BY SUSAN ESTRICH
I opened the garage to back my car out on Saturday morning and silently cursed at the car blocking part of my driveway, making a difficult task [backing out onto a busy street, something I never thought about when I rented this house while renovating mine] so much harder. I eased out a foot or two and saw what had just happened in front of my house. A bicyclist was down on the pavement, alive but not moving, flat on his back. The man who hit him had pulled over [halfway into my driveway] and was standing there, undone by his utter misery and helplessness. The paramedics were just pulling up, and then the ambulance and the tow truck and the rest.
It is a busy street, a five-lane road up the Pacific on which cyclists pedal fast and cars drive faster. If you’re pulling over, you pull into the bike lane, and if you judge it just a little bit wrong – the speed of the cyclists or the cars behind you – this is what happens.
I was on my way to get a manicure. Lucky me. But I was feeling lonely and overwhelmed, facing a weekend of work, a weekend with my children away at school, my children whom I love more than life, whom I depended on for so many years to give me life. I am so proud of them. I am blessed. I am silly and lonely and feeling sorry for myself.
I got out of the car, and I saw the poor cyclist and the poor man. And there but for the grace of God go I.
Lucky me. Silly sad me. Stupid me. Living in a rental house by the ocean, about to move back to my beautiful home. Life staring me in the face, news of this or that person I know sick or struggling stoking my fears. Grace staring me in the face, blessing me.
I am reading, devouring, Anne Lamott’s newest book; it’s about the first year of her grandson’s life. She is one of my favorite writers because of the beauty of her prose and, even more, her unwashed honesty. She has found God and faith and a church she loves. Lucky her. But she is still wracked with anxiety and has trouble letting go; some days she is devoured by her flaws and fights sadness and the rest. She has loved her son so, held on to him so, and now that he is a father, she must let go even more.
As she finds such joy in her grandson, she struggles not to hold on too tight, not to impose her will and try to solve every problem and make them go to the ER when she fears he has croup. She struggles to let go and rails at herself. She touches my soul. We flawed humans, who want to spare our children the pain that is life and can’t, must let them go and face our own pain and loss and sadness and the rest.
I read my book while the young man paints my nails pink. Lucky me, with my good job and my nice house and my wonderful children. Lucky me, who does not look around hoping more customers will come in, turning the other cheek, as I see Kenny doing, at the ones who treat these hardworking men and women like objects. Lucky me, with two beautiful children in college, making their way. [Kinehora, we say in Yiddish; keep the evil eye away.] Lucky me, selfish me, wallowing in my fortune.
Lamott is in India. She is surrounded by poverty and beggars she must shoo away because they don’t get to keep the money anyway [it goes to a pimp] and because if she gives to one [a mistake made once], she starts a riot. India is a land of beauty and of life, where mothers cremate their children and children their mothers, all younger than me, than mine, where bodies float down the Ganges and families live on the street. Lucky me, with my house and my supermarket and my car and my clean linens and good doctors.
Why do I cry as I read?
By the time I get home, with my perfect pink nails, the cyclist is gone, and the man is gone, and the car and the fire department are gone. Another car is there, parked a few inches back. I don’t even try for the garage. I watch the cyclists, I drive slowly, I am thankful when I park.
All of the signs of the tragedy of an hour ago are gone. But I try to hold them in my heart and follow the road they point out for me. To grace.
– Susan Estrich’s columns appear regularly in The Oklahoma Observer