I used this picture as the cover of my research presentation at our annual colloquium this year. It's a woman meditating under a bodhi tree. I love the colors, and the clay-like texture the painting portrays.
Today is my husband's birthday. We spent the greater part of the day packing and cleaning. I rented a carpet cleaner from Lowe's and steam-cleaned our antique rug. It was a proud, feminist moment for me learning how to use this large, complicated machine.
After our hard work we decided to treat ourselves to a slice at Savage pizza down the street. Savage is one of our favorites, with New York style pizza, excellent salads, and a really cool, kitchy atmosphere decked out with action figures. We were light-hearted and carefree as we sat down. Full on love, hungry for sustenance, happy to be in one another's company.
I recalled a strange thought I'd had earlier in the day, when I wished my love a happy birthday. I thought to myself that I should take a moment to truly appreciate his being alive and well. Death is always with us, just a heartbeat away. A moment's unchecked glance. The cliche blink-of-an-eye's distance.
I ordered a shrimp ceaser while my darling decided on a tomato and eggplant calzone. I drooled over knowing I'd be sneaking bites of his; by this point in our relationship he can be sure that I'll always go for a nibble of anything he orders (and will probably like it better!). It was just at that moment when we heard it:
A nauseating sound. The loud smack and thud of metal on metal, tires squeeling and shrieking. A car crash was happening, and we were sitting on the patio of Savage bearing witness. The sounds made us both cringe our shoulders together. But then, another, unexpected sound came. Another loud bang and thud, but it was not at all metal on metal and it was immediate. I felt my heart sink and my eyes well up. I turned my head to see a car, still skidding forward for what had been at least 75 feet, pushing the remnants of a motorcylce in its battered and charred grill.
Some things we don't hesitate on. I began to weap. My husband leapt from his chair, onto the table and over the railing of the patio, and took off towards the scene. A previously trained nurse reacts on instinct.
The other customers on the patio were all on their feet by this point, straining their necks to see over the parked cars. Where was the man on the motorcycle? I heard a guy say behind me, "dear god, please let it have been parked..." and another woman reply "no, it's lights are on." I didn't need to look to know. I was the only person not standing. I just sat with my eyes to the ground, feeling the raw grief of the moment.
It was a while before I spotted him coming back, walking slow and tired, as if he'd been through a fight. The ambulances had arrived. He was no longer needed. Was he ever needed?
There is something so admirable about him. It's in the way he carries himself -- with strength, composure, even a gentle quietness. We didn't speak about it right away. He sat back down. We looked at eachother quietly. Though I'm sure everyone around was chattering away about what had happened and would happen, everything around us and between us was silent. He finally asked me if I'd like to leave. I nodded and we boxed our untouched food.
I asked him to walk a different way home. I didn't want to see whatever it was that lay there in the street. So we took the long way, hand-in-hand, not saying a word.
Sometimes you just have to let the silence hang for a while, before you break it open. It was another thirty minutes before he could talk about what he'd seen when he left me on the patio. It was after our failed our attempts to eat at home, to keep packing, to watch a movie. It was after he smoked a cigarette and reminded himself outloud to breath. We just didn't know what to do with ourselves. We knew it couldn't be avoided, though the desire was there to push it all away. He had to talk it out of him, there was no other way.
The man's helmet had come off. The driver of the car was drunk. The bike had been hit, the man had been ejected from the bike and then run over by both his own bike and the drunk driver's car. When my husband reached the man, his face and skull were crushed and he was bleeding out. He checked for a pulse -- a light one still beat. He watched the man's stomach quiver the last moments of life.
The ambulances arrived and my husband left the man's side. He went to the side of the street to break up a fight that had broken out between one person and another who was filming the scene with his iphone, hoping to upload it to youtube. After subdueing these two, he went to gaurd the only cop, a woman, who was tending to the drunk driver. The driver was crying and praying.
So many lives changed in an instant. I weap for that.
I take a long moment tonight to appreciate my husband being alive and being well.
I don't understand the gauking, the exploitation, of tragic death for entertainment's sake. It's a horrific event that demands respect, silence, and deep reflection.
Love the ones you're with. Even if you don't know their names.