The blink of an eye

The blink of an eye

It still shocks me how an average day could turn into the worst day of your life without warning and in the blink of an eye. No, don’t worry. We’re all fine as I write this.

I was forced to confront this truth today as I went out to get lunch this afternoon. I was driving down a side street near here when I came upon an accident scene. There was an ambulance, two cruisers, and a wrecker removing a Ford Explorer while some unidentifiable silver sedan waited its turn. Quite obviously someone blew through the red light.

That could just as easily have been me. A few times in my life, it was me, tooling along unaware and SLAM! Life takes a quick, hard turn.

I see it all the time in my commute, people driving to work as they normally do, but out of the hundreds of thousands of cars on the roads around Boston each day, they are the one whose number is up. Fender-benders, turnovers, jack-knifed trucks. Undoubtedly some bring it on themselves with reckless or careless driving. Just as undoubtedly some are innocent victims of circumstance.

A few times I’ve seen the accident happen in front of me. A few weeks ago, just down the street from work, three cars going the opposite direction had a chain-reaction crash. I don’t know what caused it, but I saw the aftermath. Back in March, as I was driving through a blizzard to get to the Boston Catholic Men’s Conference, as I sat stopped at a light, the car next to me suddenly jumped forward into the intersection, propelled by a giant black SUV whose owner evidently didn’t realize that the law of the conservation of momentum applies even when you have four-wheel drive and anti-lock brakes. If he’d been in my lane, that could have been me.

We can’t take our lives for granted. I bumble through my life, blithely assuming that I have plenty of time left to pray, to read, to travel, to spend time with my wife and daughter. But you never know. If there’s one thing I’m glad that life experience and maturity has taught me, it’s that I need to live in the “now”, as if I didn’t have unlimited time on my life clock, because after all, I don’t.

Our mortality is a gift from God, a time for us to grow and to change and to experience and to learn to love, but it is in the finiteness of that gift that we come to appreciate it. It’s never too late to start living as if it’s the last day of your life and to appreciate what is now instead of always chasing what it can be.

  • Isn’t true.  We are all but one heartbeat away from our death. I try to say a little prayer each day that goes something like this:

    “Thank you Lord for the gift of my life and all that is required to sustain it; clean water, nourishing food, shelter, clothing and medical care.  Thank you for all those things that make my life comfortable like hot showers and a soft pillow.  These things I do not merit; they are gifts that you give to me.  Thank you.”

  • I had an experience recently on 93 in Braintree that made me feel everything you wrote about. Due to the sheer volume of traffic there I guess (this was at rush hour), everyone just kind of had to come to a halt where 3 merges into 93. I slammed on my brakes, skidded a ways, miraculously stopped just short of the person in front of me, and the person behind me simply went off the road onto the median so that she wouldn’t hit me! I noticed as the traffic picked up again all the skid marks and debris along the road from previous accidents or near misses. I am thankful that driving in rush hour traffic is a rare occurrence for me, although come to think of it, the one time I was rear-ended, it was a beautiful Sunday afternoon with very few other cars around. The other driver had plenty of time to see me and react. I guess you just never know.

    Interesting that this traffic talk should come up on the Feast of Guardian Angels! I shudder to think what Boston-area roads would be like without them!

    I guess just going to Mass makes me think of the mortality questions, but also I’m a nurse and I see people dealing with these issues on a regular basis. I see lots of people who have a cancer diagnosis, or other medical issues that could shorten their lives, and many patients who have been in accidents. And my aunt just passed away sort of suddenly, so that has made me think about this stuff too.

  • We are not to know the hour of our death so we must be prepared to meet Our Lord every instant.

    Years ago I was rear-ended. We had our 18 month old (now a hulking big 14 year old!) toddler in the back. Quiet Sunday evening and we were returning from a visit to my Ma, who was dying of Cancer, so we were not in the best of spirits. Stopped at lights I saw this red car in my mirror and I thought: “He is going way too fast – he can see the lights from there and he knows they are red. It was slow motion – I saw him close then the car was moved forward and in to the rear of the car in front. Bang! We were shook up and we adults got some whiplash. But otherwise OK.

    I got out the car. Even from five feet away I could smell the booze on the driver’s breath. He reversed like lightning, went the wrong way up a one way street and disappeared. Lucky someone took his licence number and he was arrested but the cops couldn’t breathalyse him as he was indoors when they tracked him down and they couldn’t prove he was ‘in charge’ of the car at the time of the collision. They did him for having no insurance and no driving licence though.