Every once in a while, something ridiculous happens that shocks you into remembering a classic truth that gets ignored until … well, something happens. Just a little less than 2.5 hours ago, a young man, or I assume he was young, made an insane decision that almost cost him his life. In the Oxon Hill area, a suburb or Washington, DC, is a highway. Indian Head Highway. Coming off the Beltway (I-95, 495, 295 meet near here), one bears left to get onto Indian Head, which is two lanes wide until you pass through the traffic light. Then it becomes a 5 lane HIGHWAY, where everyone is doing 70 mph. It eventually merges down to 4 lanes, then 3 much after a couple of miles. After passing through the traffic light, I settled into the 3rd lane doing about 60 mph and had the scare of my life. The car to my left and slightly in front of me swerved to miss a young man who hurtled the jersey wall from the other side of the highway and ran into the street. He missed him from behind. I missed him from the front by swerving slightly to the right as he did a leap to avoid the first car. I saw the cars behind me slam on brakes and avoid hitting him as he dashed across the rest of the road to the apartment buildings next to the road. The name of Jesus left my mouth, and I called Him several more times as I pulled over to the right shoulder and tried to calm down.
The classic reminder or cliche? You don’t know how long you have to live. This foolish young person had decided to take his life in his hands to get away from something that apparently was potentially worse than getting hit by four or more cars. I know that there is a mini-strip mall near the area that he was running from, so I wonder that he hadn’t run from the police or an angry store owner. Later, my son wondered that he had not run from a gang or someone looking to harm him. Still; that was worth taking a chance running across a highway? He took a chance because he assumed, as so many young people do, that he was indestructible! Perhaps it never occurred to him that he might not make it; he assumed he would make it. His only concern was to get away from whatever it was that was chasing him. The idea that he might die apparently had not occurred to him.
Suppose we had hit him? If the car at the jersey wall had hit him first, he was going to bounce forward, and I would have hit him. The third car might have missed him because it was a few car lengths behind us. The outcome is almost a given – he would have been dead. Not only would his life had been lost, but ours and anyone else who had seen the accident would have been forever scarred. But he took that chance. It didn’t matter what the consequences were; he had made a decision to sprint to “safety” by doing something so unsafe that it was unreal.
My husband and one of our congregants have a saying that they share – “Here today – Gone today”. The woman who coined the phrase came up with it as her friends, all elderly people, began dying in large numbers. At the same time that she was losing older friends and family members, she had to bury a grandchild from street violence. “Here today – gone today” carries even greater shock when a young person is involved. We question the loss of a life so shortly lived. We know that anyone can die at any age. Our family buried a child that lived only 17 hours. But still, the shock of a young person dying bothers and saddens us all. We look for reasons that will lighten the blow. The person was “in the wrong place at the wrong time”, or they were a victim of mistaken identity, or a frightening disease cuts their life off too soon. But we do not realize that not a one of us has any idea when we will die. I don’t know if today is my last day, or if I will finish typing this post. Anything from plaque in my arteries that I am unaware of or termites eating a hole into the floor below me to a meteorite hitting the house could take me out. But whatever it is, it will not happen to me before it is my time.
That crazy young man lived to see another moment because it was not his time. That does not take the shock out of it for me. I pulled over to thank God that he was not killed. I thanked Him that I did not have to see that, though I may still have disturbing dreams. Then I prayed for the life of someone who has no regard for his own life, for the lives of other people who would have been harmed by his actions, and for whatever it was that caused him to take his life into his own hands.
He got away. That will probably make him even more fearless, and he will try something else that might be his last move. I do not know. But he has made an indelible impression on me and reminded me of every cliche that rings true. “Tomorrow is not promised”. “You don’t know what the next minute will bring”. “Life is precious, enjoy it to the fullest”. “Life is too short to deal with bad people”. “Eat, drink and be merry”. “Here today, Gone today”.
I have so many things I want to do in my remaining years. I cannot continue to act as though I have days and weeks and years left. I do not. None of us do. What I have is this moment that is in front of me right now. That is it. I will plan for tomorrow, and next month and next year, but with a clear understanding that I may not be here. If I want to do it, NOW is the TIME to make it happen. Not tomorrow. There may not be a tomorrow. The consultancy must begin NOW. The postponed vacations need to be taken NOW. The golf courses need to be played NOW. The portraits need to be painted NOW. My life needs to be lived now…