Monday, October 08, 2007

Dark Thoughts on a Sunny Day.

This past Saturday I experienced the worst local traffic of any weekend of my life. I found myself parked in the left lane on Washington Boulevard (Rte. 8), with cars all around me. There were several factors contributing to the early afternoon snarl. A rockslide and subsequent road-closing on Rte. 28 near Harmarville had redirected a lot of traffic. In addition, it happened to be "free day" at the zoo, prompting literally thousands of parents to cart their tykes over there. But these things would only have accounted for the cars on the opposite side of the road. When I first hit the congestion, I was frustrated but not beyond hope. We were moving, albeit very slowly. Then we all came to a a complete stop. I lit up a cigarette, fully expecting to resume movement before I was down to the filter.

Unfortunately I went through a couple of smokes before I could continue on my journey. There didn't seem to be any sense in wasting gas, so I shut the engine off. I got out of my car with the intention of looking for a garbage bag in my trunk in order to clean the rubbish from the interior of my car. In the absence of this necessary article, I decided to merely mill about on the street. I noticed that several other drivers had also exited their vehicles, and they were congregating in a clump around a young blonde haired woman. She was telling them a story that I assumed explained the situation. I couldn't really hear what she was saying, other than a few snippets of hushed awe. I waited until she had broken away from the group and then solicited her to retell the tale.

Apparently she had been on her way to the zoo with her daughter at 8:30 AM, and she saw a car swerve several places in front of her. She then heard a loud crash and pulled over on the side of the road to report the accident to 911. At this point the young woman had no idea how severe the incident was, and after her call she continued on her way. As she passed the wreck site, she observed that the unlucky motorist had crashed into a tree. The automobile was so mangled that it was barely recognizable, and she couldn't see anyone through what was left of the windows of the car. She had been amazed (three hours later) on her return from the zoo to find herself caught up in traffic near the exact same spot. Along with me, she had been halted about 8-10 car lengths behind the emergency vehicles blocking off the road. We could see the ambulance and the coroner finally loading the remains for disposal. Evidently the investigation and cleanup were rather demanding and time-intensive.

This woman was obviously struck by the tragedy of the event she had (kind 0f) witnessed. To her, that made the whole episode rather personal. Her voice quivered as she repeated these details to me. I listened quietly without immediate response. She kept focusing on the fact that she couldn't see anyone in the mashed up car. I mentioned that I felt guilty that my main reaction was to feel a sense of inconvenience. Perhaps my honesty was misdirected or innappropriate, but I couldn't come up with an alternative. Besides... it was true that impatience dominated my thinking. I didn't want to get stuck for hours along the unshaded road in a rapidly increasing heat. After about forty minutes we were allowed through. I felt a combination of relief and a lingering sense of my own callousness. As I passed with a glimpse at the wreckage, I gave a little internal shudder. I was glad it wasn't me. I felt fortunate to be alive.

As the day progressed, the incident was mostly absent from my conscious mind. Yet I was feeling increasingly depressed. It is true that every once in awhile a reminder of my own mortality arises to plague my mood. Often I don't realize until much later the source of my depression. But as I sat with my friends on Saturday night, I could feel the thing gnaw away at me. Life is irreparably transient, and there is nothing I can do about it. Without the succor of faith, I am left with the possibility that death will bring an eternal oblivion. There is nothing more terrifying to me than imagining that prospect. I've learned not to dwell on these thoughts, but they never quite go away. I take little comfort in the reality that this fatal issue accompanies each and every creature on earth. My own self-interest overwhelms any philosophical remove from this state.

Anyway... have a nice day.

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