earlier today i had a conversation about life’s near misses. those close brushes with death–whether saved by a minute or a millimeter, these measurable instances are the instances we actually know about. then there are those occasions when we are left unscathed, oblivious to ever being in harm’s way in the first place. it made me reflect on the paths each of us have taken in order to wind up in each others’ presence. for example, in order to have the conversation i had today:
i had to fall off my bike, crack my head on the concrete in our cul-du-sac in houston when i was five;
spin out across denton tap road as a sixteen-year old new driver and cause a bad accident (and total my own car) in dallas;
mistakenly drink lumpy sour milk more than one year gone bad;
find myself surrounded while snorkeling in deep caribbean waters by dozens of barracudas;
shuffle my way through string rays in the shallow murky waters of the gulf of mexico…
not to mention survive my many unfortunate international mishaps* i’ve had while traveling, ones i will not mention here just in case my mother is reading.
indeed. we’ve all had these near misses. sometimes we have sense enough to be frightened of and sometimes we remain blissfully ignorant. this leads me to another hypothesis: the universe has an ironic sense of humor.
my hypothesis has been proven right. as of today. as it so happens when we invite a little perspective into our world by pondering thoughts such as these, perspective itself gets a little haughty. Perspective wants to have the last say. basically, what happened was, i had the aforementioned conversation this afternoon and then i went on my my merry, sunny 85-degree day. hours later, just as the sun was beginning to set, i decided that with it being officially fall now, i should go enjoy what could well possibly be the last sunset i might see wearing shorts and a tank top and flip flops. so i rushed out of my apartment to the corner of my block which faces west where there’s a stunning view of the sunset.
i crossed the street and leaned up against a tree, bathing in the orange light, scanning the mountainous italian horizon. warmed by the light, i looked down at myself: my bare arms and legs, my colorful tanktop: all of me was orange. orange! a warm, glowing orange. i felt like i could meditate or pray or think only happy thoughts for at least an entire minute of my life while watching this sunset, feeling the marvelous orange, when i heard something cracking loose from above in the trees across the street behind me. a man was crossing underneath the canopy of trees, making his way around the curve in the fairly busy street along with his black and white dog. a woman and her blind daughter followed him.
the cracking got worse and worse then louder and louder. then, whoosh. a big branch about six feet long and about ten inches in radius came crashing down to the ground. had the woman and her blind daughter been any closer they would have been badly injured. a child could have been killed. had the branch fallen on a passing car (there were no cars passing in that moment) it could have gone right through someone’s windshield. only it didn’t. nothing happened. no one got hurt. everyone was left unscathed. i stood still, surveying the branch from where i was, safe across the street, warm orange at my back. i wondered why i hadn’t decided to stand THERE instead of here. the people who saw the branch fall slowly moved along, continuing on their path. when they were gone it was official: without any other witnesses, it was as if this near travesty had never happened.
i quickly turned around just in time to see the sun slip behind the mountains. the same thing that hits me when i watch the sunset hit me: it will never be today again. i’ll never have that sun blaring in my face today again. today is gone. moments, sunsets or not, are all unrecoverable but unless watching a sunset their un-recoverability is hard to mark. it all happens so fast–the tree, the slipping, the goneness. i let myself long for something that is no longer (a habit i try and break myself of more often than not) and then i had to laugh. already feeling the sun’s absence, i turned around to go home and saw an elderly couple. she stood still wearing a reverent expression on her face while looking into that orange that i felt was mine, all mine, only moments before. her companion had his phone poised in front of him, snapping a digital picture, only a few feet away from the still unnoticed, now innocuous fallen tree branch.
it’s as if the tree branch fell to make a point. or its as if a moment used that tree branch to make its point: here. the sunset. this warmth. this minute of this hour of this day that is now ending: it’s all you’ve got. yet it is not only yours. it is everybody’s. and things could be worse. but they aren’t.
that is all.
NOW you may go on your merry, sunny and 85-degree way.
*such as the time i found myself in a leery parisian neighborhood at dusk — lost — my guidebook my only companion. nothing but graffiti as points of reference, i milled around until i found the closest subway station and then flipped through the pages of my guidebook to get a sense of where i was and how to get out of there. all the lonely planet had to say was: you definitely don’t want to be in this part of paris when the sun goes down. i was eighteen. it was my first time in paris, i’d been there a whopping four hours and i didn’t speak a lick of french. (how i got there and how i got out is another blog altogether.)