Saturday, March 5, 2011

Death and Traffic

This morning, after the usual hurly burly of prepping kids to truck off to their respective Saturday activities, the big guy and I rolled the Prius onto the exit ramp leading onto the Beltway.  We were, as always, late, and as that Road of Despair rose into view, it was clear that things were not well.

The ramp and long access lane were clear, but the Beltway itself was locked up solid, a metal mass of bumper to bumper carbon-positive crawling.  I was about to mutter something unpastorly under my breath when I noticed the emergency vehicles, two fire engines and two ambulances, just a half click ahead.  The road was blocked, but our approach to the entrance was clear, and there would be no traffic once we got on the highway.

Which would have been cause for celebration, were it not for the fact that it was clearly a bad, bad accident.  We moved carefully by.

There were two cars.   Once was a silver Honda Civic, with no apparent damage.  Perhaps the first person on the scene.  The second was a Nissan Sentra, late 90s vintage.   It appeared to have gone into the retaining wall head first, and at considerable speed.  Around the  driver's side of the Sentra was a cluster of EMTs and firefighters.  They were talking amongst themselves, and some were looking into the vehicle.  They did not seem hurried.

As we passed, I saw that slumped on the steering wheel of the Sentra was a older man.  He was not moving.

I wondered, for I only glanced for an instant, if my mind had created that image, molding the folds of an airbag and a seat into a feared and expected shape.

"What did you see," I said to my son, who had looked longer.

"I saw a man with his head resting on the wheel, Dad.  He wasn't moving."

"That's because he was dead," I said, because it was clearly so.

After that, we talked, as a father should to his child when they first see death.  We talked about the man, and whether he might have had a family, and whether it was better if he did or he didn't.  We talked about dying, and what it's like to watch someone die.  We talked about how important it is to remember those who have passed, how important it is for the living to both mourn and to celebrate the lives that are forever a part of both us and Creation. 

There are times it is both hard and good to be the dad.