Sunday, June 26 — I wake up early and roll over. The sun is coming up. Rebecca is still asleep and Graham too, who had crawled into bed in the middle of the night. I look at my hands, touch my face, feel my legs. This could have been a very different morning.
It is the night before, and 10 minutes earlier we had left the kids with the sitter to go out to dinner in West Chester. There is a fast way to get there, and a nice way to get there. We chose the nice way — a meandering trip along Rt. 100, following the Brandywine River. We were in no hurry, and it had been a while since just the two of us had gotten out.
I don’t remember what we were talking about, exactly. The day’s events, where we might eat tonight, what we’ll do at Dutch Wonderland tomorrow. We rounded a bend to see an SUV out of control, fishtailing first off the road and then back on, heading straight for us. Two observations that I remember clearly: The scene shifting into slow motion. And the view through the windshield seeming quite cinematic, quite surreal. Just one thought went through my mind: This is going to be bad.
The crash. Then silence. I open my eyes. Glass everywhere, in my mouth. I look over. Rebecca is alive. No blood. She starts to cry. “Oh my God.” I look at my hands. I touch my legs. I’d heard that people who lose an appendage don’t feel it at first. Everything is there. We have to get out of the car. Had just filled the tank. My door is jammed shut. Rebecca’s side is wedged against an embankment. We crawl out her window and get away from the car.
Bizarre scene. There are car parts strewn all over the road. Twenty yards away, the car that had hit us. I see that it had hit another car too, the one that was behind us. The driver, in flip flops, is kind of walking in circles, seems dazed. I walked over to him. “What happened?” He mumbles “I don’t know, the road …” but doesn’t look me in the eye. I’m surprised he didn’t say “Sorry.” I walk back to our car. I cannot believe we walked away from this. Later that night I’d ponder: German engineering, or Divine Intervention? Either way, thank you.
So then you start to think about what had nearly been lost. A two year old and a four year old who would have been orphans. Who would have told them? How would they react? I cannot even contemplate this; I physically turn away. Turns out the other driver who got hit has a three year old and a five year old. He was on his way to the hardware store to buy a paint scraper. A paint scraper. He is beside himself, so overwhelmed he cannot stand.
The police arrive. Just one cop, looks like he’s about 15. Everyone looks like they’re about 15 these days. He asks a few questions. Then he’s got the driver on the center line, doing the test. He puts the guy in cuffs. Later he tells us he was two times over the limit. “How fast do you think he was going?” No idea, everything seemed in slow motion. The guy behind us said he must have been going at least 60. Insane.
That night I am feeling irrationally exuberant, wanting to jump on the bed and shout “Not tonight, asshole!” to the Reaper, though I realize this is only a reprieve, not a victory and that in the end, it will not be I who triumphs. At least, though, the end was not tonight.
This is not a sermon about the perils of drinking and driving. The world has enough sermons already, and enough hypocrites.
I think instead, it’s a story about the simple joy of waking up to see another day, of hearing a bird sing, of being alive.