SOMETHING HAPPENED

The photo above looks like a mess, doesn’t it? Like our life.

I’m sitting this Saturday afternoon, Massachusetts time, waiting to hear about a drone attack from Iran towards Israel that, according to Israeli newspapers, has already been launched. Each drone carries 20 kg. of explosives. It will take a number of hours for them to hit—what targets, what humans, is still not clear.

“Where the hell do I live?” my sister WhatsApped me.

The only answer I have is that we live on this one earth. Not just in a particular country or homeland, but on this lonely blue spinning ball. Right now, short of being a billionaire, death is the only way to get off this earth, and even billionaires can’t stay aloft in some expensive spaceship forever.

At times, the pitch of violence, killing, rage, and destruction feels like a force of nature and we human beings seem powerless to prevent or stop it. But this devastation, unlike earthquakes, is human-made; it can be human-unmade.

My mind is split between that picture, including the homes of my siblings and other family members, and something closer to home. As I’ve written previously, my housemate for several years is lying in my office-turned-bedroom downstairs, having suffered a severe car accident when a 38-year-old man crashed into her car head-on. He was drinking, driving, and smoking weed. He tried to circumvent the car in front of him, went across the double yellow line and crashed head-long into her as she drove in the other direction, leaving her with a smashed foot and ankle, 12 broken ribs, 2 fractured vertebrae, lots of pain, and questions about what will happen to her, will she walk or work again, will she be independent.

The police told her she was lucky to be alive, thanks to her seatbelt.

Two days ago, I heard that the man who caused the accident wasn’t that lucky, and died. He hadn’t come to in all this time. He hadn’t worn a seatbelt at the time of the crash.

When I heard this, it felt as though I myself had driven into a wall. I didn’t know this man at all, never met him though he lives in the next town.

For two days I couldn’t get it out of my head. He’s dead! Not just severely injured, not just with a suspended license and 5 felony charges served by police. Dead. He’s young enough that his parents in all probability are still living. I thought of their grief, and of that of other family members.

It was as if a window had opened, starting with that evening 4 weeks ago when I got a mumbled phone call telling me there was an accident, then visits to the hospital, then coming home, caregiving, re-organizing the house, steady stream of doctors, therapists, nurses. And all this time wondering: How is he doing? Two days ago, I found out.

I felt as if I had lived in a certain box where everything was familiar: family, friends, sangha, work associates. In theory, you know there are other boxes all the time: the cashier in the Food City store where I went to pick up coffee and we talked a little about her aunt fighting with her mother. The Comcast lady calling from somewhere in Asia inquiring about a TV box we’d received and why I was returning it.

The people you know all have their worlds, their connections and activities; you know those boxes somewhat, maybe you connect with them. But this was someone I didn’t know at all, only he crashed into my housemate’s car, disabled her, and killed himself.

I talked this over with my friend, Zen teacher, poet, and translator Peter Levitt. Peter pointed out that at times we’re thrust into a new, unfamiliar energy field. It’s not our usual field of connection or action, but something strange with people we don’t know, and still, in some way, we’re thrust there.

What to do? Is there something calling? Did a new lane open up on this road that I never planned for, and still don’t know anything about? When that happens, Peter said, sometimes you can’t do anything but go with it.

Last night I perused the local paper to see if there was an obituary notice, but there was nothing. Should I knock on the door of the house where he lived and tell whoever answers that I am very sorry about all this? That somehow, in some crazy way, I feel connected to this man, whom I only know of through a violent act and his death? That what looks like something haphazard, even mundane, affects me deeply?

Should I bring flowers? Will they want to meet me? Talk to me? Will I encounter feelings of guilt or anger because I’m the housemate of the woman he struck? The connection feels so intangible, and yet, there was an event. As Joseph Heller would put it, something happened.

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