On Rubber Necking

Rubbernecking is the act of gawking or staring, usually stupidly and slack-jawed, at something of interest.- wikipedia

When I see flashing red and blue lights, I can’t stop myself from trying to get close enough to see what’s the cause of the commotion.  I change lanes and slow down as I pass by the nearest point, just to get a good look.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to be involved in the mess.  I just want to have the knowledge of what happened tucked into my mental file labeled “I’m glad it wasn’t me.”

Unfortunately, the “I’m glad it wasn’t me” file is getting to be rather bulky, filled with images of accidents, ambulances, people getting tickets or arrested, and broken down vehicles on the side of the road.  Each year brings another set of things to file away that used to bolster my spirits to not be the person on a stretcher or reaching out to take a speeding ticket.  Now, it does just the opposite. I feel instant sadness to realize how little control we have over these things.

A few days ago, I saw those irresistible flashing lights straight ahead of me at the end of the street.  As I approached, I took in the whole scene.  Two police cars were parked on either side of an old car that was slowly being destroyed by rust and neglect.  A shirtless man lay on his back with his arms handcuffed behind him surrounded by several officers.  They wore dark sunglasses and long faces like it was part of their uniform as they stood around the man with their arms crossed over bullet-proof protected chests.

Suddenly, the man started to jerk and twitch like he was being bitten by a thousand fire ants.  I watched his skinny torso writhe in the grass without the use of his hands to brush off the antagonizers.  I’ll never know if it was ants, a seizure, or the side effects of a nasty drug because I kept driving, like always.

As I drove off and left the man to his fate, I kept thinking.  I wondered if that was his worst day.  I wondered how many choices and random events away are any of us from our worst or best day.  We can control our speed but we can’t control the truck that blows through a stop sign.  We can choose happiness but can’t avoid the tragedy of life.

When I see the flashing lights, I’ll keeping looking, if only to be reminded of my own humanity and vulnerability.

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