I have just finished my overnight (16 hour) on-call, had my post-call nap and shower and am beginning to feel human again. For those of you who have never worked on-call, I like to describe it as having jet lag once a week. You know the disruption in your sleep is coming. You eat carefully, watch your caffeine and hydrate. And then, you just do it. Add to the sleep disruption the variety of challenges a chaplain faces, and it can be a very long night. But last night, it was what started my shift that stayed with me all night.
My commute into work is never boring, that’s for certain. Winding my way from the Montgomery County suburbs to the expressways and gridlock of the District of Columbia means that I deal with all kinds of drivers: crazy cabbies, eat-my-exhaust buses, lost tourists and cranky commuters. I tend to turn up the radio and sing along, always listening for anything “interesting” on the traffic reports that will gum up my commute.
Yesterday, I got to work about 5 minutes early. The traffic was light and I hit a lot of green lights. I found a close-in parking space in the most convenient garage. All of these factors meant that I was cruising down “I” Street earlier than usual. I didn’t give it a second thought until I crossed the street towards the hospital after parking my car and I saw this:
Yes. Five minutes after I had sat in traffic, at that very light, next to the (now crushed) silver BMW, a tree toppled over across 6 lanes of traffic. A large, heavy tree. At first I laughed. Then I did what any decent city dweller would do: I snapped a picture. 🙂 Then I texted it to my family with a joke: “Hey, look where I DIDN’T park the car today!”
Before I went into work, I stopped for a moment to take in the scene, and met up with a co-worker who saw the tree topple. He shook his head and told me that there wasn’t a burst of wind, there was just a sudden “CRACKKKKK” noise. Then the tree fell with a loud thump on the car. And it fell in between a cab and a commuter van! No one was hurt. Pretty amazing. Yes, us city folk get all excited about a fallen tree. We had a laugh or two and I went on my way. But then I was a bit shaken.
Timing is everything I mused to myself on the way up to my office. I thought about the people in Boston injured at the Marathon. I thought about random accidents on the Metro, or on planes. Sometimes you decide to stand on the other side of the street. Sometimes your baby gets cranky and you leave early. Sometimes you miss a train or a traffic light, and there’s a good reason. And sometimes, it’s just how things work out.
I thought about it as I met with patients and families, talked to staff, encouraged the EMTs, joked with the police officers. I considered the strangeness of life and how it is so fluid, so unpredictable. I reflected on what one of my patients once commented: “Well, I didn’t plan on getting in an accident today… but I did!” That bit of insight stuck with me, and came back to me as I reflected on a tree falling over on a city street. It became an interesting object lesson as I looked out an ICU window with a family member and talked about the strange circumstances we sometimes find ourselves living through:
I don’t blame God for a tree falling over. Neither is it some kind of cosmic karma that the world hates people who buy expensive foreign cars. And though I enjoy scifi, I don’t see trees as sentient beings…
Sometimes it is a function of, as Minerva McDonougal put it in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, “sheer dumb luck.”
I’m good with that.