I’m fine. I spent a few days in the hospital for tests after a one-car accident I walked away from unhurt.
I spent much of my enforced idle time—well, OK, I spent much of my enforced idle time reading, doing crosswords and watching Futurama DVDs as well as old journalism movies.
But I also found myself drawn to the duality of life-changing events. Some life-changing events are glacial—the maturation of your children, your own aging, the steady march to retirement and death. You can’t always, or even often tell exactly when these slow-motion events will culminate. The day your children go off to college, for example, is not the end of worrying about them, it is not even the beginning of the end, but as Churchill once said in a different context, it is the end of the beginning. If you’re lucky, your death, or that of your parents and loved ones, is also in the glacial category. Not too glacial (that can, as I have witnessed be brutal), but a slow decline provides for time to say goodbye, to set things in order, to make your peace with God and man.
Then there are the instants that change everything. One minute you’re driving home, the next minute you have an airbag in your chest and your car is totaled. Or, as happened to a good friend of mine, you have a stroke and you can’t ever take notes again. Or as happened to Edwin Diamond, you die of a heart attack way too young. You say one stupid thing and regret it for the test of your life, but the instant goes by—“the moving finger writes; and, having writ, moves on: nor all your piety nor wit shall lure it back to cancel half a line, nor all your tears wash out a word of it” (Omar Khayyam). It happens to teachers; they say a thing, or do a thing (swear, slap a student, or worse) and suddenly their career is over. No matter what field you are in, you can get laid off in an instant, and your life is turned upside down (at least mine was). You could regret the moment, but you can’t change it.
Instant death by accident or heart attack is particularly pernicious. The people left behind you feel a total lack of closure, as if they have had only half a conversation they will never be able to finish. Almost no matter how hard you try, there arrangements unmade and things unsaid. A life interrupted in an instant leaves untidy loose ends every time.
And the worst thing is, you can earnestly hope for either glacial or instant life change, but the universe cares not a fig for your desires.
I had a close call. I walked away relatively unscathed. The other thing it made me think about, clearly and distinctly, is my own mortality and my view of the universe. I found myself trying to remember the Lord’s Prayer and the Nicene creed, not because I have been born again, not because I have forgotten the hard-earned lessons of adulthood about the nature of God (not an old white guy in a robe), but because I find comfort in the rituals of my youth. God save me, I may go to church now and then. I already live a pretty good life; I may try to live a better one.
My life-transforming instant will certainly introduce change, confusion and inconvenience, as such moments usually do. But I am accepting the advice of my wife and thousands of years of Eastern religious thought, and trying to live in the moment. What happens will happen, and I will deal with it one day at a time.