By Tim Hayes

The fellow in the front seat of the car probably was thinking about dinner that night.  Would he go out?  Maybe just grill up some hot dogs, stay in, and rent a movie on pay-per-view?

The lady wanted to get her bicycle across the street.  Maybe to get back home, maybe to go have a nice long ride.  Just another day.

A moment later, however, disaster.

The woman lay, dead, struck by the driverless car cruising the streets in Tempe, Arizona.  She had been walking her bicycle when struck by the car.  Preliminary reports say she may have darted out in front of the vehicle.  Later news updates say the driver inside the car – there to take over operation in case of malfunction or emergency – may have been slow to respond.  The investigation continues.

Here’s the point.  Neither of the two people involved in this tragedy saw it coming.  Life changed – and ended, for one of them – in a second.

Life is completely unpredictable.  People can be completely unreliable.  Getting through any single day has no more assuredness than a crap shoot.  It’s a miracle we leave the house in the morning, travel around, interact with familiar faces and total strangers, transport ourselves back home, and get into bed again in one piece.

I knew a high school senior once, who seemed quite upset that her entire life’s trajectory could not be plotted out with any real sense of confidence.  That was years ago, and where she is and what she’s doing now has little, if any, resemblance to those carefully constructed plans back in high school.  She understands this concept now.

The longer you’ve been around, and the more you’ve experienced, proves this over and over.  I’ve been in the conference room when the grim-faced VPs from the New York City headquarters told us that the Pittsburgh office of their global PR agency would be closing in two weeks.  One day, walking out from my eighth-grade classroom to take my post on a street corner as a patrol boy, a Cadillac taking a short cut hit me and left the scene – fracturing my skull and sending me into a three-day coma.  You never know what’s coming around the bend.  Sometimes literally.

We’re heading into the Christian Holy Week today, and I sometimes think of poor old Thomas.  One of the 12 apostles, Thomas sounded all brave and full of spunk before Jesus led the group up to Jerusalem, where he told them he would be executed.  Thomas pipes up with, “Then let us go with him, to die with him there.”  Pretty bold stuff, right?

But then, when things start to get rough in the Garden of Gethsemane as the Temple Guards arrest Jesus and the saga begins, where was Thomas?  Running for his life, with the other apostles, into the night, as far and fast from the action as his feet could carry him.  Even after Christ rises from the dead and appears again to his flawed followers, Thomas misses the moment.  Worse, he later says he won’t believe it until he actually sees Jesus and touches his wounds personally.

But Thomas ultimately proves his devotion, even after all of these misguided declarations and letdowns, when he becomes one of the first Christian martyrs, accepting death before denying his faith in Christ’s mission and person.  This holy man’s whipsaw journey from valiant disciple to wanton coward to doubtful skeptic to fearless hero proves that nothing’s guaranteed.  Life changes in an instant, for good or for bad.  There’s an old saying, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans,” meaning that you can’t assume too much in this world of random fate and unpredictable chance.

I guess the best plan is to know who you truly are, what you represent, which principles you believe in and hold fast, and trust that those will carry you through any curve ball the world throws at you.

As the fictional movie boxer Rocky Balboa tells his son, “You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life.  But it ain’t about how hard you hit.  It’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward – how much you can take, and keep moving forward.  That’s how winning is done.”

Keep your head down, your tail up, and your heart moving forward.  What else is there?

Copyright 2018 Timothy P. Hayes