Moment to Moment

September 27, 2016

We were about to brush our teeth and go to sleep, Ana and I. Kaia, my stepdaughter (Ana’s daughter), was out seeing a friend. Dog Ben: on his bed, already well done and down for the day.

Ana’s phone rang. I picked up.

It was Kaia, hysterical.

At approximately 11:16 p.m., on September 19, 2016, a tan Toyota Corolla, traveling west on Amity Street in Amherst, Massachusetts, entered the intersection with University Drive, and was struck on the drivers side front corner by a Toyota Camry approaching from the west and making a left turn onto University.

Heavy damage was sustained on both vehicles.

Neither Toyota would ever drive again.



Both drivers survived the collision intact, without sustaining evident serious injury.

Driver of the Corolla returned home from the hospital at roughly four in the morning; she was mighty shook up. So was her mother. Stepdad, too.

Life goes on.

The event reminded me, as I am so often reminded, of the exquisite fragility of existence. And especially, of how it hangs in every moment, suspended by a gossamer thread of unlikeliness.

I’ve written before about “the ordinary moment,” as Joan Didion refers to it in her memoir, A Year of Magical Thinking, describing the instant her husband suddenly keeled over and left this world.

I remember the first time I told Ana, out loud, that I loved her. We were on the phone. “I love you more than I’ve ever loved anyone,” I said. I hadn’t planned to say it, hadn’t even thought it — not in so many words — but the instant I heard the words fly out of my mouth, into the phone, and out into space, I realized that they were absolutely true.

When I was a kid, maybe thirteen, I played the solo alto recorder in a concerto by Telemann in E minor for recorder, flute, and orchestra. It was the first time I had ever played a concerto, with a real live orchestra, in public, in my life. (It was also the only time I ever did this.) I remember the half-second as the conductor, Eddie Finckel (father of David Finckel the cellist) raised his baton in the silent air to signal the first downbeat — and an instant later, the sound of my recorder in front of that first majestic full-orchestra e minor chord.

I remember the moment my big brother Adrian told me on the phone, exactly ten years ago, that our father was gone.

These moments seem different from all the others. Exceptional. That they uniquely divide the fabric of existence into a distinct and immutable before and after, like the distinction of caterpillar and butterfly, in a way that all the other more mundane moments do not.

But is that really so?

It seems to me that all moments are like that. They’re all like that first E minor chord, that hushed “I love you,” that deafening 11:16 p.m. crash. Every moment of every day, our lives hang suspended by that shimmering silver strand of impossibility.

“In a flash,” said Paul of Tarsus, “in the twinkling of an eye, we will all be changed.” Indeed — and it happens over and over again, almost always in moments that just a breath ago seemed perfectly ordinary.

That’s what Kaia’s 11:16 p.m. car crash reminded me: that every moment is massively pregnant, tremblingly overflowing with possibilities, life and death, destruction and creation, crisis and resurrection.

It’s enough to make you hold your breath — and then breathe again, deeply.

Photo: Kaia’s Toyota Corolla (seen here the morning after, in the tow yard) did a superb job of crumpling in all the right places and absorbing the impact so she didn’t have to.



  1. Cyndy-Andree Thrush

    So glad your all safe
    Time rushes by many times without the time to say a final good-bye. That hurts the very fiber of many left behind… Every moment does matter … we’re all in a play in this existence waiting for a new chapter or a final curtain call ????

    • John David Mann

      Thanks, Cyndy — Shakespeare (disguising himself as Prospero) said it well! “We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.” But O what magnificent dreams!

  2. Beverly Bellmore

    You have no idea how glad I am that Kaia survived in relatively good shape. That must have been hard for you both, but especially for Ana because of her brother dying in a car crash. I prefer to believe that God had his angels looking after Kaia in this case. But that’s just me. I pray this won’t have lasting emotional scars for any of you.
    PS I am having my kids read this too. It’s a good reminder of all of it, fragility, chance and good engineering!

    • John David Mann

      I”m with you on the angels. (Also the good engineering! All part of the plan.)

  3. Carol Montgomery

    So glad Kaia is safe. I remember Ana and the tree, the truck and a deer(?) on the way to the airport. And she made the flight. Enough already.

    • John David Mann

      Hi Carol — so great to see you here! You are so right: enough already!

      Everyone else: the event Carol’s talking about is this one right here: Ana’s ferocious car crash in 2010. Not to be confused with this one right here: my own collision, not with a car, but with the concrete tarmac at my local filling station, which landed me in the hospital (albeit briefly). Blessed fragility indeed!

  4. Bob Burg

    Sending thanks to G-d (and the angels mentioned by Beverly) for watching over Sweet Kaia and the other driver, and keeping everyone safe!

    • John David Mann

      Thanks, good sir! I wonder if all these wonderful thoughts and well-wishes helped to act retroactively, slip through the threads of time, and help weave a positive outcome at the moment of impact? Hmm. Possibly a spiritual/science fiction parable …

  5. Connie Morin

    My heart goes out to you and Ana, as well as to Kaia, sent on a prayer of comfort and support. Your piece is delicately beautiful, yet somehow heart wrenching. You are right. Each moment is precious and passes by so quickly. We never know which ones will stand out or impact us deeply. Kaia, I believe, must have a guardian angel. Stay safe.

    • John David Mann

      Thanks, Connie! Always amazing to see you here — time travel!

  6. Donna M DeGutis

    So glad all were safe. It is interesting how accidents sometimes force us into reflection and thankfulness. So glad you and Ana were close by.

    • John David Mann

      Same here! The whole thing happened about five minutes from our home — we were there practically before the last tinkling note of the broken-glass chorus sounded. Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration. But we were there fast. Both the Amherst police and the FD guys were stellar in every way. Tremendous gratitude for all who serve as first responders.

  7. Valerie Bates Yarnell

    Thank you John for expressing this truth so beautifully. It touched my soul.

    • John David Mann

      Oh thank you, Valerie! Wonderful to see you here in these pages — warm regards your way!

  8. Laura Steward

    So glad that all turned out OK. The moment could have gone in so many different ways as you so beautifully said. Life is precious and it is in the fleeting moments that life happens. Your post reminds me of the scene in Star Trek Generations when one of the characters explains to Picard about time and slowing it down. That scene has stayed with me and I myself have experienced that extended moment played out. Hugs to you all.


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