Split Second

Before we proceed with some of our actions we have time to evaluate and weigh out the options in an effort to make the best decision for the specific situation before we act.

And then other moments we have but a split second to react.

It was Sunday evening, four days after Christmas, around 5 pm, which means: It means it’s dark and cold outside so you can’t really send the kids outside to ride their bikes. It means we’ve been to Church, worked on puzzles, set some goals for the new year (in an attempt to create some quality family time), played Nurf guns, neglected the dishes, watched an episode of The Great American Baking Show. It means the novelty of the new Christmas gifts have already worn off. It also means that I now have a new book in hand, with theoretically an ample amount of time left in the day to spend reading it but yet, somehow I can’t just sit down and read because the kids are bored and the parents are bothered.

So I announced that we were going on a drive. We herded the kids out the door, and piled them, and the dog, into the van.

We were only three minutes from our home heading north on Main Street when I saw a deer out of the corner of my eye crossing the road from my left. I slammed on my brakes, my muscles tense anticipating the dreadful sound of the deer slamming into our van. But the sound never came. The deer narrowly escaped without nothing more than a heart pounding near death experience.

There was not time to evaluate and think about the situation and plan what to do. I could only react.

It’s odd the things that went through my mind right after that moment. As we drove on I thought about all the scenarios that could have made that situation much worse. It had just started to snow and had we left an hour later, the roads would have been slippery. Slamming on my brakes as hard as I did would have sent us spinning out of control. Or, had a car been behind me at the moment I suddenly came to an abrupt stop, it would not have had time to react to and would have slammed in the back of our car. And, had a car been heading south, its light could have blinded me from being able to see the deer crossing the road until it was right in front of me.

And then I thought of my friend Nadir, a refugee who has been living in the states for a few years. I used to meet up with Nadir once a week and practice English with her or help her sort through her mail and figure out which mail was junk and which mail was legitimate and how to interpret what her medical and insurance letters were saying (let’s be honest, that’s challenging even for someone who speaks English fluently). I would also go driving with Nadir. She has a drivers licence but only uses public transportation to get everywhere she needs to go. However, depending on public transportation soon began to limit her job opportunities. So she wanted to practice driving in hopes of feeling confident enough to drive herself around in her car. The first day we drove together was around the road that circled the apartment complexes where she lived. I had greatly underestimated her fear of driving. When you grow up in a country where the only way you get around is through public transportation for the past four decades, driving your own vehicle is both is no small feat.

Immediately after the deer moment, my mind went to Nadir. I wondered what would she have been able to do in that moment? Would anyone, even someone with very limited driving experience, instinctively know to slam on the brakes and hope for the best? Or is there more to our instincts than that? Does the fact that I have been driving for over 25 years increase my odds of narrowly escaping disaster than a teenager who has only been driving for two weeks?

The book in my hand that I was looking forward to sitting down to read was “The Wreck of the William Brown” by Tom Koch. April 19, 1841 a ship hits an iceberg and sinks. On board are 65 Scots and Irish emigrants and a crew of 17 and 3 officers. Only two lifeboats are on the ship. One lifeboat is filled with the captain, his second mate, six crewmen, and two passengers. The larger lifeboat hold the first mate, eight crewmen, and thirty-two passengers, which exceeded the boats capacity.

The actions of every person on that ship from the time the ship hit the iceberg until the survivors were rescued have caused me to think about our instincts, our actions, and our decisions. What is it that influences our decisions when we don’t have the time to think about our actions? What about those moments when we have time to think about our actions, but we are on a ship that is sinking and we have just been tossed into the icy dark waters? Do you really have the full capacity to think clearly about your actions? Can we develop our instincts? Can we train ourselves so that in those moments when we only have a split second to respond or are under intense stress that we act in the best way possible?

December 29, 2019

Time writing: 1 hour

Total time writing on this blog: 171 hours