Not long ago I drove my car head on into a truck. Naturally my MG was destroyed. Fortunately I was not.
The Park Police scampered about taking photographs anyway. "Why the pictures?" I asked. The truck was federal property, a policeman answered, adding, "You hurt the government, son."
It was a bad curve. (Since the accident, warning signs have gone up.) Maybe I hit some oil on the road or some wet leaves. It was raining. The police confirmed that my car was not speeding; my continued presence also confirms this. Even so, the impact was enough that the front of my car was completely crushed. My eyeglasses catapulted forward with enough force that the steel frames, bullet-like, pierced the windshield. And my body felt as though someone had taken a baseball bat and swung, hard, at my chest and knee.
The accident made me reflect. Not about the obvious, about how fragile life is. Something else came to mind: a film clip I'd seen once of a lion crawling through tall grass, stalking an antelope. For long moments the lion lay coiled and motionless. Then the lion was on the antelope, digging its teeth and claws into its shoulder. The antelope fled, carrying the lion on its back. It twisted and bucked. If it could shake free of the lion, it would escape. Blood ran from its shoulder, but the kill was no sure thing. The lion lost and regained its grip while the antelope fought with a desperate bravery. Then suddenly, it gave up. In that last moment before succumbing, the antelope's terror gave way to graceful and even joyous peace -- the peace of submission.
To submit -- to become absolutely dependent, to give to someone else every problem you have -- can be very seductive. After my car hit the truck I sat for a moment, first thinking, Well, you're not dead anyway. I felt weak, weaker than I've ever been. There were people in the truck who seemed to be hurt, and I felt I should do something. But I did nothing except swing open my door, rest for a few seconds and step out into the soft rain. I was so tired I wanted to lie down in the road.
Then people began doing things for me. One car stopped, and its driver directed traffic around us. A taxi radioed for the police. The rescue squad descended on us.Someone offered me a cigarette and lit it for me. Later I called my brother, who took me to the hospital, then kept me in his home for a few days where he and his wife ministered to me. Later still an insurance adjuster told me to relax and to refer to him any lawyers or anyone else who bothered me.
Good, I remember thinking, because I don't want to do anything. I was tired then. It was so easy to just accept things and follow along. A phrase haunted me: one of the flock. There is a terrible beauty in that, in surrender, and a terrible attractiveness, like looking down hypnotically from a great height and thinking about jumping.
So the accident gave me two things. It gave me a new car, a nice practical Toyota. I like Toyotas. But it also gave me something I don't like: a bitter knowledge that I am not special, that I am, like everyone else, one of the flock.