The Tao of crashing
“If you want to accord with the Tao,
Just do your job, then let go”.
“True mastery can be gained
by letting things go their own way.
It can’t be gained by interfering”.
~ From Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the Tao Te Ching
I didn’t think it would have been interfering to ask for her phone number, in fact, I think it would have added to my mastery.
THE TAO OF CRASHING
I’m not a soldier but I’ve played one on TV and the most valuable thing I learned from training with real soldiers was one particular “call and response”. The Drill Instructor yells “STAY ALERT” and the battalion of marching soldiers yell back, “STAY ALIVE”. Then he reverses it, “STAY ALIVE’ and the soldiers yell back “STAY ALERT.”
I’ve been mumbling this to myself for 25 years. “stay alert, stay alive.”
Because, as a Taoist, you never know when you might “have to do your job.”
I was driving down Topanga Canyon Boulevard, a very steep, windy road, it divides Santa Monica from Malibu, with LA to the East, the ocean to the West. It’s as gorgeous as it is dangerous and having driven up and down the slope at least a thousand times I felt I knew it like the back of my hand. It was busy on this particular day, cars whizzing up almost as fast as my lane was whizzing down. I was drafting behind a shimmering white jeep wrangler, singing along with Bob Marley…
“No woman no cry.”
Everything was normal. Until, suddenly, it wasn’t.
A car heading up the hill, having just whizzed around the bend, drifted across the yellow line and the jeep in front of me jerked to the right, but too late.
The cars, like two pool balls, cracked into one another, altering their trajectory. I saw the on-coming car’s head light explode, it jacked on its brakes, but the car wouldn’t stop, It skid right past me and …………over the side of the cliff.
It was impossible not to imagine it from time to time, and now it happened, right before my eyes. I sprung from my car mumbling,
“Stay alert, stay alive.”
The driver of the Jeep leapt out, stunned, eye’s filled with shock and horror, and, it just so happened she one of the most beautiful woman ever. It was impossible not to notice. Even with her face twisted in panic she was clearly a model, maybe even on the level of super.
Occasionally in LA these types of things happen; earthquakes, gas explosions, bank robberies, celebrities grocery shopping, old TV stars giving you dog advice, John Travolta waving to you from his $100,000 car. The point is - in the 20 years living there, more then a few times, I found myself in a situation that felt like a movie, but it wasn’t.
To reiterate; one minute I’m driving down the road the next minute a car goes off the cliff and suddenly there’s a super model touching me and just like that I’m the star of an action movie, that isn’t a movie.
We rushed to, and looked over, the edge. But saw nothing. The chaparral literally swallowed the car, The Super Model looked at me and started whimpering,
“Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God.”
I kept looking between her, over the cliff, her, over the cliff.
She put her hand on my shoulder,
“What should we do?” I remember she used the word “WE” and I said, without hesitating,
“I guess I better go down there and see what’s what?”
“Be careful. I’ll see if anyone has a cell phone.”
This was when only the rich few had cellphones. She ran back toward the line of cars screaming,
“CALL AN AMBULANCE.”
The ground crumbled as I skid down the incline into the brush, my shoes filled with rocks and dirt before I was even under the chaparral. If you’ve never been close to chaparral it’s worth knowing that it grows low to the ground, it’s very dry, tough and has an underbrush of dead branches that love nothing more than to try and poke and scratch at anything that comes near. On I slid. I would find a little opening, skid down the incline, like skiing in dirt, stop, listen, nothing, slide some more, hoping my eyes wouldn’t get poked out. I was hustling, the further down I got the more frightened I became. Were they hurt, unconscious, please God don’t let them be.…
Then I heard them.
“We’re stopped. You’re both okay, I can see all your fingers and toes”
It was a mommy, talking mommy talk.
“I’m scared, me too,” said two little girl voices.
“I’m scared too, but I’m not hurt. Are either of you hurt?” Said the mommy.
“No, I’m not hurt. No, Momma, just scared”
I was so relieved I yelled down,
“HEY, I’M COMING DOWN TO HELP, HERE I COME.”
I pushed through another patch of chaparral and saw a miracle. The car had gone off the cliff at an odd angle and somehow cascaded down the cliff, bouncing through the chaparral, about 40, 50 yards, without flipping over. I know very little about geometry and even less when considering trajectory. What I saw seemed unfeasible. The little car was parallel with the steep slope, stuck on top of a huge clump of chaparral with the front wheels still spinning.
As I scampered over, the Mommy had made her way out of the drivers side door and around the back end of the car to get the kids out the back door. We nodded at one another then peered in at the two frightened toddlers strapped safely into their car seats. The little girl sitting next to the window called the woman mommy and the child in the other carseat used the woman’s name. This was the first time I thought about the risk of driving other people. The Mommy was clearly in shock and doing her best to hide it. My heart ached for her as we helped the two little girls from the car, who must have been about 4 or 5 years old. Once we all reassured each other that no one was hurt only scared, I said,
“Okay Ladies, we gotta get up to the road. Hold on.”
And I scooped up the little angels and told the Mommy to lead the way. Slowly but surely, step by step, taking our time, up the crumbly slope we climbed, chitter chattering the whole way, the little girls clinging to my neck.
And yes, now that it was certain that no one was hurt, I did imagine what the Super Model would think of me as I helped the mommy, carrying the two toddlers in my arms.
Up and over the edge we came. The Super Model rushed to the mommy and they embraced, apologizing profusely to one another. I set the toddlers down and they rushed over and got in on the hugging. I thought it was only a matter of time before I was invited over. I brushed the dust from my clothes, eyes down, waiting as humbly as possible, when I heard…
“That your car?” I looked up and walking toward me…
Yep, CHiP’S. California Highway Patrol had arrived on the scene, big white bubble helmet, mirrored shades, leather gloves, the whole shebang. He came to a stop and pointed,
“that your car?”
That's the first question your going to ask me, I thought. He could see I wasn't pleased with the choice. My answer was tart.
“Yes, officer. That's my car”
“I need you to get in it. We gotta get this traffic moving.”
You asshole, i thought. Right this very fucking second? We can’t take a minute or two, for maybe an exchange of a hello, check for injuries, maybe a phone number, a name, at least, so when I tell this story I’ll be able to use real names.”
“We really gotta get the traffic moving, its rush hour” He said, standing like a storm trooper. I could see my irked eyes reflecting back at me in his sunglasses,
I couldn’t believe it, I was pissed, then crushed, as I climbed into my car. I thought about pulling it all the way off the road and getting back out, but then thought, no, he's ruined it, plus, what is it that the Tao says...
“Do your job and then let go.”
They didn’t see me as I drove past.
Next thing I know, I’m driving back down the hill finishing “No woman no cry” and shaking my head in utter disbelief. I rounded the last bend and the ocean spread out in front of me, I was grateful to survive another wild LA coulda been a movie moment, but was terribly disappointed by the ending.
Later that night as I turned to the Tao for my nightly passage I opened to #23. Like always the mystical wisdom reminded me that being one with the Tao was the only way to survive this crazy world. It reads…
"Express yourself completely
Then keep quite.
Be like the forces of nature:
When it blows, there is only wind;
When it rains, there is only rain;
When the clouds pass, the sun shines through.
If you open yourself to the Tao,
You are at one with the Tao
And you can embody it completely.
If you open yourself to insight,
You are at one with insight
And you can use it completely.
If you open yourself to loss,
You are at one with loss
And you can accept it completely.
Open yourself to the Tao,
Then trust your natural responses;
And everything will fall into place."
-from Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the Tao
Reassuring yes, but the thing I wished was falling into place, was the super model falling into my arms.