Saturday, February 20, 2010
Who was it, really?
Am in Boston again, a different journey, a different year. But this morning, while everyone else in the house is still asleep, I'm up early, having a cup of green tea, watching the sun rise and remembering another trip from some years ago when I was returning to my then home in Vermont back from a trip to Boston, where I had left far later than I'd intended. It was close to midnight and I still had an hour's more driving left to go. It was a cold winter night and there were no other cars on the highway; it was pitch black outside, the only lights being the headlights of my car. In front of me, sheer darkness; behind me, sheer darkness; to the right of me, the dark stone walls of a craggy mountainside caked in ice.
I was really tired and trying to stay awake. The darkness, the silence, the monotony of the ribbon of highway, my fatigue, all contributed to my beginning to fall asleep at the wheel. My eyelids closed, I began nodding off and the car careened rightward, heading off the road directly into the wall of rock to the right.
All of a sudden I heard someone loudly shout my name--twice. I jerked awake, just in time to see what was happening, quickly grabbed the wheel and steered it away seconds from impact. I pulled to a stop, shocked and horrified at what had just happened, or was about to happen. After a few moments I pulled myself together, turned the radio on, to some loud, lively music. I popped a stick of gum into my mouth, as if the chewing action would help me concentrate. The rest of the way home I sang along with the radio, forcing myself to focus and be alert, and above all, stay awake. It was only the next day, after arriving safely home and having had a good night's sleep, that I remembered that loud voice in the car that woke me up.
It had come from my own throat.
Talk about uncanny. The person who shouted my name so loudly that it woke me up--was me. Think about it. You're in a car, alone on a highway, not another human being around for miles and miles, and you're falling asleep at the wheel, driving headlong into a rocky mountainside. If you're going to be saved at all, someone, or something, has to get your attention. Someone has to warn you but the only person there is you. If you could somehow alert yourself sufficiently forcefully enough to wake yourself up, you might stand a chance. And that's exactly what happened. Except it wasn't one of those mysterious "little voices" in one's head which are really more like nagging little suggestive thoughts--this was actually vocal, and LOUD, and it called me by name, and it came from my own throat.
I puzzled about this for a long time afterward. It was God, some might say. God saved you. Or, "It was your guardian angel." Or was it maybe some part of myself observing what was happening and making the decision to alert the part of me that was slowly becoming unconscious? How to reach 'me', though? By using the only thing available--my very own vocal chords.
Whoever, or whatever it was, I thank them. Or if it was truly just me, this tells me there is more to life and consciousness and being than I have ever imagined or may ever understand. I suspect this happens often, these odd experiences, however we choose to explain them, label them.
I'm re-reading Kurt Vonnegut slouching through the slaughterhouse with Billy Pilgrim, "Earthlings are the great explainers," he writes, "explaining why this event is structured as it is ... All time is all time. It does not change. It does not lend itself to warnings or explanations. It simply is. Take it moment by moment, and you will find that we are all, as I've said before, bugs in amber."
When I consider certain world events--or even certain inexplicably heart-rending personal events (something happens and you can see the direction it's going and you can't do a thing about it, you can't "save" a loved one, for example, or keep them from suffering, etc.)--you're tempted to think, with 'ol Kurt here, that we're truly only, in the end, just a bunch of bugs in amber. Like a ladybug stuck in tar, wings flapping and flapping, to no avail. Yes, we have that. Some manage to get "out". Many don't. Who or what decides which ones get more time? And why?
It doesn't do one good to dwell too long on such questions. Because we'll likely come to the end of life without having ever found an answer. And yet ...
What a journey life is. The good, the bad, the ugly, the exquisite, the unbearable ... and the absurdly mystifying. (Not to mention the weirdly ironic or downright comical)
I kind of don't care if I ever know. I wouldn't have said that years earlier, when "knowing" was a kind of obsession. It no longer seems important. I'm just glad I got another chance.