We’re all scared that one day we’ll receive the Call.
It’s a normal, do-nothing day and the phone rings. We answer, and within a few seconds our heartbeat accelerates. The air grows thinner. We’re struggling to understand even the simplest sentences.
It’s the Call that tells us something bad has happened, and that out of all the thousands of days we’ve lived, that this is the day, without warning, when things are permanently, remorselessly changing.
It was last Tuesday. I was in Mountain Home, just finished with a couple of soccer games I’d refereed. I called my wife to let her know I was on my way home.
“Chris,” she said in a voice a little quieter than normal, “I was in an accident.”
I was suddenly in no danger of being ticketed for speeding on Mountain Home’s main street.
We live on a busy-ish street. She’d stopped on the road to turn into our driveway. A trailing driver didn’t notice the stationary vehicle with the turn signal on.
First things first. “I’m okay,” she said. “Kinda stiff.”
Breathing increases, heartbeat decreases.
“The back side of the car is pretty messed up.”
As if I cared.
“The State Police guy said the other driver was at fault.”
“Anyway, I guess I’m fine, but I’m going to lie down for a while. I’m kind of rattled. See you when you get home.”
It’s about 80 freeway miles from Mountain Home to Twin Falls. Plenty of time to ponder.
She’s okay. The car’s damaged, but still drivable. She says she’s a little stiff today? Wait until tomorrow.
So I guess I’m lucky.
Today the Call was relatively merciful. I’ve had other calls that weren’t. You have too.
It could have been worse, much worse, and for the next hour I thought about what life would be like without my good wife. The deeper I went into the details the less I liked what I was discovering. Basically, I discovered I was a jerk for every unkind thought I’d ever had about her.
Sure, we frustrate each other. She puts dishes in the dishwasher that aren’t already washed off. I leave things on the floor I could have just as easily picked up. You know — serious things like that.
But when the Call comes, the scoreboard instantly resets to zeroes. All those things you kept score on are suddenly as worthless as Twitter.
I guarantee that if my wife was gone I’d long to see a casserole dish come out of the washing machine with a little sauce left on it.
In the final act of Thornton Wilder’s famous play Our Town, the play’s heroine, Emily Gibbs, dies in childbirth. From the next life she decides to re-live one day of her now-former life. For no particular reason she chooses her seventh birthday. And suddenly they’re all together again, the family she loves. And they’re happy to see her. It’s her birthday, after all.
But to Emily it’s more than that. For this moment she sees the bigger picture. She sees how beautiful they are in their taken-for-granted normality. She tries to tell them to stop and recognize the blinding beauty of the life and love that knits them together for a brief moment in time. But these are her older words, so their ears are deaf.
In the end she is overcome by the poignant tragedy of our ignorant daily lives. She turns to her guide and asks “do people ever understand life while they live it? Every single day?”
“No,” comes the answer. “Well, the saints and poets maybe. They do some.”
And Emily Gibbs returns to her grave, as crushed by what she’s seen as the audience in the theater.
I don’t know that it’s possible to understand life as Emily did, even for a few minutes. But I get a glimpse of it whenever a new Call comes.
I have been extra kind to my wife these last few days. My socks are off the floor. I’ll try to keep it up, but I guess in a month I’ll forget, and everything will go back to normal.