I spent two hours this morning navigating snot-slick roads with rain, no, that’s snow, no, that’s rain, no… that’s sleet now… falling on us. Given that we were in a car with two-wheel drive, four wheels on far too little surface are on the road for my comfort under those conditions, and even though I drive like a little old lady when it gets like this, inertia was a major concern. Once all four – or even, really, two or three tires, depending – points of contact are no longer solidly adhered to the asphalt, you are at the mercy of inertia.
It’s a disconcerting feeling. Total lack of control, while you’re sliding at a higher rate of speed than you want to be. Doesn’t matter how fast, relatively, you were going before you hit the ice. It’s too fast, once the car starts to slide. The only thing you can do is not panic. Take your feet off the gas, and the brake. Let it go. Steer into the skid, but on ice? What you shouldn’t do is slam on the brakes, or gun the accelerator, because that’s just going to make it worse.
I was thinking about death while this was going on. Not in terms of ‘we’re all gonna die!!‘ because a. I drive like a little old lady, and b. the roads were fairly empty. Following a snow plow spreading sand and salt at 30 mph in a 55 mph zone seems perfectly reasonable and I was happy to do it. No, I was thinking about death because it occurred to me that we aren’t prepared for it. We have to sit down and finish up with some details, because if the inertia took us both off a cliff this morning, what happens then? It’s a fresh concern since a friend left this world peacefully in her sleep last week. Are we ready, I was thinking? What happens when that last slide comes, and there’s nothing more I can do until the end?
What we can do, in preparation both for driving in unsafe conditions and for the end of life (hopefully not linked, but there’s more risk in the first than on a sunny morning), is to prepare for it beforehand. We can practice driving in poor conditions. We can talk to people who have driven a LOT more than we have. Five years ago when I came to live with the First Reader, the first thing I asked of him was to let me drive. I needed to have him critique my driving, so I could learn. He didn’t mind this at all, and happily lets me play chauffeur even under snotty conditions like this morning. I don’t usually drive him to work, but when he has a flat tire and frozen lugnuts, I do. For the end of life we can make sure that arrangements are made for all the details, like where the kids will go, and how we’ll pay for burial, and so on and so forth. Doing that long before we enter the slide means we don’t have to try and slam on the brakes or steer incoherently at a time when we need to be focused on other things, like staying calm and saying goodbye. If we are even granted that much time.
I’ve talked about this preparation before, and even done most of it. But I’ve allowed the inertia of life’s momentum to keep me from stopping the daily routine long enough to finish it all up. It’s time to correct that. And to do a few other things – not end-of-life stuff, but examine the life we are living now, to see what can be done to make what remains of our span happier, healthier, and perhaps longer (with the caveat the First Reader made, that he only wants to linger as long as he’s useful. He doesn’t want to live the end out rocking on the porch being fed gruel). This loss was like hitting a patch of black ice when we weren’t expecting it. After you straighten out and are safely back on the road, you’re wide awake, heart pounding, and need to pull the upholstery out from between your cheeks. That’s when you try to learn from what went wrong.
Slow down. Plan ahead. Put both hands on the wheel. Stop thinking about the workday ahead, and focus on the present moment.