Every night on my way home from work, I weave through the 200-lane, bumper-to-bumper traffic chaos from the airport tunnel onto the 215, and I think, it’s just a matter of time. I’ve been optimistic like that for about a year now. Every evening I see an accident — a fender-bender, usually, occasionally a crumpled up, ambulance-requiring nightmare — and I know my time is coming.
I roll by in the stop ’n’ go of thousands of workaday people, my comrades in a war against depletion of spirit, knowing that, statistically, this is inevitable. Some of us will get hit, some of us will get hit really hard. Some will do the hitting, maybe because they’re selfish and reckless and in a rush to nowhere and happen to be enjoying their sociopolitical moment with their shriveled hearts and blustery quasi-truths. Or an accident may be caused by another tattered soul who is habitually trying to distract herself from this death march, not only in a vehicle in the slog of rush-hour traffic, but in an economy that has us working more and more for less and less just to keep up; that has us watching disaster after callous disaster and pressing on.
And so it was that I stopped and started a hundred times one evening, heading westward home, listening to talk radio — sometimes I dip out of NPR and check out the AM perspective, which keeps the tiny incredulous fire in my belly burning. Traffic picked up, along with hope — because jesus these blowhards can’t be that hard to unseat, can they? — and we made it out of third gear, and then, shockingly, hope was crushed. We slowed down quickly. The car in front of me stopped. I stopped. The car behind me did not. WHAM! My head and shoulders flung forward, and the sound of car bumpers colliding rattled my teeth, and I realized my time had come. Well not that time; it was a fairly low-speed fender-bender. Others have been hit a lot harder than me. I’d been lucky.
The next few minutes were disorienting — we were in the middle lane, our empathetic fellow humans honking and cussing while we were feasibly dying, and an officer quickly showed up to guide us to the far left shoulder. “Do you need an ambulance?” he asked, as I held my head, which hadn’t hit anything aside from 2017, and so felt like it had been smooshed by a 45-pound block of jackassery.
Do I need an ambulance? Do I need a competent crew of caring professionals to take me away from this old, beaten-up car, this plodding, proletariat life, this shithead on the radio calling for the codification hatred? Do I need to be whisked away, sirens blaring, from the gray pavement and the gray exhaust on this everlasting gray evening of 2017 to, perhaps, a small, sunny island in the Seychelles?
Just then, the driver who’d hit me approached and asked, “Are you okay?” I awakened from my fog. In fact, I awakened to the thing we need most right now, the thing I cannot flee from, the thing each of us who has it to offer must hang on and offer. “I will be,” I said. “Are you okay?” She nodded.
And so after filling out reports, I was able to drive my beat-up car back into the traffic, back into the muddy field of battle, filled with a growing sense of gratitude, and even hope. It could have been worse. I’ll keep going.