The idea that, at any moment, your life could come to an abrupt conclusion or irreversible change has been beaten to death by theologians, inspirational authors, Chinese fortune cookie writers, and mystics since the dawn of time. It’s a subject that I try to avoid in any type of writing.
But there’s never an always, and always an exception. I came close to rounding out my lunch hour (and my immediate future) in the emergency room yesterday.
Payday Fridays involve walking from my office building to the credit union, and then running different errands. Yesterday, I had completed the circuit by going to the post office across from my office building to buy and mail some money orders, and was coming out the door and walking toward the corner of Spring and High. (The Federal Building is on the northeast corner of the intersection, the William Green Building–where I work–is on the northwest.) I waited at the corner for the light to change so I could cross High Street.
I heard two or three car horns honking–not just honk, but the long protracted sound when the driver puts all his/her weight on it to my left. Just then I saw a black SUV (I think–I’m crummy with car models, but it resembled a Brinks truck) with a woman busily and animatedly jabbering away on her cell phone and barreling through the intersection, running the red light and heading northward toward Nationwide Insurance and the Short North.
I was close enough to have caught the wind from her passage. A guy stopped at the light and I exchanged “What the hell?” glances. It had happened too fast even for my adrenaline to kick in, so I didn’t tense up or instantly get a dry mouth. (It does worry me that the prospect of instant death didn’t even rattle me that much.)
If I had taken one or two more steps forward, I would have been hit, and I doubt this woman would even have known she had done it. And I wonder just how injured I would have been. Since it all happened so fast, I didn’t have time to tense up, and that causes the bulk of the injuries. (I used to love those safety flyers from the Red Cross that tell you: “If you find yourself about to fall, try to relax.” Very easier said than done.) My grandfather said that one time he saw a very drunk man stagger out of a bar in Wheeling, right into the path of an oncoming streetcar. The streetcar stopped, but not before it hit the guy and knocked him a few feet in the air. The guy landed on his back, lay in the street for a second, and then got up, shook his fist at the conductor, and went on his drunken way. If he had been sober, he probably would have been killed.
This was also one of the rare occasions when I did everything according to Hoyle when it came to the rules of the road. During my 18 months in Boston, I quickly learned that crosswalks were just decoration, and crossing any street involved daily playing out Frogger, an arcade game that was popular at the time. I quickly developed the practice of strolling across the busiest street at any point convenient to me. Soon I was able to stroll through four lanes of traffic as if I was crossing my own living room. (I never did try a stunt that friends in Marietta and I used to do out of boredom during heavy traffic–get halfway across the street and then pretend to lose a contact lens, amusing ourselves as all the drivers sat fuming while we crawled around in the crosswalk.)
But yesterday, I waited for the WALK/DON’T WALK light to change in my favor. I had my MP3 player with me, but it was in my pocket, as were my ear buds.
It wasn’t until later, back at my desk and transcribing again, that I realized what could have happened. I’m not the type that dwells on worst-case scenarios daily. I have quoted Lincoln’s thoughts on this earlier in the blog: “If I am killed, I can die but once; but to live in constant dread of it, is to die over and over again.”
Nevertheless, I am reminded of a piece that ran in Mad magazine late in 1973, showing sheet music covers with appropriate photographs. This was their suggested graphic for “What a Difference a Day Makes”: