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.