01 March 2010


A small place, where I work–a specialty design agency and print shop. A dozen of us employed here all together. The principal's office sits right up at the front of the building. This morning my supervisor comes tearing out of this room screaming, "Call an ambulance! Quick!" My first thought: The big boss has had a heart attack. Then I see my supervisor spin on her heel and head out the front door. My second: Here we go again.

A heavily traveled state highway runs along the east side of our workplace and crosses the Mississinewa River a stone's throw north of us. Our building sits on the river's south bank. In cold wet weather, our front yard is often the landing site for airborne vehicles that hit the icy bridge and launch out over the steep embankment.

In my 10 years tenure, we've seen one fatality, a few motorists left with cuts and bruises, assorted vehicles in various states of disrepair and a fair number of drive-offs where the only signs of an accident are tire tracks in the front yard.

"Here we go again," I think to myself, as I rush outside. "I hope no one's hurt." A white van steams on the front lawn while two of my coworkers help a thin gray-haired man with a gorgeous full gray beard climb out of the vehicle. The van's windshield is gone, its back windows are smashed in; pieces of bumper and our neighbor's sheered-off mailbox dot the embankment. The driver stares about blankly. He can talk. He can walk. I am thankful.

Later my supervisor recounts her story. She was in with the boss, telling him that while money is tight for small businesses like ours, it's not the end of the world. "Bryn reminded me the other day about the Y2K scare, how people thought the world was going to end 10 years ago," she said. "The world's not going to end this year. Maybe in 2040 or 4020, but not this year."

No sooner were these words out of her mouth than it looked as if the world were indeed ending. She saw a white van skittering down the embankment, ploughing up turf, scattering car parts, heading directly for the her. The vehicle stopped short of slamming into the building.

The driver was delivering hot meals to elderly and home-bound clients. I imagine several people went hungry today or had to make alternate dinner plans.

Here at work a baker's dozen of us were served up a heart-stopping reminder of how quickly, how very quickly events can spin out of control. Our forward momentum can turn on a dime; our world can come to an end.

Perhaps the wonder of it is how often this does not happen, how many people even today crossed the Mississinewa without incident. Call it what you will–grace or chance or providence or love or business as usual–it manifests every day in myriad ways unseen, unnoticed.

The challenge lies in the getting through, in crossing bridges (or not) as we come to them. Coming out, going in, starting over, dying–life is full of transitions. Those in-between times–when we're airborne, when we have no firm footing, when everything crashes in around us–those are the challenging times. The liminal moments when anything can happen. Perhaps the wonder is that we get through them at all. Yet we do.

Even when we don't, we do. My husband works in hospice. Death is not the most scary thing that can happen to a person, he says. People in the dying process often say they are not so much afraid of death as of the getting from here to there, the in-between, the process.

Let's practice now, I say. I bet life will soon enough offer you and me both a chance to experience transition, to hang in mid-air, to face the feelings and reactions this brings up for us. I wish you soft landings. Always. I'll look for your tire tracks in the yard.

This essay appeared in the March issue of The Letter.