I read the words: “605 Roadway Fatalities This Year” as I drove under the digital sign suspended ominously over Interstate 75 heading north to the Carolinas. I felt an unexpected, yet undeniable heaviness in my heart as I passed several self-assembled wooden crosses donning plastic flowers erected by loved ones at intervals along the side of the road. Some were painted bright white and by the looks of them, had been repainted with love and care after the weather had begun to take its toll. I watched other drivers speed by these makeshift monuments appearing seemingly unaffected.
I couldn’t help but wonder if any of them, like me, were contemplating as they drove by each, if that cross represented number 603 and that one, number 604. Sometimes my mind travels places with nothing but curiosity as its guide. As I drove, my thoughts drifted to the 600+ souls who had left their homes or businesses on a particular day this year, living it as any other, never considering the possibility that they might become a statistic on a digital sign…all because of a variable.
As my Jeep became encircled by speeding cars and eighteen wheeled trucks, I pondered the many impossible to expect variables and how life itself is but a risk at any given moment. Did the semi driver I see on my left sleep enough hours last night to restore his reflexes? Did the driver on my right just receive a text from a lover who wishes to end their relationship? Did the Toyota owner in front of me finally replace that well-worn tire his wife had requested he take care of last month? Is there a large, frightened white-tailed deer waiting in the woods to suddenly emerge in the lane in front of me?
Is it possible that I left the house this morning just like my 605 predecessors, innocent and unaware, ignoring the existence and power of the incalculable variables?
So we hope and we pray and we try to perform good deeds and live our lives to ensure that the things we do matter or make a difference. Perchance then God and the universe will recognize our worth, our positive contributions and the value our presence can continue to add to lives here on earth. But the variables don’t care about good deeds. They are not entities with a feeling, thoughtful soul. They are not sent purposely by God or the universe. They are random. They are inescapable. They are unpredictable. They are everywhere…and they do not believe in karma.
While leaving this life at a ripe old age snuggled warmly in our bed surrounded by our loved ones is the most popular and preferred method of departure, the prospect of the variables hovers in the back of our mind. That prospect is what reminds us to say I love you every day. It is the variables that remind us to absorb and experience each sunset. It is the variables that tell us to turn down the volume of life’s chaos in order to truly listen to the laughter of a child. Because the variables remind us that tomorrow, (or the rest of today for that matter) is guaranteed to no one.
I believe the reason for events resulting from an unpredictable variable (should they in hindsight even be assigned a purpose) is to encourage us to become more grateful, feel more content and realize how truly blessed we are in this life. If it were all guaranteed, no doubt it would then be taken for granted. The only way to truly realize and appreciate the magnificence of life is to know that we run the inherent risk of losing it, each and every day.
Yesterday, I happen to glance out my back window and noticed the most beautiful salmon colored rosebud proudly beginning its journey on the branch of a neglected rose bush. I was surprised and delighted at my finding since I hadn’t nurtured this fine shrub like I should have and it was late in the season. There it was, standing out among the brown, prickly branches that had begun to succumb to the approaching season’s chill. I thought about leaving it untouched, but wanted everyone to enjoy its beauty, so I grabbed my clippers and brought in my new treasure to display on the kitchen table.
I opened up the cupboard where the crystal vases have congregated through the years to choose the perfect glass container to enhance the beauty of this gift from nature. I perused the collection …one was a delicate wedding gift from 30 years ago, the next was from Ireland and behind that, a Waterford vase I’d inherited from someone, somewhere. Though they were all very beautiful in their own fragile way, I knew just which vase I was searching to find.
Months before, I’d had a birthday celebration. My friend Cindy, both thoughtful and creative, brought over a mason jar from which she had hand-crafted the most unique vase. At the time, she filled it with miniature pink roses, along with delicate white flowers of baby’s breath that seemed to last forever. I remember how it made me smile every time I’d looked at it for what seemed like weeks.
The thing that made this gift most special was the fact that I knew my friend, who works a full time job, had used her own time to choose and create this present just for me. I thought of her buying the supplies, sitting down, and thinking of her friend (me) while she roped and glued the twine, tied the bow and arranged the tiny rose buds inside. I continued searching through the cabinets and there it was -- my special vase, waiting patiently to once again have the chance to modestly enhance whatever bloom or blossom it was chosen to house.
They say it’s the little things. That statement becomes more true to me with every passing year. Although I enjoy my crystal vases, my favorite will always be the mason jar vase that Cindy made for me, because it warms my heart and makes me smile.