Survival in our modern culture is built on the idea that most of us must join a long continuous parade of automobile traffic, but there is always the chance of something going awry during the parade. I heard on the radio as I drove over the Santa Cruz mountains at dawn this morning that in the opposite lanes of traffic I would pass by an automobile wreck in which someone’s soul had lifted off the planet. Within a few minutes, I passed three cars that were badly bruised. One car had swerved, spun sideways, and then got pancaked from the side and rear by the other two. The medics had come and gone by the time I arrived, so what remained as I passed was fire trucks, police cars, witnesses, and a lot of flashing lights. I doubt if there will be such a clamorous celebration for me when I exit this world, but the preciousness of life was certainly brought to the forefront of my mind as I quickly rubber-necked my way past this massive and tragic tangle.
My mornings on the way to work are usually quite sedate. I sip at a cup of coffee, Yuban instant, which I’ve been drinking for years, because it seems to agree with my stomach better than brewed coffee. I glance off to the sides as I drive, marvelling at the interplay of light and shadow, mountain and sky, as I wind through valleys and over hill tops, in and out of traffic snarls, seldom giving much thought to the idea that I could get clobbered within the next moment by an unknown killer force.
Life and thriving in the world hardly seems fair when I see such an event as this morning crash. In a moment of reflection I think how cheap life truly is. Like others, I spent so much time preparing for it in my early years and then continue to try to carefully live in some rational and meaningful manner, making fine-tuning adjustments as I acquire knowledge, experience, and wisdom. All for what, I wonder, when I see the life of somebody else so abruptly and utterly ended? When younger I took this flimsiness and unpredictability of life to mean that I should not regard living with much seriousness, because my own existence might cease within the next moment. I could either play hard, take big risks, attempt things I knew were beyond my natural capabilities, or I could slink back, shy away from life, become a book worm, a hermit or recluse, or attach myself to a religion where I might be safe behind colorful stained windows.
My experience has been some of all of that, a mixture of care and concern, with some planned recklessness tossed into the mix. Maybe it is that way with others too. If I don’t attempt something bold I will feel as if I have never lived, but if I have never attempted to understand what it might be like to live the life of a saint, I will have missed some apparently very important element about life. The task of staying alive and thriving is the most important part of the mission. Witnessing an event like the wreck this morning forces me to sort out my priorities.