Sunday, September 15, 2013

Heading Home on the Northern

Last weekend Larry and I were leaving a friend's on Long Island, heading back to Brooklyn.  We were running a bit late and Larry needed to get to work. We were reluctant to leave. I'd just had a great swim and Larry was tossing a ball with the dog.  We were having a good chat with new friends. And the day was a kind of marker - the Sunday of Labor Day weekend.  The end of summer.  That feeling one gets every year.  Time has passed.  A moment for carefree days and cicada-filled nights, sipping rose and grilling fish with good friends was almost done. But we had to push on.

It was a clear, warm day.  A slight breeze.  The kind it would be nice to go sailing on, but that wasn't to be. Finally it was time.  Except we couldn't get the dog into the car.  That took a minute or two.  Then I realized I'd taken my friend's charger so I had to run back into the house and return it.  Then on the way out of town we had some trash in the car and we stopped at a garbage can. 

Tiny delays.  Minor interruptions.  Perhaps slowing us down by four or five minutes.  Things that in the normal course of a life mean nothing.

At last we were on the road.  South County to Station Road.  Station to Horseblock, then on to the L.I.E.  Our goal was the Northern.  That's the way we always drove home.   We were zipping along, making great time.  Then we pulled on to the Northern.

We hadn't driven a hundred feet when we knew something was wrong.  It wasn't just that we saw the brake lights of cars ahead of us.  It was that traffic was actually coming towards us.

Then we saw it.  Not five hundred yards ahead.  A tree had fallen across the highway on a clear summer's day.  All the lanes blocked.  And all the cars heading back to the city were turning around and driving right at us.

We couldn't tell if the tree had struck anyone.  If it had fallen because someone struck it or if anyone was injured.  The first responders hadn't even gotten there yet. 

"I'm turning around," Larry said as we made our way onto the off ramp, again against traffic.  It was a rather remarkable moment of human cooperation.  Dozens and dozens of cars, turning.

We last were off but we needed a detour.  The LIE was packed so I said to Larry, "I think I can get us back on to the Northern past the accident.  As we drove, emergency vehicles passed us.  Fire, rescue, ambulances.  Our hearts began to sink.  Was anyone hit?  Did they drive into the tree?  we had no way of knowing.  We just continued on.

We took a long detour but at last we were on a ramp that took us back on to the Northern ahead of the accident.  But, and this was the eerie thing, we were the only car on that road.  The tree had blocked the Northern and no one else had taken the detour. 

We drove along on that ghost rode in silence, realizing that those tiny delays, the things that don't matter in the course of a life, that are easily forgotten, may have made the difference between a horrific accident and the fact that we were sailing down a vacant road into New York City.

I recalled that Sufi tale.  The appointment at Samara.  About the servant who runs into Death at the market place in Baghdad and races home, begging his master for a horse to escape and ride to Samara.  His master didn't hesitate.  But later that day the master also ran into Death at the market place and he asked Death why he had startled his servant that morning.  And Death replied that he didn't mean to startle the servant.  He was just surprised to see him here in Baghdad because he had an appointment with him tomorrow in Samara.

So it wasn't our time.  Not our appointment and we hope no one else's with Death.  Still.  A ghost highway, a silent ride home.  Those tiny delays.  Just dumb luck or fate.  We got away and we made into Brooklyn faster than we ever had before. 


1 comment:

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