It was late at night, so dark that it felt as if a curtain had descended all around us. I was in my car, again, after a long day of driving so many places. I really didn’t see the two people on their bikes driving behind my car.
As I backed out of the driveway, my son called, “Mommy!” and I heard a scream outside. I slammed on the brake.
“I didn’t see anyone!” I exclaimed. My heart pounding, blood in my ears, my breath shallow.
“I did,” he said, pointing at the screen on the dash that shows the reverse camera.
But I never look there; I look at my mirrors and out the window, none of which show people directly behind you, in the dark of the night, quiet and without anything to illuminate them.
Thankfully, they swerved in time and I stopped in time, and no one was hurt.
But it was damn close. So close that I could have hit a person on a bike and created what I can only imagine as an ultimate tragedy.
The car was silent. They pedaled on. My breathing returned to normal. I carefully backed out, looking again and again and again, and we drove slowly the mile to the synagogue for our final destination of the very long day.
Synagogue in the morning. Lunch at home. Meetup with a friend, followed by a pick-up at the dry cleaners and a car wash. Back home to get the kids and drive again to the Y for a workout. Back home to change into swimsuits and then on to the pool.
Finally, at night, two of the kids and I went to synagogue for the evening service. By the time it finished, night had fallen and we were tired.
The drive home was slow, and the kids seemed to bicker. I had wanted to take them out for dessert, but I was so tired of listening to the bickering, so I said, “We’re going straight home.” They didn’t hear me, so when we turned onto our street, my daughter asked in surprise why we weren’t headed for dessert.
I reiterated my resignation. She started to cry and whine. I couldn’t even raise my voice.
Once home, she got out to get ready for bed. My son changed into casual clothes for our last venture of the day, the third synagogue visit, for the late-night service heralding the oncoming fall High Holy Days.
It would be a late night. I was already so tired, but I’d never been to this service before and I wanted to see that special spirituality of this season, let it seep inside my heart.
We went for ice cream just the two of us and on the way home, focused on a silly intense conversation between us, I turned left instead of right. On our winding neighborhood streets, in the dark cloak of night, I realized my mistake and pulled into a driveway to turn around.
That’s when I didn’t see them.
I was so entrenched in my conversation with my son, so tired from such a long day, that my perceptibility was compromised. I wasn’t as sharply focused as we should be driving cars.
Thank goodness it turned out as it did.
But as I drove to the synagogue, I thought about the possibility that it could have gone another way. A terrible way. Completely out of my control when I should have been completely in control. And they were not wearing helmets on their darkened bikes in the night. We could all stand to pay closer attention, so much of the time.
I tell the kids all the time how remarkable it is that we move around this planet in little metal boxes weighing a couple of tons. How funny it is when you think about it from a bird’s-eye perspective.
And then I see so many people behind their steering wheels with a handheld device. Sometimes they’re in motion, the wheels revolving as they make their way down the road, eyes sort of ahead, but mostly on the little screen in their hand.
At our best, after three-plus decades of driving, we are not nearly as focused as we should be. I drive automatically, as I’ve been doing it for so long.
But last night, tired, emotionally spent, focused on the conversation with my son, the faint song on the radio, my destination, the places I’d been, the hour and a half workout that wore me down, how could I expect to be 100% focused on the task of driving?
We must realize the magnitude of that which we undertake.
Simply driving safely from point A to point B is a miracle every single time. But we don’t see it that way. We don’t even see it.
We just do it because that’s what we’ve always done, while our minds are on more important things.
And I think, what could really be more important?
Thank God those bikers were fine. I hadn’t realized I had a lethal weapon in my hands. But you can bet I do now.