The thin slice of knowing

Sedona's red rocks. © Quinn McDonald

Coming home from Sedona is always beautiful. The car races down from 4,500 feet to 1,00 feet on the desert floor. There are turns through mountains and great location signs that let you know when you are at Big Bug Creek or Horse Thief Basin.

Sedona was beautiful today. Sedona is almost always beautiful. But today I did a book signing at The Well Red Coyote, and was surprised and delighted by the interesting, funny, articulate people who showed up and made permission slips.

Afterwards, we chatted with a friend, strolled through some galleries, ate ice cream, and drove home. About 20 miles from our exit, the traffic stopped. Because I was coming down from a pass, I could see that the jam was long, maybe 10 miles. For a while, I kept the car running, then turned it off and finally got out. The sun had set, and we stood on the freeway with hundreds of other people who had turned their lights and engines off. It was slightly eerie, that stillness where there is usually a rushing of tires and shots of wind.

We joked like strangers do, about the lingering heat, about who had supplies if we had to spend the night. Freeways are frequently closed after an accident, and the next exit was nine miles down the road. Then, after an hour of waiting, the cars up ahead started their engines, and, in a roll of red tail lights, we got in our car and the community of those who waited became individuals locked in their cars again.

We passed the accident five miles later. What had been the subject of casual joking because it wasn’t yet real, was right outside the car window. A motorcyle, still smoking, illuminated by flashing red and blue police lights. A blanket covered something. I kept my eyes on the road. When the motorcyclist left Sedona he thought he had years to live, that it was an ordinary day. He never thought it was the day he would die. He never expected it.

We are all here to die, and it’s a good thing we don’t know the time or the way we will die. But we all think it will be a long time in the future, and we all hope we will die in our sleep. The motorcyclist didn’t.

As I moved along, picking up speed, I wondered what I’d do differently if I knew I’d die tomorrow.  Not much. I don’t have a bucket list. To me, that list is a list of regrets. A way of putting off life. You don’t have to hike up a mountain in Nepal to live. You can live in your own home, fully and well. Wake up, be grateful. Live today for today. Be aware. Those flashing lights could be lighting up your blanket.

Quinn McDonald is a motorcycle writer and author of Raw Art Journaling.