Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Carpe diem

I'm nipping into a supermarket for a quick purchase, so I slip down the side corridor, which ends behind the cash registers.

I'm listening to a podcast, earbuds in, so am momentarily confused as a lady wearing the store's worktop backs into me. Beyond her I glimpse a splayed arm.

I yank my earbuds out, and step to the side. A man is stretched out on his side, eyes unfocussed, limbs jerking in a seizure. An older man in some sort of uniform kneels by his head, supporting him and restraining him. I can't tell if the elder man is a paramedic or a security guard; I don't want to just stand and stare. I glance discreetly (I hope) over my shoulder as I make my way to the shelves, doing my best to get out of the way. The kneeling man seems to be consulting with a semi-circle of three supermarket employees.

Around us, business as usual. People are maneuvering their carts around the trembling, sprawled man -- there is just enough room to pass.

It feels callous to make my small purchase and leave, but I have no help to offer. It is clear that they are waiting for medical assistance.

I decide to depart by way of the main store, figuring a gurney or stretcher will need a clear way in through the corridor. I emerge into the street to find a young woman bearing down on me on her bicycle. As I sidle out of her way, I notice she's clad in a yellow visibility vest. She's a police officer, a vanguard of the approaching ambulance, which I don't hear for several long minutes. I'm at the bus stop when I spot it several blocks away, zigzagging its way through stubbornly oblivious motorists and pedestrians. It finally pulls up outside the supermarket, and after what seems to be a long pause, the paramedics climb out, set up the gurney and wait by the door where I was nearly bowled over.

My bus takes me away from this man's altered day. Gazing out at the passing buildings, I imagine his morning: sunny, with no hints of the sudden bend in the road.

Unbeknownst to me, a friend of mine is being driven down the Pat Bay Highway outside Victoria by her husband, who suddenly suffers a major stroke. In the confusion and panic, she grabs the wheel, ending up in a ditch with her neck broken. She will spend the next week visiting her speechless husband while hobbled by a body brace.

Last night, I learned of his death.

Every now and then, we are confronted with the unpredictability and fragility of our situation. As with the shaking man on the supermarket floor, I have no help to offer beyond prayer and an inadequately worded note.

Nothing to do but seize what handhold I can find and hang on for dear life.

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