It was quick, then over. It was his near-death experience, not mine.
The pedestrian saw the bus stopped across the street and ran against the red light. The driver of an SUV saw his light turn yellow and sped up. Just in time the pedestrian saw the SUV. He couldn’t stop but when he planted his foot, he pushed up in a bunny hop instead of ahead. The SUV missed him by a foot, and he skipped ahead to catch his bus.
Did the driver know what had almost happened at 40 MPH? What would the pedestrian remember – that at age 40 he almost died or that he caught his bus?
The near-miss was a near-meeting of two classes. In L.A., only the poor and purest-in-spirit use public transportation. In this parable of inequality, missing a bus costs 20 minutes; a red light costs one. If they had collided, the pedestrian would lose his life, the driver his license, maybe more.
Observing this near-death made me reflect on my own hurriedness. People of my culture and class are on time. We get to the airport early. We are embarrassed to be late. I want to be considerate of other people, but I have to keep this concern from becoming ultimate.
Cesar Chavez said that nonviolence only makes sense if we have a more patient and persevering sense of time. Faith has the same altered calculus not only in history, but in every moment’s mindfulness. If we see every campaign for justice as another seed near a path, win or lose we can exhale. If we can keep daily traffic from becoming an ultimate concern, we can turn our idolatry of time into a prayer.
I was shaken by that near-death. Ever since I’ve been more aware of how I drive, more aware of my need for immediate results. For me, the challenge is to maintain this awareness of time in the life and death issues of social change because sometimes it’s in the off moments that something, anything, surprisingly becomes a matter of life and death.