Thursday, July 12, 2007

getting away for a while

I was driving down the hill from my parent's house the other night and passed a fresh cluster of police cars outside an old middle class house. Cops were in the street talking things over with someone, neighbors were still fixed at the edge of their driveways, gawking, filling eachother in.

I chose not to concern myself with those matters, to keep driving, accepting as we all do that things can't always go right. But as I drove along further, I found myself behind an ambulance, cautiously maneuvering itself down the windy road.

It was fully dark outside and the two rear windows illuminated the scene inside, a paramedic meticulously caring over a seemingly lucid but tired looking man of middle age. For a moment I felt the weight of that burden of death press upon me but again I shook it off.

I think sometimes about how much we tuck death and sickness away into the corners of our cities and lives, into hospital beds beneath institutional light, under manicured lawns and brass plaques. Despite the obvious issue of health, we keep the inevitable out of our consciousness. Therefore I was pretty surprised to witness the intimate interaction occurring inside the ambulance as I slowly descended the hill behind it.

I'm out in Moab, Utah now visiting my brother who guides rafting trips out here. I spent most of Monday on interstate 80 slicing through northern Nevada. That weight of death again burdened me along the drive as more than enough people gave me stern "drive safely's" and "be careful's," and on four separate occasions did I pass white crosses adorned with bright flowers and stamped with a name that rang like that of a childhood friend, hammered into the dirt between the guardrail and rumble strip.

Close to the Utah border I again found myself behind an ambulance. Its lights were flashing, but it moved slow. "Mobile Life Support" was painted on the side. I could imagine only the worst of what could be occurring in there. A close friend of mine recently became a paramedic and the human-ness of it is all to vivid now.

Suffice it to say, with all of the mortal reminders, I pulled over at the first sign of true drowsiness, slept lightly under that weight, tossing and turning on a lumpy motel bed.

It’s all desert out on that drive, all long stretches of thought, one chaining to the next. I made some decisions, questioned some others, and as I pressed forward along a now familiar highway, I did very little of the looking back as I have been guilty of as of late. My thoughts were plans and hopes more than what-if's or regrets. Who knows, I may have even spent some time in the moment.