Life or death in midair


All I want to know is if they survived. Well, I suppose it’s more than that. I want to know why they were driving so fast at 4:30 on a Saturday, where they were coming from and where they were going, what their relationship was like, what they last said to each other before it happened.


I was driving home from a friend’s wedding, full of joy and gratefulness, looking forward to time with my family. As a speeding convertible approached close behind me, I got into the right line to let it pass. As it did, I noticed two men, a driver and a passenger, messing around. One reached over to touch the other’s head, and I could tell the driver was distracted. And he was going too fast.


It was as if time stood still and sped up all at once. The convertible veered into the right lane and hit the car directly in front of me. And I almost can’t fathom what happened next. Whether it was from the impact, or from overcorrecting their course, or what, I don’t know, but the next thing I knew, the convertible was midair, upside down, in front of me. I gripped my steering wheel and prayed desperately as glass rained down on my windshield. It felt like a series of miracles all at once. Without even looking to my left, I immediately got into the short merge lane from the express to local lanes. Miraculously, I was at that moment in the perfect stretch of road where the merge lane happened to be. Miraculously, there wasn’t a car coming—if there had been, I most likely would have gotten into an accident, too. Miraculously (in some sense), the convertible landed, upside down, fully in the shoulder, obstructing no other traffic. Miraculously, no other cars were involved. I watched in my rearview mirror as the car that was hit moved to the shoulder. It seemed it had suffered very little damage.


I kept gripping the wheel and praying my desperate prayers. Lord have mercy. I drove, ever so slowly and carefully, the few minutes home, in utter shock at what I’d just seen. I spilled the story to my mom, awaiting me at home with a comforting embrace. We scoured the news and traffic reports, but could find no details.


I just want to know if they survived. Do people survive landing upside down in a convertible with the top down? If so, will this alter the course of their lives forever? Will they rue that day, that moment, where everything would have been different if only they hadn’t been careless? Will they even be able to remember it? It pains me to ponder.


And, of course, it’s made me think. I’ve been thinking about how fragile life is. About how I feel utterly invincible, and what a mistake that notion is. About how my own distracted driving endangers the lives of those around me, and my own. I’ve often taken pride in my assimilation to the way of life on Philly roads, but I’m all the more cautious now. That text can wait. The urge to speed isn’t worth it. There are people, anonymous to me, but with loves and sorrows and stories, in each of those hunks of metal moving around me, getting in my way, taking up room. People whose lives are irreplaceable.


I won’t soon forget what I saw that Saturday afternoon. The memory will lessen, I know, but the lessons won’t. I’ll be more careful and courteous and alert. I’ll remind myself that my fellow drivers are people, too, people I’d likely smile at if passing on a sidewalk, or strike up a conversation with at a coffee shop or in a grocery store aisle. I’ll remember that I’m not invincible, that my choices matter. And I’ll remind myself, again and again, that life is wholly precious.


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