The Truck That Hit Me
This past fall, before the election that nearly wiped the episode from my memory, I was driving my son home from school (as I do nearly every weeknight, in a routine that would be grindingly tedious if not for that fourth-grader’s uncanny ability to lift the day’s weight with a non sequitur from the backseat), when a plumber drove through a stop sign as we entered an intersection at around thirty miles per hour. He realized his error as I stood on the brake pedal and watched, yes, as if in slow motion, his truck screech to a stop—I do not exaggerate—a couple of inches from my window. I am not proud of the stream of invective that flowed from my mouth—with my son as my audience. Especially because I was close enough to the plumber to see that my anger, my rage, had no noticeable effect. His vacant stare. Nothing to do but drive away, slowly, my throat burning.
I was reminded of this a few weeks later when I read a Facebook post by Owen Egerton, a screenwriter and novelist I had the good fortune of meeting last year at a Poets & Writers Live event in Austin, Texas. “This morning a large box truck ran a red light and sideswiped my car, then drove off,” he wrote, going on to describe a stranger who pulled over to help and a friend who called to see if he was okay. Thankfully, he was unharmed, but still: Here’s a guy whose narrative ended very differently from my own, and rather than teaching a kid new curse words, he was on social media advising everyone, “Be kind to unknown faces and loved ones alike. Whisper and sing thank you’s all the day long.”
Even before the election, the theme of this issue’s special section on inspiration had begun to turn in an unexpected direction. Simply put, there was a darkness to the essays that were coming in. The writers showed a ferocious and fearless propensity for staring straight into the heart of difficult material—depression, trauma, infidelity, racism, murder. And now those essays appear strangely prescient. The Darkness and the Light, indeed.
The past year has resembled, at times, a slow-motion car crash, and a reckless driver has the keys. While so much is uncertain, I am proud—have never been prouder—to be a part of the writing community. The strength of American literature is the diversity of its writers and their bravery to confront the truths, half-truths, and lies that have taken root during this chapter of history. Here’s what I know: There is a time to yell, and there is a time to whisper thank you. Always write.