The Things We Can't Control
My husband and I have a fundamental disagreement about the little gas icon that pops up on the dashboard when you are running low on gas. He sees it as a recommendation to get to a gas station and fill up – at some point, in the near future – but only when it is convenient. I see it as a flashing, migraine-causing light – an urgent request, a fire to be quenched. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, like is so often the case.
On Friday afternoon I happened to be driving when I noticed that my gas gauge was near to empty. "I am going to stop at the gas station," I announced, "before the little light comes on."
"You have plenty left," my husband retorted, "we could drive another hundred kilometres, at least."
"That's nonsense," I said, "and I am driving. So it's my decision." The traffic had become unusually swollen and angry. We were in walking distance from the shopping mall, but coming up, just a few minutes down the road, before the mall, was a tiny little gas station. Naturally, my husband pulled a face, when I turned into the driveway, but he was too busy on a sudden business call to present his usual counter arguments. The kids groaned. They understood how near we were to our destination. But I didn't waiver, and didn't hesitate. "Maybe this way the traffic will subside a bit . . . " I muttered to no one in particular.
It was only once the car was juicing up that we really looked around us. This was not regular traffic. There was an ambulance. There were police officers. There were passersby frozen in large groups, watching as medics worked close to the ground on an injured pedestrian. "What's going on?" I asked the gas attendant.
"Someone got hit by a car as he was crossing the road. I never saw, but I heard. It was a really loud boom," the young man said.
"That's really terrible," I said. "I hope he will be OK."
"Me too," said the attendant. "I will pray for him. But with that boom, honestly, I don't think he will make it." I felt winded for a second, short of breath, anxious. It isn't possible that this is how someone's life ends. I refuse to believe it. One cannot measure mortality based on the sound of impact. That can't be a thing. There must always be room for hope.
I got back in the car. "We need to get out of here," I said as I climbed into the driver's seat. My husband gave me the universal look for 'no kidding,' which is close to 'I told you so,' but with a bit less gloating. "What's going on?" asked one of the kids.
"It seems that someone was knocked over by a car as he was crossing the road," I answered.
"That little grey car?" asked the seven-year-old.
"Yes," I said.
"Lucky," he said.
"Why?" I asked.
"A bigger car would have hurt way worse." A bigger car, a bigger boom.
"Will he be OK?" asked the thirteen-year-old.
"I certainly hope so," I answered, "he definitely has a lot of people helping him."
"That's why, it is super important to ALWAYS be careful," said my husband, "you ALWAYS need to stop and look before you cross the road."
"Agreed," I said, "and not just you – not just children, adults too."
Now, I don't relish trips to the shopping mall. I avoid them as much as possible. But, it was a relief to be in a place teeming with movement and sound. I am sure that if one had to compare the noise in a shopping mall to the boom of a small, grey car, the mall would out-blast the car by far. That was a comforting thought. But, I was unable to get the injured pedestrian out of my mind. I checked for bulletins from a local online newspaper. Sure enough, there it was:
Twenty-seven-year-old male pedestrian hit by a car. Medics on scene.
Three shops and a cappuccino later, we were in the heart of a huge department store. "What do you think?" asked my thirteen-year-old, as he tried on a third pair of jeans.
"They look good," I said, "are they comfortable?"
"Yes," he answered.
"It's crazy," said my super-sensitive son.
"What's crazy?" I asked.
"That I am trying on jeans, and that other guy is lying on the floor injured," he answered.
"That's life," I said, "we need to be extra careful, but sometimes there are things that are beyond our control. It's unfair, but sometimes bad things happen." It got me thinking: the gas gauge is a metaphor really. As the driver of the car, it is my responsibility to ensure that the car doesn't run out of gas. That is something that I can control. That is something that I can monitor and preempt. What I can't control is what's in my environment – other cars, other drivers, weather conditions . . . As long as it is up to me, I will continue to do my utmost to ensure that the car never runs out of gas, and to hope for the best that everything else will work out.
Our shopping and my thoughts were interrupted by a blaring noise.
Good afternoon shoppers, the tills will be closing momentarily. Thanks for shopping with us. We hope to see you back soon.
And just like that, without prior warning, with the grating, noisy, metallic sounds of industrial-grade blinds unrolling, and massive glass doors sliding, our shopping was suddenly snuffed. We hurried to the remaining exit, the last shoppers to leave. With a final boom, the shop was sealed. "Let's go home," I said. "It's enough for today." I grabbed my cell phone to check the time. The online newspaper refreshed on impact:
Twenty-seven-year-old male pedestrian hit by a car, declared dead by medics on scene.
"Can we come back another day, and get the jeans," said my son.
"Yes we can . . . " I answered in a small voice, " . . . another day."