Yesterday I witnessed a terrible accident.
We are driving to meet a friend for dinner, heading the opposite direction of our commute, the opposite direction of traffic. Traffic flows easily at full highway speeds, or faster perhaps.
I hear it before I see it. An explosion a quarter mile ahead. I don’t see the inciting incident, but others do. I see a smear on the diagonal vector, no longer parallel. Time is slowing down, and the cars around us pause at 65+ miles an hour.
The nose of the car shoots up into the air, points at the sky. A metal pirouette, a Nancy Rubins’ in real life. It lands on its side and in some complicated equation of forces, begins to tumble. I am pulling right hard: the road ahead is a cloud of debris, spinning off at impossible angles.
And I watch it go 1…no, no, no, no, no…2….no, no, no, no…3 lanes of traffic, wheels over roof. It slams mid-somersault into the earthen embankment on the shoulder with another explosion of dirt.
shit. shit. shit.
And tumbles back to rest on its roof in the slow lane.
Call 9-1-1! Call 9-1-1! I shout and we are out of the car, running. Others are running too, converging on the car. Colored fluids are pouring from its exposed silver belly. Every one of our faces is a grim mask.
Because we are sure the people in that car are dead. Maybe not yet, but soon.
Instead, there she is: a woman on her hands and knees, looking up at us out of an upside-down window frame.
“It’s only me in the car. I’m okay. I was wearing my seatbelt.”
She is bleeding from small cuts all over her legs, the glass pressed through her pantyhose; she is dusty;
and she is okay.
As we help her out of the car, there is only the present, no past and no future. It occurs to me: I witnessed an honest-to-god miracle.
That feeling has stayed with me since yesterday. It happened in an instant is always the cliché on accidents, and we are taught to always avoid clichés, but, but, but
I think over and over again…
Drive like you care about life.
Wear your seatbelt.
They talk about events that shake you up, make you see the world fresh, stripped of the illusion of security and ground, as Buddhist teachers say – and this was one of them. That second to the last statement is for the driver who hit the woman; witnesses said he was weaving erratically between lanes and speeding when he clipped the woman’s back bumper and sent her car spinning. She told us that she never saw him coming and never knew what hit her. Photograph by me, a blurry version of this Silent Sunday. Nancy Rubins creates fantastic (and often massive) sculptures out of recycled metal parts – you can see examples of her work here.