Unwanted Witness to an Instant Death

The other day Janna and I were walking around Journal Square. I was looking one way and Janna another when she saw what I missed: A young woman stepping into the street in the middle of traffic.

Janna said an accelerating car hit the woman directly on her hipbone and, even though Janna was across the street, she remembers the accident in slow motion. The car skidded to avoid the woman. The woman was hit on the hip.

Rubber smoke curled up from the asphalt. Still on her feet, the woman was slammed into a parked van and then, for an instant, she seemed to recover. Then she froze. Her face became grey and the light left her body. She was dead. Her arms dropped to her sides. She fell. Her head broke her fall. We later learned the young woman stepped into the middle of the street against a light but with the ascension of a curve in the street where cars naturally increase speed to beat the incline.

The accident was the woman’s fault, not the driver’s, and no one was charged with a crime or provided a speeding ticket. Janna said watching someone in the instant of an unexpected and unintended death is something she never wants to see again.

The look on the woman’s face as she died was not one of piety or peace or fear — it was one of complete surprise and unfocused confusion: She never knew what hit her. Janna’s experience makes me wonder about other shattering events we witness – without our foreknowledge or permission — and how those experiences must shape us into what we will become because watching the light leave someone only brings home the reality that the breath of life is shallow and fleeting.

We expect the old and sickly to die. We expect warriors on a battlefield to die. We do not expect to witness the live, slow-motion, killing of a young woman on a Jersey City street as the Sunday morning dawns.