Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Paralysis of Tragedy

Just like any other night on Two Notch Road, cars blinked past streetlights at speeds high enough to paint a mahogany ember over the deep indigo midnight sky. Buildings arose into sight as quick as they disappeared. A Cadillac with thick charcoal tinted windows came centimeters from my front bumper in what seemed like a second. No stop light in sight, my size 13 tensed the brake just enough to stop behind him in time.

Two flashes of blinding light turned night to day for an instant, and then back to night, followed by the torturous noise a volcano might make in full eruption.

Growing up part of the generation that witnessed the first fully televised war, Desert Storm, and the subsequent proliferation of all-things-media in every battle since, it’s no wonder I had a fairly good sense of what it might feel like to stand near a bomb detonation.

I yelled, not out of surprise, but out of something primal, like a drum beat it was over. I touched my face, was I alive?

That feeling right after a headlining rock concert ends, when it’s silent but for the crowds whisper, yet a layer of sound still hisses in your ears, that’s the feeling I had as I swung open the door to my truck. Everything slowed down, next to a sedan now resting driver side up stood a family of six, all crying, shouting, where were the paramedics? Where was the ambulance? Can someone do a head count, no body count, now? Please God.

Prayers aren’t always exercises in meditative stamina. I shot a prayer to God, please God, help them, whoever them was at that moment.

With my husky SUV shifted into park and the wide body rear fully blocking traffic I walked toward the wreck, now pushing smoke to the air like a steel tipi, I wondered for a second if anyone was alive inside, and then to the question of what might happen if the evolving push of smoke turned to fire, surely I’d die.

When tragedy happens the dead have a way of kissing you goodbye, ever so slightly letting you know that the steps you take are among ghosts now. When my grandmother passed away, the patron saint of my childhood, she said goodbye to me in a dream. When my uncle came to tell me the news that summer morning all those years ago I already knew my hero had left this earth, bound for the heavens above.

The family, now kneeling to the ground in pain, stood dangerously close to the fuming car. A man ushered them away, motioning with his eyes for me to get back. His bravery led to a pop of adrenaline chasing the fear out of my bloodstream, as my eyelids began extracting from their usual sleepy posture to just about the back of their sockets. I started to run, towards the car at first, and then into the hand of a man that pushed me back, telling me nobody alive was in the car with a shake of his head. Before I could speak he was gone, was he ever really there?

I regained my footing, standing still as a statue in the middle of a fatal pile-up scene.

Silence, the great exasperator, did her best to make me feel like there was something I could’ve done to save the passengers of that wrecked fuming collection of steel. I stood still while the paramedics darted by me on both sides.

Whatever time we have left is precious, and far too important to spend entirely on the road of self-fulfillment, for when the collision of life and death occurs we’ll want to pass on with a spirit of selfless giving, even in, or maybe in spite of, the paralysis of tragedy.

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