So you’re driving along and it’s been a day. ‘Hump day’, that’s what we call it; the dead center of the week when you’re just trying to get past the mass of the 40 hours you have to put in to get to your weekend. But hump day is all done, and you’re looking forward to kicking back a little. Tired mind still alert to the traffic on all sides, reaching for the dial to change the radio station because that annoying announcer just came on, and
all of a sudden the world gives way beneath you.
The brain is slow to grasp that the world is tilting. It immediately rejects the impossibility of the situation in which you find yourself, even as things start to fall down.
Bridges don’t collapse. Life doesn’t fall apart this suddenly. Cars don’t go skidding into the abyss, people screaming, the ground beneath yawning open… this only happens in a horror movie. And as you lose control of your vehicle and watch the water swing up, and chunks of the bridge you trusted unthinkingly to hold your car’s weight begins to fall down on top of the people in the river below, your brain’s just shrieking like a conductor before an orchestra, “No, no! This is all wrong!” Like it can bring order to the chaos that’s already happened, before the world goes black.
You likely read it on the news. A bridge buckled and collapsed in Minneapolis in the middle of the evening rush hour. People driving along on that bridge suddenly experienced what must have seemed like an earthquake, and then several cars were dropped 60 feet into the Mississippi river. A train also fell down, and 18 construction workers were hurled among cars and debris as the bridge collapsed. Some of the cars were buried under pieces of the bridge.
I know thousands of people everyday find themselves in a situation where the world falls out from under them. Something completely unexpected broadsides you right off your contented life course. Unexpected death, an accident, the inexplicable crossway of unforeseen events coming together; and life is never the same again. But this is so literal; the world literally fell out from underneath these people. And this keeps pinging in my head: The unbelievable horror of those moments.
What if you did survive? I might just move away. I might change everything, so this incredibly random encounter with my own powerlessness didn’t become the center point of everything: before the bridge and after. I dont know if I’d want to be labeled a survivor. Freak accident? Come on, this is a bad joke from an unbenign destiny. I might well turn my back on the whole, bloody thing. Just ignore it for the rest of my life.
Because that’s overkill. Okay God, gods, deities, giant alien in the sky, I understand man’s hubris at imagining for even one moment that he controls his own destiny. We like to power around in our little motorized vehicles, swallowing up the miles of the earth with our sunglasses on. We duck the world’s climate with temperature controlled boxes for living space. We duck the grand design of creature killing creature to eat. No one kills us for a snack on this planet, unless… you know, the world falls out from underfoot and something’s gone terribly awry.
But. But. This is the life we lead, the life passed down to us by family, friends, people. It’s freaking unfair to be confronted by such disaster, to know in an instant how powerless you are to match up against the events at play. And don’t tell me that power comes from how you react to such situations, because when you’re busted and bloodied and sitting in a car filling up with water while the earth falls down on top of you, you have no recourse. Maybe… maybe you could weakly bend your fingers into a small, rude gesture, and laugh.
Because in some place in your head you have to be going, “You fucker” In a way that specifically condemns all that’s gone before and all that would have come after. All that struggle to learn how to master life, to talk, to live, to be contented, to love. All those hours of putting socks on, for chrissakes, to go to work to earn for your family, to fulfill that place in the world that seems to be yours though you’d dreamed of other things. I guess you might have to laugh. It’s funny just how not funny it all is.
And if you did survive, how does it not turn into a punchline, somehow? “A bridge fell down.”
“I fell off a bridge.”
What are the chances? What kind of awesome odds, what kind of stinking luck to be there at that moment in time? I mean, you could win the lottery twice over with that kind of aghast, writhing unlikelihood. But you didn’t, you know.
A bridge fell down. And you died, laughing.