Two Seconds

clock in the city, time running out, tick tock

“Time Is Ticking,” by Petr Kratochvil

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.

Two seconds.

Two heartbeats.

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? 

13 thoughts on “Two Seconds

  1. Lisa – my heart was painfully in my throat while reading this. Oh, those two seconds – disaster or grace. On a family trip to Las Vegas, inside the huge Circus Circus amusement park, we lost my 8-year-old daughter in the crowds – there one second, gone the next. Those frozen minutes, until she was found, were the longest of my life. Even thinking of it now, over 17 years later, makes my heart squeeze tight.

  2. I can believe it’s still terrifying. We (temporarily) lost my brother at Disney World one New Year’s Eve. He was about 10 and there were over a million people there. I can still see the shirt he had on. It seemed like forever until we found him. Stays with you, doesn’t it?

  3. Oh man, Lisa. So sorry to hear you experienced this. My heart is beating faster after reading this and I feel a bit sick. The 2 seconds has happened to me in the water with my toddlers and it still wakes me up at night in a panic. Moments that are burned into the brain. I just hope I can burn in the good moments just as vivid.

  4. When my daughter was about three, she refused to continue crossing a busy street that didn’t have a stoplight back then. The cars come out of a turn from underneath two viaducts and they always speed up for some reason.

    The stoplight gives folks a safe place to cross now, but back then, my daughter went limp in front of oncoming traffic because she wanted to go back downtown, not home from the bus stop. Somehow I found the speed to drag a suddenly unliftable child across a slick street and toss her just a bit ahead of me onto the slushy bank of snow on the other side, right before I tripped and fell face first into it. I sat there for a few moments feeling like I couldn’t breathe. You captured that feeling here, that kind of shock about what could have happened.

    She’s actually a sensitive girl, so it took me a long time to convince her that I was upset because she almost got hurt and not because she was ‘bad.’ She didn’t have to want to go home, she just couldn’t argue about it on a dangerous street with our window of opportunity closing up fast. She never forgot that day either, always an angel after that when it was time to cross a street.

    • What a terrifying story!! I can visualize the whole thing. I’m so glad you’re both okay. Neither one of you will forget that!

  5. This brings chills all over me. I have had children take a runner towards (at one point, *into*) the road, but THANKFULLY never with cars around. I have been in a crowd or a public spot or a store and looked away for a moment and lost sight of a child for a few seconds. They have always been there, but that moment of sheer panic and all the physical stress and emotional intensity it brings is unforgettable.

    • Rabia, yes, it’s like a moment that last forever, really. You never shake it off. I think there’s something so visceral about the relationship between a parent and child — the strongest reactions surface.

  6. That was definitely a scary moment! Your description of what can happen in a “blink” is spot on as well as the emotion that goes through us in that short amount of time. Great story, albeit terrifying if you have ever experienced these types of moments!

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