Earlier this month, on a Thursday morning, Westley and I set out for preschool, as usual. As I approached the main intersection closest to our house, I was surprised to see bumper-to-bumper traffic stretching all the way up the hill. I was a bit taken aback. The road in question is a busy one, but never so crowded as to be at a standstill.
"We're gonna go a different way today, buddy."
But as I joined up with the nearby, less-popular route east, it was clear that others had had the same idea. My sneaky path around the congestion wasn't so sneaky after all.
Preschool is about a 12-minute drive from the house. That day, it took us 40 minutes to get there. I wanted to feel annoyed, but I couldn't shake the chilling certainty that something awful must have happened.
That evening, Rob learned that there had been a bicycle fatality at 3:00 AM. Several roads were closed, hence the traffic almost six hours later. My chest feels tight whenever I learn that someone has died, like my heart is the center of a giant rubber band ball—and this time was no exception. I couldn't stop thinking about the incident, though my information about it was almost entirely imagined.
"Who's out cycling at 3:00 AM?" Rob wondered.
"Someone who really loves it, I guess," I reflected.
Or maybe that person was out on bike at 3:00 AM because he didn't own a car, and was going to or coming home from work. In any case, riding a bicycle in the early morning dark was that person's reality, and I doubt that he expected to die.
I'm fascinated by our collective ignorance when it comes to death. Every one of us will die some day, and we have no way of knowing when that will be. When Westley was tiny, just a few days old, I used to look down at him in my arms and cry and cry—because this tiny baby would one day become a man who would grow old and die. But of course I don't know that for certain. There are illnesses, there are injuries. Accidents happen all the time, and sometimes they happen to people you love.
In these last few days of darkness before the Solstice, I catch myself thinking about death often. Everything seems very fragile, and I'm thankful to be part of it for now, awake and living. I feel a little extra burst of gladness when I see the kitty curled on the couch, motionless except for her side rising and falling. I feel ever so slightly more loving towards Westley when I check on him at night, snug his blankets around him, notice his gentle breathing.
Reflecting on death—especially the sudden, violent death of a stranger just blocks from my home—makes this time, right now, with its clutter and stress and arguments, seem somehow perfect. For now, we are safe, healthy, loved. There's something kind of beautiful about your four-year-old's runny nose when you realize that, twenty years from now, he might be out riding his bicycle at 3:00 AM.