Would knowing when you’re going to die be a blessing or a curse? I’m not talking about getting the news you have only a few weeks, or months, to live. Time to get your affairs in order, say your goodbyes, maybe settle an old score. I’m talking about just going about your everyday life. Just a regular day that would not be recalled in your declining years. Then death looms ahead, in the middle of your path. You have only a few seconds left to live. You will only breathe one, or two more times, possibly squeeze in a third, because now is the day, hour, and minute you die.
What if you have enough time, just enough time, to figure out how you came to be facing death, in this place, and at this time? In my case, my well-known habit of running late. I was born three weeks late and never managed to catch up. Living in a small town where everyone is known for something, my fame stems from always being late.
Friends and family struggle, or should that be struggled, to manage my habit. They settled on a method to get me where I need to be on time, at least most of the time. They give, or should I say gave, me a starting time that can be anywhere from five to thirty minutes before they plan to begin. Sure, I expect (is it now expected) to have five minutes before I have to be out the door, but I can’t count on having more than that.
Past tense doesn’t feel right. I’m still here, in this minute, though I will shortly pass.
I know what you are thinking, and I’ve tried different tricks on my own to get out the door and to appointments on time. I’ve tried bribing myself with different things if I would just get to an appointment on time. I’ve set my watch ahead by ten or fifteen minutes, but I know I have that time cushion to get just one more thing done before I have to be out the door. There always seems to be just one more thing I need to do before I leave. Now, I’m going to die because I just had to put those dishes in the dishwasher before I left.
If I had left earlier, I wouldn’t be on this road. I would be on the main highway cruising along relaxed and enjoying the scenery with no stop signs for seventeen miles. Instead, I’m on the backroads exceeding the speed limit to make up time, focused on the road, and the clock. Well, I was focused on the clock until I crested that hill preparing to stop at the four-way intersection.
I learned to drive on these backroads. Daddy had me drive these roads over and over again until my reactions became automatic. I stopped thinking about when I needed to brake or accelerate and when I needed to turn the wheel. I learned which curves were banked correctly and which ones would want to throw you off if you took them too fast. There have been days Sometimes I wonder, could I drive these roads blindfolded.
That’s why I took my foot off the accelerator before I crested the hill letting gravity assist before I applied the brake. What I didn’t know was the night before, in preparation for the forecasted ice storm, someone had put down more than enough gravel. The ice storm turned out to be a light rain, not hard enough to wash the gravel into the intersection.
When I applied the brakes, my tires gripped the gravel as planned but without the ice to hold the gravel in place my car started sliding. I find myself hurtling towards the middle of the intersection currently occupied by a coal truck.
The coal truck had stopped on my left and was now straining with its full load to finish climbing the hill towards my right. It’s actually a great example of Newton’s first law of motion: a body at rest will remain at rest until an outside force acts upon it to put it in motion. The bigger and heavier that body is the more energy needed to act upon it to put it in motion. That truck’s engine is providing the energy, but it’s slow going at this point.
I, on the other hand, am demonstrating the flip side of Newton’s first law of motion: that a body at a constant speed and traveling in a straight line will continue in motion unless acted upon to stop. I guess it is possible the friction of the gravel on the asphalt has slowed me, but the difference isn’t noticeable. I am traveling in a straight line and unable to stop.
How about that. I did learn something in high school physics.
I hear my Daddy’s voice. Take your foot off the brake petal Susan. Stop the slide. Regain control. It is possible I could regain control if I would do as he says. I may even have enough time to reapply the brake and get stopped or I could turn to the left and manage to avoid the truck. Maybe I could limit the impact to the passenger side of the car increasing my chances of surviving.
I’m trying to obey Daddy. My body isn’t cooperating. In an act of betrayal my foot presses harder on the petal. I push my body into the seat providing leverage to push even harder. My knuckles are white on the steering wheel.
If it is true you are greeted by family members that have gone before you then Daddy is going to be disappointed in me. He was so proud of my driving ability. I was a much better student than either of my brothers. My brothers hated me for that, but I didn’t care.
I’m sorry I’m not obeying you Daddy.
I wish I could remember the first time I heard that a person’s life flashes before their eyes when they are facing death. I know I’ve heard it more than once, but now I can’t recall when or where I’ve ever heard it. It seems to be wisdom that was passed down in utero, something you just know but don’t remember learning. Except for loading the dishwasher and driving with Daddy I can’t remember any other moment in my life.
Have I been kind more than unkind? Have I helped when others have needed help? Have I lived a good life? I hope I haven’t left too much of a mess to be sorted out.
The one thing I would have liked being late for, I show up for, right on time.