Thursday morning driving home from Mysore practice, feeling content, breezy, easy and light. Driving along the light turns green before me, I follow behind the traffic and then boom, boom! I struck a human being with the car. He came out of no where, running into the street wildly as if trying to kill himself. My windshield crashes into the car, glass shards stab my face, legs, arms, and fall into my mouth. My teeth clenching glass, then my jaw falls. Mouth wide open screams bellow from inside my soul. I exit my car, stare at the man on the road, not moving, bleeding from his head. What did I do?! Shock and adrenaline takes over, I am out of my body, the scene is too much to take in as tears stream down my face and my world shatters.
For the past few days the images, sounds, and smells of the day haunt my very existence. I space out at moments and jolt back into the world when someone calls my name. How can I go back to my life before? How do you move on from striking a human being with your car? It doesn’t matter that it isn’t my fault and that he was caught stealing, running away from authority; it still does not change the truth.
I saw the Dalai Lama today in Kentucky and he said our sensory experience, even in the most harmful and painful situations, must be left on the surface level of sensory experience and to not allow it to go deeper into the emotional mental state and upset the flow of contentment. Creating compassion for all sentient beings. That no one seeks suffering. Suffering which is caused by ignorance. Rising above all forms of ignorance is possible because knowledge is attainable. I meditate on these words at this moment.
Below though are the exquisite, poetic words from one of the witnesses of the day, Michele. She was a saint who offered me compassion, affection, and love within such a critical moment in my life. Her words describe the event better than I can at the moment.
What I Didn’t Tell the Officer
May 16, 2013, 7:52am
A pool of goopy blood crowned him like a halo, his head awkwardly pressed face-down against the pavement. I got down on my knees beside him, held his elbow, and told him there were people coming to help him. His long eyelashes fluttered, but I could only see the whites of his eyes.
His back lifted slightly and swiftly up and down from the street and I said, “He’s breathing, he’s breathing,” loudly, to no one.
Another man knelt down beside me and carefully cupped the injured man’s forehead and started talking to him like he was his brother. “Don’t move! I know it hurts, man, but you’re better off not moving. Don’t wanna make things worse. You’ll be alright. Help is coming. We’re here. Pleeease don’t move.” I felt a wave of silent peace wash over me. He will comfort.
I stood up and slowly turned around my own axis, taking in 360 degrees of the Georgia and New Hampshire Ave intersection through a thick glass of tears and confusion. What an expansive and wild place. It wasn’t flowing anymore, it was teeming. Hundreds of cars everywhere, now backed up, pedestrians standing in groups watching and adjusting to get a better view of the scene. Then the metro stop, buses. There were a thousand other lives moving through the world, in this place, at this time. With me and the man in the middle.
I looked at the windshield, which was now the biggest frost star of interconnected glass shards you’ve ever seen. Ominous and intricate.
My eye caught one of the man’s sneakers stuck under the bumper of another car many yards away. When the man took flight in a majestic and powerful side-bounce off the windshield, his shoes had snapped off and sailed through the air in a triumphant arc.
This image of sublime and elegant design delivered in such an impartial manner, was for me a backstage peek at the real, untamable, and terrifying face of life. We are all, always, almost dead. But who can live that way?
The helping man was now talking with the young woman – my age – who had been driving the car. She was sitting on the curb, sobbing and disoriented. And he was crouched down in front of her, holding her face, looking her straight in the eye. “You need to know that this is not your fault.”
I really hope she remembers.
The “blood saint” had sprinted at high speed and unexpectedly into oncoming traffic. Why? What had the early morning brought him to open up this reckless move?
When the police, ambulance, and fire trucks came, the timeless quality of the moment stopped and an incredible process took over. A well-oiled human machine of police officers and first responders directed traffic, secured eye-witness accounts, cut off the injured man’s clothes, moved him onto the stretcher, and mopped up the blood. Strong and empathic officers were talking to the driver now, helping her think through whether she was hurt. One step at a time, they called her work, called her friend, encouraged her to go to the hospital, just to be safe.
I continue my bike commute. Cars honk at me and get impatient. This is nothing new, but I am different. Don’t they know they are steering killing machines? It seems to me that sober reverence is the only appropriate disposition with which to take on the overwhelming responsibility of being a driver. Or of being a pedestrian. Or a human in the world, just in general.
May I not forget. Everything is fragile, vulnerable, and already changing. But there is also a mysterious grace, and helpers who skillfully hold the pain. May I honor our fragility and our collective resilience and not take it for granted.