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.


12 responses to “Inertia”

  1. Mark A OMalley Avatar
    Mark A OMalley

    There comes a time in life when we realize that more things are being taken away than are given to us.Health, friends, loved ones, etc. That’s when it is past time to remind ourselves that nobody gets outta here alive. Personally. I have ever-so-slowly come to realize that the pursuit of happiness is an undertaking both foolish and futile. The worthy goal for any of us is: Am I leaving this world a better place for my having been in it? For MOST of us, that answer takes the form of the kids we’ve put in it. (And you wonder why I admire mothers so much.)

    1. Oh, I don’t know. I think pursuit of happiness is still valid. It may just be that what makes me happy isn’t the same thing it is for most people. Seeing my kids grow up and start taking steps to becoming responsible adults makes me happy. Getting to step out on the porch and snap photos of deer playing makes me happy. Digging in the dirt to plant a garden, and later eating what it produces, that makes me happy.

      1. Mark A OMalley Avatar
        Mark A OMalley

        I have never claimed that we should not enjoy the happy moments life allows us. But 500 years from now, what matters? Is Shakespeare known for his writing, ot do we remember him for being happy?

        1. Hm. But did Shakespeare write to leave a legacy, or to feed himself and his family (and likely more than a little amusement at the time, just from having read all his plays)? I think if we look at what has become ‘classic’ we’ll find that a lot of it was written unselfconsciously, with no intent of the work surviving for the edification of the ages. Frankly, the art and literature that was written with the stated purpose of becoming ‘classic’ I find is often almost intolerable.

  2. Someone started a thread about funeral costs on another forum where I’m a member, and the main concern of most of the respondents was to not leave a big mess or expense for their families when they pass. There were some good ideas on there — I didn’t know you could buy caskets or funeral urns at Costco, for example! I’m really coming to think that cremation is the way to go, and then either find a patch of woods to scatter my ashes in, or bury the urn in my flower garden, LOL!

    1. It is more expensive than most people think. Preparing for that cost is one of the things we hadn’t done but I’ll be taking care of this week. And like you, both of us want to be cremated and scattered in a special place, rather than under some stone somewhere the kids will never visit because that’s just depressing.

  3. Just put new tires on my darling wife and son’s vehicles. We all drive trucks out of necessity.
    The first 3.5 miles of dirt road even discourages missionaries except in late spring.
    Her Rav4 AWD is considered a “light truck/SUV”. Thomas is driving my 4,300 pound 4WD Bronco. When I motivate it’s in a 4WD FJ Cruiser.
    Everyday those investments in safety bring them(us) home safe is a win!

  4. One of the deputies here had an irate woman screaming at him one winter because he gave her a Care Required citation for her accident on the interstate. “But the speed limit is 75!” she was yelling. “You were still driving too fast for the conditions since you couldn’t see the snow plow until you rear ended it.”

  5. Barry Singer Avatar
    Barry Singer

    I think an important thing is to plan ahead. Funeral arrangements are great, but you have 4 kids-who gets what and why? A will, a living will, a DNR(if desired) a health care proxy are all necessities. There’s more I’m not thinking of but ALL HAVE TO BE DONE. In a million years when the time comes – Who decides what. 4 kids, 4 decisions. By then all adults with their own criteria. Every team needs a leader-appoint one , in writing.

    1. Oh, absolutely. We have a very detailed legacy file: mine is complicated by running the publishing house. Someone has to know how to maintain my backlist, at the very least, even if they choose not to promote or market the titles. Right now, mine are too young to handle it. But soon I need to sit down with them and start teaching about it.

  6. Barry Singer Avatar
    Barry Singer

    or designate a pro

    1. Not big enough for that. Yet!