Riding the Monsters Down

Recently in my car I was “rear ended” while waiting for a turning vehicle. The impact started quite some distance behind me and moved towards me in – what seemed like – slow motion. Once it reached me it was, in relative terms, quite minor. Even though it was quite minor, I was still amazed how calm I was through the whole thing. It meant various restructurings of subsequent days’ activities and a range of transport difficulties for the medium term. Yet my reaction was more “Let’s see what happens now?” rather than “#%@&^!” as it may have been at other times in my life.

I was thinking about this “calm” in the day after the impact and I kept connecting it to some of Annie Dillard’s prose:

In the deeps are the violence and terror of which psychology has warned us. But if you ride these monsters down, if you drop with them farther over the world’s rim, you find what our sciences cannot locate or name, the substrate, the ocean or matrix or ether which buoys the rest, which gives goodness its power for good, and evil its power for evil, the unified field: our complex and inexplicable caring for each other, and for our life together here. This is given. It is not learned.

Usually “the deeps” and “these monsters” refers to some of the most significant moments of despair in our lives. So I found it fascinating that in the wake of a relatively minor incident, my subconscious would keep connecting that event and this piece of prose. I suspect it is because even if we are not routinely subject to the depths of despair, that small “humbling” moments can still teach us something about the “substrate” – the limits to our selfhood which we must understand in order to grasp the potential of our selfhood. Even a small motor vehicle impact, a broken down bus, a shop that closes before closing time or an eccentric personality can invoke in us the violence and terror of which psychology has warned us and so, equally they can teach us how powerless we can be amidst all the power we think we possess. Somehow on the day of the impact I was able to ride the monster of my self-importance most of the way down and realise “of course it could happen to me and there is nothing I can do about it.” Strangely that was a thought that was full of potential.

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