This morning brought a thick coat of ice on the car windows. I ran the defroster and squirted window wiper fluid to melt down the ice because the scraper in my car might or might not have been under the seat, and it was 6:00 in the morning.
My wife had left at 4:30 to catch a flight to a Midwest destination so she could come home again at night. So I was half awake for an hour dreaming those weird dreams you dream in a half asleep state where you are still thinking about getting up but really not. I dreamt that someone gave me a brand new hand gun and it was up to me to decide whether to keep it or not. Bang bang shoot shoot.
At 5:30 I rallied out of bed and got changed to go do strength work at the gym. At that time of day, it’s like running with one headlight on. You can still see the space ahead of you but really only half of it. Just enough to get where you’re going, and barely that.
That outlook proved to be prophetic because I made the mistake of not scraping the passenger side window. That created a blurry blind spot as I attempted to turn left onto a typically busy road and through I saw no traffic from that direction. But once I’d pulled onto the road and was traveling south I saw there was a vehicle with one headlight right in my rearview mirror. I realized that I’d probably cut right in front of that car, and he was probably, rightly pissed.
The world is full of such unrealized threats, the tarsnakes of existence. The vague notion that something bad might happen can haunt, intimidate and vex the soul. And it’s true: the daily mix of close calls, near accidents and unintentional slights is part of our existence. That’s why the sight of a vehicle missing a headlight feels a little spooky, like a Stephen King novel come to life. It’s a reminder that we stand forever on the precipice of good fortune and bad. Omens are like that.
But it’s that moment where you actually do get tagged in the rear-end by some joker driving around with one headlight that makes you realize how lucky you’ve been for too long. I was driving along with friends three years ago when an old dude completely side-swiped my car from the passenger side. He never even knew he did it. We had to hail him to pull over after he smashed into me. Turns out he was distraught over his sick wife back at the hospital. His mind only had one headlight on.
Of course those of us who run and ride go lots of places with one headlight on. For us, it’s the single mode of transportation and our lone source of safety. We fix it to the front of our bike or wear a headlamp as we lurch or pedal along through murk and dusk hoping everyone will see us. We worry about the ones who are too lazy, preoccupied or selfish to notice our lone headlight or tail light.
So I felt a bit guilty at my own transgression in not having scraped off the passenger side window well enough to know that a car with one headlight was headed my way. So there’s a reason why vehicles have two headlights and not just one. Two headlights means “car” or “truck” in driving parlance. The police will write a ticket if they see a headlight out. We deserve it.
I believe there’s a bit of fatalism at work in much of society. The entire Christian faith is based on the cataclysmic worldview that says this earth we live on is literally fucked once Jesus returns. If that’s true, and Jesus truly is the lone light of the world, it means we’re all riding around with one headlight on.
So let’s quote Jakob Dylan and the Wallflowers, whose fatalistic song One Headlight captures the nihilism of existence past, present and future:
And I seen the sun up ahead
At the county line bridge
Sayin’ all there’s good and nothingness is dead
We’ll run until she’s out of breath
She ran until there’s nothin’ left
She hit the end-it’s just her window ledge
But I don’t buy into fatalism as a rule of existence. Sometimes you just gotta run the ridge of existence with one headlight on and make it happen. It may send shivers down your spine now and then, and your companion may wonder what the fuck you got them into. But you gotta try…
Hey, come on try a little
Nothing is forever
There’s got to be something better than
In the middle
But me and Cinderella
We put it all together
We can drive it home
With one headlight