhaps of broken headlights and mirrors, perhaps of a life lost. I leave the scene, but not the moment. I slow down a tad; I turn the radio off. The image of that ruined car and the ambulance sitting still remains with me like a distant wail: bearable because it is not mine, but impossible to ignore.

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