I'm reading a book right now that is so good I'm having to pace myself. I've been rationing it everyday so that I can make it last longer. It's, Dark Triumph, the second book in Robin LaFever's His Fair Assassin series. The first book, Grave Mercy, was pretty damn fantastic, too. Anyway, these books are about assassin nuns who are sired by the god of Death. They go around killing bad guys who are "marqued" with these smudges that only the assassin nuns can see. After they kill the bad guy they experience his soul for a brief moment and it's all very sad and chilling and wonderful rolled together. (For both the assassin and the reader.)
I was reading this book last night in the quiet of an already sleeping household when I heard a train go by. We don't live very far from the tracks at all, so we hear trains all the time. It's not a bothersome thing – actually, it's very comforting to me. I love to hear the trains, and sometimes the kids and I will walk down to the tracks to watch them go by.
Normally at that time of night there is considerable train traffic, and sometimes they go by really fast. Last night was a whopper. That thing was flying. I expected to look out the window and beyond the trees and see it whipping across the tracks like something from a cartoon. But of course it was nighttime and we don't live that close to the tracks, so there was nothing to see.
Right about the time I remarked to myself (and to Twitter) about how fast the train was going, it let out an insistent, sustained, loud blast of its horn. I mean, this was an Others Approaching kind of spine-tingling blast. My oldest kiddo came downstairs and we stared at each other while we listened and I told him that something must have been on the tracks.
Then there was a distant squeal of brakes. And a bang.
And then there were sirens. Lots and lots of sirens.
And then there were helicopters. Lots and lots of helicopters.
I went outside and still couldn't see anything, though I expected to see some Spielbergian flashlights. Then, after searching around on the Internet I found out what had happened. A pedestrian was struck and killed by the train. And, even at a distance, I had heard the entire thing unfold. The last moments of a life, the struggle to protect that life, and then the recovery.
I am no assassin nun, so I didn't feel a soul rising from the person who was hit, but I did feel a sense of terrifying wonder at how quickly these things can happen. One moment alive. One moment not alive. One moment conducting a train. One moment watching helplessly as your train takes a life.
Was the person on the tracks on purpose? Did he or she somehow not hear the train? Was the train going too fast for this area? I don't know the answers to any of these questions, though I'm sure there are various agencies seeking answers.
My questions are more of an existential nature, I guess. How strange it is that people were sleeping and reading and eating and watching TV and making love and listening to music and washing clothes all while, just a few yards away, a life was lost in one quick instant. How can it be that life continues on, so mundane, even as a person meets death almost within an arm's length away.
I guess this how everyone feels when faced with a death, whether it is of a stranger or a loved one, whether it's sudden or lengthy. How is it that the world keeps spinning and people go on with their mundanities as lives are plucked gracelessly (and possibly gracefully) away from this earth? I don't know what I expect, though. Surely, the world can't stop for a moment every time someone dies or is killed. It weirdly feels both melancholic and reassuring that the world does not stop. But I can't help wondering if anything would be different if we could all get a brief breeze of the lost soul, just like the assassins do in this book.
If you could feel the breeze of a soul as it left a body, would that change how the world works? How would it alter things if the soul of the person you killed settled over you for a moment, like a kind of reverse caul, and then disappeared? Or even if you didn't kill them, but were nearby as they died. Would doctors have more compassion? Would gunmen stop what they were doing? Would a train conductor be less (or more?) haunted?
This is, of course, assuming we all have souls to begin with. And, I guess, that is a rumination for another blog post one day. (I think I am squarely on the side of Souls: Yes, We Have Them.)
Anyway, this post is really neither here nor there, just something I was thinking about this morning as I listen to the birds and watch the breeze blow through the newly green leaves in all the trees that surround those train tracks. It's a gorgeous morning. Resplendent, even. And someone, who was breathing 13 hours ago, is gone now, back to the stardust from whence he or she came.
And here I am, sitting in the same spot on my couch as I sat last night, nothing having changed, except that I have had a good night's sleep, a very sweet banana, and am wondering about Big Questions That Are Scary And Wondrous.
I think I will not ration the pages of this book today. I think I will read like the wind.