Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Where's My Flashback?

They say during certain moments your life flashes before your eyes. There are presumably moments when you know or think you're going to die. It's a cliche at this point, one used and abused and occasionally handled with a deft touch and a hint of humor. (The current Burger King commercial with the chicken sandwich is not such an example. The one line that commented that, even in those last moments, "A.I. still felt too long" was such an example. Only wish I could remember where that came from.)

It's also completely untrue, at least in my own personal experience. Mostly what happens at those moments when things go completely sideways (literally, but I'll get to that) is that the adrenalin in your body shuts down everything but your focus on the moment and trying to get through it. Your brain, I suspect, does not want to be diverted from it's task of trying to save your ass just to take a nostalgic trip down memory lane.

Afterwards you might have cause to reflect on your life and the choices that you've made, perhaps in that moment when you're waiting for the ambulance, or if you're more fortunate just counting your blessings that you've come through the whole thing intact. But during? Nope, not so far, not for me anyway.

I had cause to put this to the test the other day when I lost control of my car. This makes two winters in a row, and I suspect it's due as much to my being out of practice driving in the snow and ice as it does to local conditions. I am not looking for the hat trick next year, so I'll have to see what all can be done about that, but this time around was far less scary than the first time. This time it was just my little coupe, and even though it was on a bridge over an icy creek, the bridge was solid concrete and I never once considered the car was going over the edge. As it turned out I was supremely lucky, the air bags didn't go off, and the damage to my car, while not cheap, is relatively minor.

At no point did I flash back to that fourth grade play where I had to dress up like a leprechaun. That got played on local access over and over and over again, and earned me an unfortunate nickname from one of my friend's parents which I have as yet to live down. You'd think that would have made a sufficient impression to flash by at least once.

All I was thinking was first, trying to steer my way out of it, and then second, when it became obvious that wasn't going to happen, going with the flow. I might have been praying, but if so it wasn't conscious. There is a second trope of hyper-awareness during events like this, and that one I will confirm. I remember every second of it vividly.

As I do for the accident last year, which in terms of just how badly it frightened me beat this week's accident hands down. Last year was in an SUV that I was unused to driving, and I ended up off the road with snow coming up and over the hood. That one scared me, and remains the longest ten seconds of my life. I doubt it was actually ten seconds, it was honestly more like a couple of seconds between the time I felt the back end go and when we plowed sideways into the snowbank on the far side of the road. But it'll always be ten seconds because that's the most my brain is willing to reduce it to. I suspect if it was up to my subjective experiences, the whole ordeal took minutes.

And again, in that space, there was no life flashing before my eyes. Just a whole lot of adrenalin that took me nearly an hour to fully come down from. After which I went to church, which is where I had been headed in the first place. I missed most of it, but that didn't really matter.

Now, perhaps, neither one of these was serious enough to qualify for having my life flash before my eyes. I wasn't worried about dying this week on the bridge. A year ago... that's another story. I didn't have time to think about it during the actual event, which I suspect might be key to this. If I was skydiving and my chute failed, and I had a minute or two to ponder such things, then perhaps my brain would conjure up images from my life. Hopefully not that fourth grade play, though.

I suspect, however, that it is nothing more than a convenient literary device which does not apply to the real world. Like being blown back by the force of being shot, or sound in space. Things that make for good fiction, if not for real life.

All things being equal, however, I'd just as soon not put it to the test again.

1 comment:

Kathy said...

Glad you're okay. Sorry about your accident.