I saw a body in the road last night. A man. I have no idea how old or young. The ambulance had just arrived. They were putting a sheet or shirt or something over his face. Because of the way traffic was being diverted, I had to drive within inches of the scene.
In the three seconds I took to look that way while I waited to merge back into traffic, a lifetime’s worth of emotions played out before me. The person who obviously hit the man, frantic and crying. The EMT, delicately placing the shirt over the dead man. Someone running to the intersection with a look of panic on his face, maybe a friend of the driver or the deceased. The lights of a police car flashing behind me, bathing everything in red and white. Click. My mind takes a picture of everything. Frozen moment. One of those mental Polaroids that will stick in the front of my mind for a long time, then fade to the back only to be taken out at random times when I least want to think about it.
A minute later I was back in the flow of traffic, the incident behind me. I found myself gripping the wheel tight, fighting back tears. Who was this man laying in the road? Why was he crossing there? Where was he going to or coming from? Did he have a family? Was he a good man? Are there people who are going to be devastated when they hear the news, people who will have to figure out how to go on living without him? Who was going to answer that phone call or knock on the door? And what about the guy who hit him? How would this affect his life? Was he paying attention? Did the man just walk in front of his car? Was it too dark to see him?
And of course there was the whole randomness of life thoughts that kept me up during the night. What if either one of them had lingered wherever they were before this just a few seconds longer? What if the driver was going a little slower or the man was walking a little faster? What if something they did at 11am slowed down their day enough so they were both at that exact place at 6pm instead of 6:01 or 5:58? What were the odds that they would both end up in the same space at the same time, resulting in death for one and a lifetime of regret and guilt for the other?
Will I take anything from this? Will that “life is fleeting” moment last for me? Will I seize the day because I just saw death? Or will this image flit in and out of my head but compartmentalize itself as just a “this is life” kind of thing as I go on with my own life?
I know. I’ll obsess about it for two days. And then it will slowly fade from the active part of my brain, replaced by reminders, football scores, song lyrics, an image of today’s sunrise, all the things your brain can fit in one day. It will pop up again when I drive past that spot or when I’m listening to “Karen” by the National which was not playing when I witnessed the scene but started playing as I merged back into traffic, leaving the body behind and the lyrics and tone of the song playing as I looked at the red and white lights and frantic scene in my rear view mirror made for a bizarre, completely out of sync juxtaposition that made me feel like David Lynch was in a director’s chair somewhere close by.