If my daughter had been two seconds faster, she would have been hit by the car. She was running, the hedge blocked her from the driver’s view, and the car was going too fast, cutting a gap between parking lots.
My breath must have stopped, stopped and hung suspended, leaving pieces of me there inside that frozen moment. Now I return, again and again, to the same almost-image. The car, the hedge, my daughter. It’s a stillpoint emblazoned with viceral, burning clarity. It shocks me out of sleep.
Two seconds. Two seconds can be a not-much, forgotten and discarded. Two seconds can be an everything.
We spend a great deal of our lives inside a long, unwavered stretch of everyday. We ride a conveyor belt of mundane and mindless actions — pour the coffee, click the seat belt, flip the light switch, turn the key. These simple tasks pass through us, bone and sinew, demanding no more than the unthinking automatic.
But time can also open up, a split and rend, an internal, gasping tear. Everything stops. Holds. Starts again. Changed.
I write a lot about this moment. It’s the space I call “the blink”, a shocking bit of time that often bursts through when our attention is diverted. The event we watch for with the greatest diligence can arrive in the split pause when we close our eyes or look away. We cannot always leave our eyes wide open. That quick blindness is inevitable, predetermined — but, in retrospect, it feels like the roll of a thousand erratic dice.
The blink is that fraction of time when the gun goes off, the plane hits, the child vanishes, the fist clamps shut. We are thrown out of the automatic and pressed against the hinge point of catastrophe — or grace. Time extends, slow-motion. As the toddler’s face hangs, suspended below the water line, struggling for air, it takes a phenomenal eternity, a nearly-god-like effort to reach out and pull her up.
Two seconds can be forever.
My daughter was not two seconds faster. I saw the car in time. I was looking in the right direction, eyes wide, no blink. It was an astounding act of grace. I called out her name, so sharp against the air concussing, just as the nose of the car broke the space between the hedge and railing, emerged into the blind spot. My daughter stopped, turned, looked back at me. For a very long time, I held her pressed against my chest. I could not let her go.
Finally, still reluctant, I opened my arms. We moved together, apart, back into a world filled with two-second disaster, two-second grace. A world within and around the eternity of a blink.
Have you had any similar experiences, those blinks in time when everything freezes, hinges? When anything can change?