I was walking out of my house this morning, turning to put the key in the lock, when I heard it… a low boom. A thud in the air. Just once and very distant, kind of like a dropped hammer. It was more than a hammer, though. It was the kind of boom that leaves you noticing the silence afterwards. It was the kind of boom that is so small, that you wonder if you really heard it, but so low and distant that you know it was something large. Something that when you hear the birds, you wonder if they know what happened.
“Oh, I’m sure it was just a truck backfiring, or something,” I thought, as I waited for more booms. None came. “I sure hope that the paper mill didn’t blow up,” I thought idly, as I drove out of my driveway.
It’s a lovely Spring morning- finally. After weeks and months of cold and rain and clouds, it was in the upper 60s and clear and sunny. Lots of birds. Daffodils peeking out their fluted faces. I turned on the radio. Turned off XM and on our local radio that plays terrible music, just to make sure that the mill hadn’t blown up. Nothing but country music. Old country music. Back to XM and “The Pulse”.
You see it coming, don’t you? I rounded the corner of our bucolic little road outside of our development and had to stop behind three other cars, because there were cars parts all over the road. Craning my neck around the red F-150 pickup in front of me, I saw two cars, mangled in front, bright sunshine glinting off of their windows, spiderwebbed in the breakage. I saw two people sitting on the side of the road, talking up to one person standing over them, on the cell phone. No blood, no one dead. I turned off the radio in respect so that my music would not disturb them in what they needed to do. Along with the F-150, I crept around them, and moved over for the police cars and ambulance who were finally, finally there. We moved on, and the birds continued singing and the sunlight dappled through the Spanish moss.
And I was struck at how un-movie-like it is when tragedy actually strikes. The boom- certainly not a movie special effect with rolling thunder and agonized wincing. Just a small, deep-toned boom, that was lost once the sound waves moved on. The scene? No cut away camera shots, no hustle and bustle of frantic movements. Just a quick explosion, and then the Spring day rushed back in.
I remembered how in the moments of great crisis, how you notice the little things that are completely unaffected by your tragedy. I have a distinct memory of sobbing hysterically on my front porch one evening and the light shining through the window, un-diffused by my sorrow. Of noticing the grains of un-disturbed dirt in the soil from the perspective of an upside-down car. The juncoes eating at the birdfeeder the day of my daddy’s funeral.
I didn’t rush out of my car pell-mell to help. There were people better trained than I to deal with it. I would be in the way. I drove on, and said a prayer for them. And I was struck at how comforting the “normal” is- and how distant it is. How this car crash will be something that those people will be dealing with for a while- hopefully, not too long, but you know how difficult insurance paperwork is. I would not allow the possibility of greater hurt to enter my mind, because that would be to allow that possibility into the Universe and my prayer was intended to stave that off. And I thought about how I might forget that moment in a few days- how many car accidents has anyone driven past?- but to that person, it might have changed their life forever.
I turned XM back on, and drove over the causeway, appreciating the boats shining in the sun, the lapping of the waves, and shutting out the fear that tragedy lurks for me, for my family, for my friends, on any other gorgeous Spring morning. I cannot live my life in fear.
But I did remember the powerful Carl Sandberg poem “Grass” about how great tragedy becomes muted- how time and “normal” rush in so fast, that while an individual life may be completely shattered, others forget. Life is to live- and there is sorrow and peace in that at the same time. Appreciate the small details today, folks.
by: Carl Sandburg (1878-1967)
- ILE the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo,
- Shovel them under and let me work–
- I am the grass; I cover all.
- And pile them high at Gettysburg
- And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
- Shovel them under and let me work.
- Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:
- What place is this?
- Where are we now?
- I am the grass.
- Let me work.