Observing the Three Pathways of Suffering

Here’s a little more on the Three Pathways of Suffering which came up in my last posting. It’s an excerpt from some correspondence I was having with Rafa E. and Mark L. We were discussing time not the three pathways but one thing leads to another:

I asked them to consider this case  (which I am remembering now as I imagine how you will react in the future to this remembered moment…)

…My earliest contact with Silo’s teaching was marked by a torrential summer rain, as were the events a few years later that I’m about to describe.

It was the summer of 76 or thereabouts, I had been involved with Silo’s teaching only for a couple of years. It was an unseasonably cold day, the sky was overcast, rain clouds were gathering and I was driving my father’s pickup truck along the highway, my former girlfriend Kerri was squeezed in the seat between me and my college roommate. Gary and I had been sharing a basement apartment about 30 minutes from the University of Waterloo where we were both students in a small odd-ball program called Integrated Studies, a vestige of the 60s, driven by notions of student self-determination and the integration of disparate academic fields. It played home to and misfits, high-school drop outs like me and brilliant young scholars like my friend. All in all the program was, and in some aspects remains, a phenomenon worthy of a lengthier description – but I will save that for another time.

We sped west from Toronto, the bed of the pickup truck empty. With the coming of the summer Gary and I were giving up our apartment, we’d fill the truck with our few belongings (mostly books and music), and head back to Toronto looking for summer employment (and/or amusement). I had borrowed my father’s pickup truck for the move. The first drops of rain were just starting to fall as, laughing and joking, we whipped along the highway. Gary’s laughter somehow emphasized the thin horizontal line dramatically traced across his windpipe, the still raw mark of a thyroid operation for which he’d been hospitalized only a few days earlier. I had seen him soon after the operation, lying doped up, looking frail for such an athletic and vital young person. Now that thin, surreal line that stood out so vividly was the only hint that anything unusual had happened to him.

Half way between Toronto and our destination the occasional raindrops had turned into a light drizzle and the 4 lanes of pavement we were travelling along were glistening.  I didn’t recall even immediately afterwards exactly how the subsequent events unfolded but the story consolidated something like this: Suddenly, as such things always are, a car overtaking us cut into our lane a little too close for comfort. I must have tapped the brakes. The pickup began to fish-tail, all the more unstable because there was no load in the back helping keep the rear wheels attached to terra firma. The wagging of our rear became more pronounced and suddenly we doing donuts down a rain slicked four-lane highway.

Accidents always have that weird “accidental” quality. They erupt out of nowhere into the normal flow of events; surprise, shock and loss of control are built into what it means to have an accident. And so it was, one moment: three happy kids on a summer’s day chatting and laughing as they drove down the road. The most familiar of sites, a snapshot of unconcerned pleasure, the next moment: a chaotic, terrifying vortex of danger, pain, and perhaps death.

I recall thinking quite clearly about what was happening. It wasn’t the “life before my eyes” thing (though that would be a very interesting phenomenon), it was just that the accident was happening a lot slower than things usually happen.My thoughts cool, unconcerned, moved slowly as I considered the unfolding events. Somehow there was more time than could have possibly fit into that short moment before we went hurtling off the road, flipping over, tumbling down the embankment and rolling over a few times. When the truck could fall no further it lay there peacefully. The cab of the cab was crushed in and strangest of all the door beside me hung open — I kept thinking, “shouldn’t that be closed?”

In retrospect, I think what happened is that as the vehicle flew through the air I banged my head on the roof, and unbuckled my seatbelt in order to escape this painful situation. Though I would not draw any life lesson from it, I was the only one who had buckled my seatbelt and I was the only one thrown out of the truck. In any case at this point my only thought, inchoate and primitive though it was, went something like, “this truck hurt me I have to get away from it” and the only goal I had, was to distance myself from the cause of my pain. I found myself lying in the cold, soaked ground beside the truck and tried to get up the best I could do was a sort of wriggle toward the shoulder of the highway and then I lay there on my back, in the cold drizzle.

In that moment I became aware that I was very, very cold, that I had an intense pain in the side of my head and in my lower back. I started to put together what had happened and I started to think about the chain of events. As I went on, vividly, obsessively, compulsively reliving those previous moments I started to feel very emotional and not in a good way.I wondered where Gary and Kerri were. Were they OK? What if they were injured – it was my fault. What if they died from their injuries? I was assaulted by an almost hallucinatory vivid image of Gary with his neck torn apart along what had been his recent surgical wound. I had killed my best friends! The pain in my back and the side of my head swelled and spread through every part of my body.

Story continues…