Is it just me? Maybe it’s the aging factor. The shorter days perhaps? Somehow by the time the day is done there is still so much left to do. This nagging sensation becomes even more acute right before the end of the year when you know you’ll soon need to give a din v’cheshbon and will, in all likelihood, come up short.
I had a day like that during the week preceding Rosh Hashanah. To begin with, I’d been fighting a lingering, annoying cough, the residue of a nasty cold. Since I did not wish to impose my misery on anyone else, I kept a low profile. The Satmar Bikur Cholim invitation to their annual summer event, eagerly anticipated by many, went unheeded. I was in no mood to attend.
In all honesty, for the most part I don’t really enjoy a crowd, and am happier when I can just drop my contribution in the mail. But I hadn’t accomplished even that much this time around. So on a balmy, sunshiny mid-September Wednesday, just four days prior to the start of the New Year, I decided I would catch up on things.
First on the agenda was to find the invitation and prepare the return envelope for mailing. I also had some errands to run in town and considered that with Yom Tov around the corner, I’d try to get in some personal shopping.
Then again, due to my sniffles it had been a while since I’d visited an ailing, elderly cousin residing in a local assisted living complex. Going there, however, would mean taking a detour away from the popular shopping district.
After some shuffling through my desk clutter, I came across the Bikur Cholim invitation, made out a check and prepared to leave – though I was still undecided about where I was headed. Once behind the wheel, I had less than half a mile’s drive before I’d be forced to choose: a right turn on Viola (for the visit) or onward along Route 306 (for some shopping).
As I approached the light where I’d need to veer off the straight and narrow, I made up my mind: mitzvah first. I knew that if I went browsing, the visit would inevitably be placed on hold for at least another day.
At the previous stop sign the brakes of my trusted old Chevy Lumina didn’t have the usual feel; I had to exert more pressure to come to a complete stop. It didn’t worry me much, as I was only about five minutes away from my destination. Besides, the brake pads had worn in the past and replacing them had not, to the best of my recollection, amounted to a do-or-die emergency.
The speed limit was 30 miles an hour and I was doing a comfortable 35, keeping pace with the few cars on the road. Since I’d soon be taking a left at the approaching four-way intersection, I tapped my brakes in order to slow down. At least I thought I did. But I may as well have stepped on air. There were no brakes.
I was literally trapped in a runaway car and had a split second’s decision to make: I could either helplessly crash into the cars ahead of me, or, since I wasn’t tailgating, maybe just run the light at the intersection with a strong possibility of ramming cross-traffic vehicles. In the best-case scenario, the car would take flight down a winding road to G-d knows where.
Like I said, I had to act quickly. I knew that the scene to my right consisted of some neat one-family homes with front gardens, driveways and shrubbery. I instinctively bet on taking a sharp right and chancing on crashing a fence or whatever else would get in my way, rather than careening to nowheresville and possibly causing injury to other drivers along my involuntary excursion.
I steeled myself for what was to come and held fast onto my steering wheel with both hands. It was like riding a go-cart in reckless mode, as the car jostled and collided with various obstacles, including a tree that I glimpsed through my windshield getting knocked over like an opponent in a boxing ring. Thankfully it was only mere seconds before the car came to a complete stop.
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