Columnist Lawrence Siddall: An unsettling close call is a wake-up call

  • In this June 8, 2016, photo, a truck drives through the marked crosswalk in front of pedestrians  in St. Paul, Minn.  AP FILE PHOTO

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

On a recent Thursday, about midday, a friend and I were standing at the crosswalk in front of the Smith College Museum of Art waiting for the light to change. We had just had a delightful visit viewing the art exhibit and were now ready to have lunch.

As I recall, I was standing to the left of my friend and a bit in front. We both had a clear view of the traffic signal across the street showing red. When it changed to white I said, “Let’s go.” As I started to take a step, suddenly a car whizzed by, missing me by not more than a foot. My friend shouted, “That guy just ran a red light and was speeding. Are you OK?”

Yes, I was OK, but shaken. As we crossed the street I muttered, “Probably another texting driver.”

We drove downtown to find a restaurant. It wasn’t until we had settled into lunch that my friend said, “I don’t like thinking about what could have happened to you when we were crossing the street.”

I responded with a faint smile and said, “I don’t either, and right now food doesn’t look very appealing.”

Close calls happen all the time. Many of the less dramatic we never hear about, but for those who experience them, they are sobering and indeed unsettling. They are not easily dismissed and linger in one’s psyche. The proverbial “what ifs” keep cropping up.

When compared to real life tragedies, close calls are mere blips on the radar screen. But they are nevertheless real and are grim reminders of how uncertain life can be.

When I contemplate what could have happened if that errant driver had slammed into me, I first imagine that I would have been instantly killed. But what if I hadn’t? I shudder at the thought of my 87-year-old body being mangled and left incapacitated. What’s more, if my life had ended precipitously, I would have been deprived of saying goodbye to family and friends. And what of the effect on those who were witnesses?

On a more sanguine note, close calls can get us thinking about being prepared for the end of life. I don’t mean emotionally, but in more practical terms. Fortunately, in that department I’m in pretty good shape. In addition to a will, I have already written my obituary, left instructions for my memorial service, have chosen a health care proxy, and compiled a long list of information to aid my survivors in settling my estate. Having our affairs in order is one of the most precious gifts we can leave for our heirs.

I guess you could say that my close call was also a wake-up call. Not only have I promised myself to be even more vigilant when out and about, but also to accept the fact that I am not entirely in control of what happens.

Given this recent episode, I’ll pass on a bit of advice that I once received. If there is something important that you haven’t yet told someone, don’t put it off.

Lawrence Siddall, of Amherst, is a writer and retired psychotherapist. He can be reached at lsiddall@crocker.com.