Anecdotally Speaking

The superfluous, a very necessary thing. --voltaire

Saturday, December 23, 2006


Living Life On Life's Own Terms

I was driving home one day when I spied black smoke crawling into the cold sky near where I live. It was a thick, heavy, dark smoke with an ominous and dangerous look to it. It curled in a way that looked as if the fire had just started. I was not very far away, so I turned down a nearby gravel road and went to investigate.

As I drew closer, the smoke became thicker, blacker, angrier, until I drove over a rise and could see that that the smoke emanated from a conflagration that completely engulfed an automobile angled into the ditch.

I pulled over and got out to see if I could help. We were on an isolated gravel road at the crest of a rise. Two vehicles traveling down the middle of the road toward each other apparently had collided head-on at the crest. One of those vehicles was now being completely consumed by flames in the ditch.

I was one of the first to arrive at the scene of the accident. There was a lone driver in the second vehicle, the one not burning. As I moved closer I saw a tall thin young girl, a high school student, standing alone, watching the burning wreck. She was in obvious distress. I went to help.

She had numerous small little cuts on her face, the kind that safety glass from broken automobile windshields make. I realize she must have been in the vehicle. She was crying loudly, nearly hysterical. It was difficult to tell what was wrong with her. I ask her if she is all right. She pointed at the inferno and wailed, "My sister is still in the car!"

Her voice was a mixture of anguish and pleading, disbelief and pain. I peered closely at the burning car for the first time and the fleeting idea of rescue flashed in my mind. My only thought however was, "If her sister is indeed in that car, then she is indeed lost." I have never seen an automobile so utterly devastated.

I did the only thing I could. I wrapped my arms around the tall thin young girl standing alone on the deserted gravel road, lost in the anguish of a witnessed horror almost too terrible to describe. Little comfort, I am afraid, when comfort is hardly enough.

Later, I assisted the volunteer firefighters in extracting the burnt remains of the young girl's sister from the wreckage. The collision had jammed the engine block backwards against her foot. We had a difficult time getting it free. Apparently, so did she. She succumbed to the heat of the flames, stretched out through the open door of her car, held back by her trapped foot. Her sister had to watch her burn to death, utterly and completely helpless, powerless to do anything to help her.

To live life on life's own terms is to somehow find a way to face and bear the devastating consequences loss and grief impose on us. That young girl went on to graduate High School, then Nursing School, and now works as a nurse and is raising her own family. We do not see each other much anymore and we do not talk about that day.

Grief and loss is a part of life, yes, but what I have never been able to understand or figure out, in a way that make sense to me, is how to live life with devastating loss waiting to pounce upon you at any moment, at any time, when you least expect it. You cannot live life as if tragedy is about to strike at any moment. Yet you also cannot live life as if there will never be any tragedy.

I guess what I would like to do as I struggle to live life on life's own terms, is to live in the moment enjoying the blessings of life without dragging along unnecessary baggage of dread to contaminate my joy. To quell the famous "Yea, but" response to, "Isn't this great?

We end up living life as if bad things are not going to happen, even though we know they will. It is because we do not know what bad thing is going to happen and when it will happen. It just seems twisted and hypocritical. It seems wrong.

I guess what I really want is heaven. Living life on life's own terms, for me, is putting in time, waiting for heaven.

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