Death on the Freeway ~ BitterSweetLife

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Death on the Freeway

Late night road

On the drive home this morning, I passed a massive tow truck that was conveying the remains of a Chevy pickup north down I-35. Clearly the leftovers from an accident, the truck was reduced to debris. It was smashed into so many pieces that it was strapped to the tow truck with dozens of canvas belts and nylon ropes.

As I cruised by the front end, I couldn’t help but turn and stare. With the weirdly foreshortened length of the truck behind it, the ruined cab resembled nothing so much as a huge grey bullfrog with its head smashed in. The windshield was a foaming wave of fragments, frozen in space. The driver of this vehicle must have died instantly.

Only ten minutes later, I slammed on the brakes as traffic slowed suddenly. Three lanes were sluggishly funneling down to one, but I couldn’t tell why until I’d driven another couple hundred feet.

Then I found myself rolling by the residue of another accident. Two fire trucks formed an enclosed V on the highway, the third wall formed by the median, into which a white SUV had apparently crashed at high speed. The front end of the car looked like a cracked egg shell or a deeply fractured skull.

A police car was on the scene as well, and at first I thought the officer was carrying a small, flat-bladed shovel, the type of tool you use for scraping mud or pulp off a smooth surface. As I drew level with him, I was relieved to see that it was merely a piece of fender. No passenger was on the scene—the ambulance, apparently, had already left.

I couldn’t help thinking about how one moment you’re driving down the highway, music blaring, and the next your life is snuffed out.

Last winter, Lindsay and I were driving south down the same highway on an icy morning. Apparently we should have been preceding more cautiously: our car swerved abruptly, then spun 360 degrees across three lanes, coming to a standstill on the opposite shoulder, just shy of the concrete median—pointing, once again, in a southerly direction. We could have died so easily—and the engine didn’t even stop running.

Today, I couldn’t help remembering the hushed aftermath of that morning. You forget these things for months, even years, only to realize they are never really forgotten.

Today, if I was a materialist I guess I would look at these morbid snapshots, the paper mache metal, and conclude, That’s horrible; I’m glad it wasn’t me; the key is to drive defensively.

But, not being a materialist, I have to think about how no one really knows his time, and how death, to God, must form the tie-offs of thousands of intricate threads that he has been weaving together from before there were minutes or roads. Death is never more than a motorcade away.

As the theologian Tertullian wrote:

God is everywhere, and the goodness of God is everywhere…death is everywhere, and the sense of death is everywhere, and all the world over is found the witness of the soul.

Death is God’s handyman. Time is not what we think. And we are left with mere instants in which to know God or to, irrevocably, not.

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Dustin said...


What a fantastic, yet concretely serious, post. I have come to contemplate death recently. Not in any morbid way, but rather to examine how short life truly is and how much time we truly waste pursuing things of no matter to eternity. There truly is no guarantee of tomorrow, let alone our next minute. This should spur all of us on to greater quests for God, and steer us away from that which is worthless in the eternal eyes of God.

Andy said...

Four years ago, a Nissan Maxima sped by me, lost control, slammed into the car that was two cars in front of me, and both cars sped into the side of the highway, rolling over at least 5 times each.

Had I been travelling a few MPH faster, it could have been me.

God has given us a finite amount of time here - each of us has a role to play in His plan. For some, it's akin to a starring role...for others, we're just bit players, extras, if you will. The question is how big a part do we play and for how long do we get to play that role?

Andrew Simone said...

Pause, these things give a man pause.

Pedro said...

That picture looks amazingly close to a picture I took Wednesday night. Hmmmm...


Culture. Photos. Life's nagging questions. - BitterSweetLife