I was almost hit by a car today. By almost, I mean by inches, and by inches I do not mean 15 or 18 inches. I mean that there were perhaps three inches between my hip and the bumper of a car that drove through a cross walk as I was running across the street. I'd stopped and the car had stopped and I then proceeded, assuming that he'd look both ways before driving though. He did not. He did not look, he almost ran me over, and when I screamed at him, shaking and angry, he looked shocked that I even existed. And then the asshole proceeded on his drive without so much as a mouthed apology.
I've been fighting fury over this all afternoon. Fury that he could be so reckless and so indifferent to my life and fury that it would take so little to change my life forever. It was good that I was running at the time; I kept moving and got some of the adrenaline and fear out of my system as I did. I kept thinking about it as I ran, and it did not make me feel any better to know that he hadn't intended to run me down. He didn't even know I was there. And that's the part I'm angry about now. He didn't even know I was there. He doesn't know, now, how close he came to making a mistake that would have changed his life just as quickly as mine. As I ran, one thought kept coming back to me, over and over in time with my footfalls against the pavement: We're so unaware of each other. We're so unaware of each other. We're so unaware of each other that someone could come inches from running me down and not even know I was there.
Staying aware of other people is one of the greatest struggles of my graduate student life. My twenties were marked by volunteer work and political activism. I had that fantastic inner rage against injustice that pushed me to Do all of the time. Somehow, that motivation has waned. My job leaves me quiet and alone much of the time. I'm just shy enough that it's hard for me to make introductions, though once they are made I'm happy to chat and connect. I wait for others to come to me too much of the time, full of a girl's fear of imposing myself where I'm not wanted. I hold back. Too many of us hold back. We're so unaware of each other.
When I was first out of college, my godfather sent me photocopy of a poem by William Stafford, "A Ritual to Read to Each Other." It's one of my very favorite poems by one of my very favorite poets. I'm going to put that poem here, a taking part in that ritual, one that feels very important to me today. It feels as though the loss of this ritual almost killed me.
A Ritual to Read to Each Other
If you don't know the kind of person I am
and I don't know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.
For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.
And as elephants parade holding each elephants tail,
but if one wanders the circus won't find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.
And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider—
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.
For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep:
the signals we give—yes or no, or maybe—
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.
- William Stafford
The picture up top is by Sujit Kumar Bhattacharjee and was part of the Insights exhibition of work for visually impaired artists in 2005.