October 31, 2014

LITTLE DETAILS: Slow down, you move to fast

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By Katherine Bielawa Stamper

Whizzing along Interstate 89 to the rhythm of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Feeling Groovy,” I spied a wall of cars ahead at a near dead stop. I instinctively switched on my hazards, signaling a message to drivers behind.

“Construction? Accident?” I wondered.

Joining a sea of slow-moving cars, we crept along—a few precious inches at a time—like slugs on an ascendant trail. Down to one lane, I saw numerous twinkling red brake lights before me.

I was returning to Williston after dropping off my sister and her young son at Manchester Airport. It had been a pleasant visit and I was grateful for making good time. Time gained became time lost. My car’s digital clock showed minutes trickle by, like bits of sand in an hourglass.

Stuck in the crush of autos, I switched from CD to VPR. Within a few minutes, the station reported that 89 North, south of Exit 11, was entangled by a car crash. I said a silent prayer, hoping the drivers and passengers were safe. Cars can be replaced; people are irreplaceable.

“Crash” sounds different than “accident” to me. “Crash” conjures images of pulverized glass, scraped and tattered bits of metal strewn about and ambulances weaving the fastest path to the emergency room.

Rounding a curve, I spotted red and blue flashing lights in the distance. I still marvel at how police, firefighters and EMTs willingly walk into situations so many of us divert our eyes from.

I then saw what was left of the car. Twisted chunks of metal spread over two flatbed trucks. Once-tight-fitting pieces were smashed to smithereens. There was no hope for reconstructive surgery of the automotive kind. My heart sank as I thought about the passengers. A single car had plowed into a wall of jagged ledge on a grassy patch between northbound and southbound lanes.

It was April. The road was not wet. The pavement didn’t have a sliver of ice. A lump formed in my throat as we slowly progressed—or rather, processed—past the carnage. Tire blowout? Sudden cardiac event? Texting? Moose? Deer? DUI? Suicide? A murder-suicide as a result of domestic violence? (The latter speculation comes from a decade of involvement in domestic violence prevention work.) Could a split second of inattentiveness—the kind all of us are prone to—have caused such devastation?

Vermont’s Senate president pro tempore, John Bloomer, died in a car crash in Stockbridge in 1995. I worked as a legislative liaison at the time and had ample opportunity to see Senator Bloomer in action at the State House. His was a powerful presence in Montpelier. I remembered the suddenness of his death. I also remembered the suddenness of his absence. Police investigators speculated at the time that the sun’s glare on his windshield may have impaired his vision. Life happens—in split seconds of decision making.

Creeping past the scene, in a lane wet from washing, I saw tire tracks dead ending at the base of the gray stone. Smooth sailing eventually returned with the opening of the second lane. I coasted towards home in silence, my heart heavy.

Scanning the newspaper the next day, my suspicion of fatalities was confirmed. Two people—a man and a woman—died in the crash. Their names were withheld pending notification of family. I searched afterward for the victims’ names, but never found a follow-up story or an obituary.

Were there witnesses? What, if anything, could I learn from passing this spot—along a road I frequently travel—where two souls departed?

It’s simple. It’s obvious. It’s easy to forget. Embrace today. Tell those you love that you love them. And remember, if you are moving through life too quickly…Slow down, you move too fast. You gotta make the morning last…”

Katherine Bielawa Stamper lives in Williston.  Reader comments are welcome at [email protected] or [email protected]

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