I admit it. I enjoy the Backstreet Boys’ megahit song, “I Want It That Way.” There’s something about its harmony, its rhythm, that enables me, despite its literal translation, to escape the grim reality of our work long enough to actually feel good about being alive.
And so it was quite ironic that I was listening to it one night while driving, reveling in a pricelessly rare escapism, when I was, well, hit by a truck.
I think, if I didn’t write, I’d be a director. I’m drawn to obscure images, abstract points of view, deviated angles on the otherwise routine panorama that makes up our daily lives. While driving interstate highways, for example, I savor the rhythm of the trucks and their trailers that crawl our nation’s biways. I’m able to ignore the environmental drawbacks long enough to appreciate efficient machinery in motion. Their speeds, in California, are limited to 55 mph while autos can drive as fast as 70. We usually pass them — sometimes, for some of us, the execution of the pass is accompanied by music, like a scene from right out of a movie, precision-scripted, well-directed, and artistically scored.
On this particular night, the night I was hit by a truck, it was me being passed. In fact, despite the black-shattering headlights breaking through the nighttime drizzle behind me, I didn’t even see it coming. And I certainly didn’t hear it because I had “You are my fire / the one desire” cranked up on the stereo. I didn’t even sense it beside me; I was too lost in the escape to notice. That is the point of the escape — to be totally and completely outside of this hypocritical, incompassionate world.
I was, instead, singing, feeling good, as I said, about being alive. I was on my way home, cuddled into the warmth of my car, looking forward to a fireplace fire.
The truck passed on my left at high speed, its headlights exposing the rain-swept highway, its roar just audible over “ain’t nuthin’ but a heartache…” I was dancing in my seat, keeping rhythm with the band, when the truck first broke into my line of vision. I took second notice: it was a perfect image, at perfect speed, motion on motion, the night’s rain sweeping from its undercarriage, the steam churned up by its 18 wheels.
In those fleeting moments, I was liberated. There were no deprived, crying dairy calves, no in-vain writhing, blood-splattered foxes in steel traps, no painfully electroshocked primates, no chained circus elephants. In the moments the truck entered my vision, I was completely and most gratefully free. I was part of this world, in it, seeing it in ways we all take for granted, but enjoying the view.
Who to thank for such moments? The Great Spirit? Almighty God? the truck driver? or just synchronicity: chaos posing as harmony in an almost missed connection I was lucky enough to reach out and grab? I just know I feel it, and feel it deeply: the gratitude I have for the cosmos itself for lining them up for me. Thank you. If there is a God, thank you, God.
But it was also in that same moment of personal liberation that the truck hit me.
I lifted my foot from the accelerator when it came into full view; I was too stunned, too unable to maintain my speed. Its load: the slatted two-tier trailer used by the industry to transport “livestock” to and from auction yards and slaughter plants. I could make out the large, steaming bodies inside, caught at the edge of my headlights.
In that very moment of setting me free, the cosmos robbed me.
It took every bit of joy out of me.
I thought about not going another inch, not another moment in life. I watched the truck speed away, taking with it the lives of sentient, exploited, fear-filled beasts. Suddenly, there were crying dairy calves, blood-splattered foxes in steel traps, electroshocked primates, and chained circus elephants flooding my senses with their pitiful cries.
And another voice screamed inside my head: Why keep going? What for? What’s the point of all this hurt I feel? And then, of course, in an instant, as I watched the truck fade away, its red taillights swallowed by the darkness, I knew all over again. The reasons I hurt — and why I had to go another inch, another painful moment in life — were because of crying dairy calves, steel-trapped foxes, electroshocked primates, chained circus elephants, and the unending stream of sentient, exploited, fear-filled beasts on their way to slaughter.
There was no more singing, no more dancing in my seat, no warming fire waiting at home. I was reconfirmed to my inescapable activism on behalf of “the weak against the strong.” The truck hit and empowered me all over again; it made me strive to do more, to do better. And it was — as it had been — a dedicated fight from which emerged a single hope: that someday it will be the world itself that is carefreely driving along, feeling good about being alive, but one so enlightened from the work we’ve done that, in the blackness of a rain-swept night, it — not me, not us — is, well, hit by such a truck.