Eight Minutes

On Mother’s Day I found myself standing on the edge of a cliff looking down at the broken remains of a silver sedan.

I’ve been largely quiet during COVID 19, not wanting to add to the sense of unease and mild panic I feel all around me. However, now I feel my voice is necessary.

I take birthdays and special occasions seriously and this recent Mother’s Day was no exception. I had breakfast with my college age daughters, took a hike, had lunch, and then we broke for work and college course work. In the late afternoon we decided to take our cheese platter to Grizzly Peak in the upper Berkeley Hills for a change of scenery.

When most people slowed down during COVID 19, my work exploded. As a start up founder of Ocean SF I’ve had to supplement my income with several side hustles. When I began the single most important criteria was to not be on a computer as I did this So much for my own business and my writing.

As teaching comes naturally to me this has been the area where I gravitated. Teaching a college leadership class, high school English and World History and language arts to K-8 grades. When the schools closed my students requested more time with me and on most days I found myself teaching from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m. on Zoom.

After a long day, I would begin prepping my lesson plans for the next day and then rising before dark to work on my own business. To say I could not see after so many hours on the computer is an understatement, but I felt the need to help as much as I could. The students had already lost so much and I was there keeping 29 appointments per week, ten of them one hour long.

There are times in our lives where life events can feel like car accidents, but this was not one of them. This was the moment when recklessness comes with a price. On this Mother’s Day, we had planned to leave around four o’clock, but for whatever reason we did not. I paid bills, washed my hair and organized the many shopping bags I’m now forced to acquire. I felt a sense of urgency to leave, so we could come home and cook dinner because in my house everything now revolves around dinner. Yet, I couldn’t get out the door. My daughters stood impatiently in our hallway with a full picnic basket.

It had been a busy week with some unexpected twists and turns along the way. Not all of them good. So, I turned my attention to my Vintage Ocean SF store that had just opened and with my partners we were busy promoting it. Plus, I’ve been converting my massive mailing list to an Email marketing service, while also preparing slides for my leadership class. Luckily, I love what I do, so working hard to me is enjoyable. However, an afternoon with my girls was the exact reprieve I needed to refresh and restore my body, mind and spirit for the week ahead.

The plan was to sit on the tailgate of my SUV and enjoy the beautiful view from Grizzly Peak, but as we rounded the first bend and San Francisco came into view we saw a silver sedan hit gravel on the narrow shoulder ahead. A small cloud of dust rose in the air, then we watched in horror as the car cleared the guardrail and flew into midair. I immediately told my daughter to call 911.

For eight minutes we talked to the 911 dispatcher. Taking her with us as we parked and ran across the road to the broken guard rail where the car disappeared. Below we could see tires, car doors and debris littering the hill side. My daughter coolly spoke to the dispatcher. I provided details; we were traveling west and the other car was traveling east. In the canyon below screams for help began. A crowd of people began to gather, some started down the steep embankment, but could not go further than the broken remains of the car. They stood helpless on the boulders that smashed the car into pieces before it disappeared into the grove of trees below. The dispatcher asked us to stay on the line as we listened to the primal screams below us.

Looking out from the east we could see San Francisco sparkling in the distance like a jewel in the early evening light. The air was still and warm with only the sounds below to remind us that this was not a peaceful Sunday evening.

Finally, the sounds of sirens could be faintly heard and the dispatcher instructed us to hang up. My daughter looked at her phone and told us only eight minutes had passed, but it felt like an eternity.

I gathered my daughters and ran to my truck. I quickly pulled a U-turn passing the 5 Emergency vehicles heading up the hill.

Later, we learned the 23 year old male driver survived, but his female companion did not. She had died at the scene.

We parked near the golf course in our small town. We pulled out sparkling water, and cheese and crackers. I sat behind my steering wheel looking at the path by the tennis courts where I would walk to the pool with my tiny daughters so long ago. I thought about the phone calls to the families of the victims that would turn a beautiful soft spring Mother’s Day into a nightmare.

Later, I reflected on the meaning of those eight minutes and the consequences of being reckless. In this case, the driver could have just stared at the view a moment too long as it’s beauty is mesmerizing. I’ve done the same thing, but I turned my attention a fraction of a second sooner and avoided disaster. I also wondered if the woman had a day like mine where so many factors interfered, but not enough to give her that one moment reprieve where the driver could remain in control for a second longer. I wonder if she questioned going with him at all, but decided to ignore her intuition at her own peril. I also marvel at the many myriad decisions I made that day to be given the exact moment to watch this happen. The car is now frozen forever in my mind against the backdrop of my beautiful city.

As I went to bed that night I was haunted by their screams. I woke up several times that night thinking about them. Why was I there? How could this have been avoided? What was the lesson? Was there a hidden message in this for me?

Of course, there are no answers, only to hold each other close tonight because there is no guarantee of tomorrow.

Love and blessings to all.

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