By Peter Mandel
It's a strange truth of contemporary life that some among us are immune to accidents. You may have glimpsed these youthful superheroes in the dark: bicyclists riding at night without reflectors, clad in black from helmetless head to toe; pedestrians crossing hectic corners who suddenly, before a captive audience of cars, slow down.
You say that immortality has yet to be achieved? I say you're wrong. It happens the second one stops making a fuss.
Imagining ourselves to be fairly fragile, we used to worry a lot about life's hidden slick spots, crevices, and holes. I can remember my mom and other adults droning on when I was a child, their worries as pointed as pins. I was in danger just by virtue of breathing.
I knew precisely what would take place if:
I took a taste of the "green part" of a cantaloupe. (I would get cramps.)
My elbow or head protruded from the car window. (It would be severed.)
I studied under an insufficiently bright lamp. (I would go blind.)
I rode my bicycle down a hill. (I would snap my neck.)
These were just a few of the evocative bad ends proposed by my mom and her friends. These 1960s grown-ups were a chorus in a tragedy that had not yet happened. But it was still likely, impending, just around a hairy corner.
This was, of course, in the days before self-esteem - before it had occurred to anyone that kids could be traumatized more thoroughly by anxiety than by fall or fist.
Those nocturnal cyclists and haughty pedestrians may have spent their childhoods in malls and suburbs where they reigned without fear. And as far as I can tell, they're just as likely to survive as I am, with my mental catalog of things to watch out for, to avoid if at all possible.
I'm starting to think that being weirdly confident works. Like Wile E. Coyote, I see the edge of the cliff and plummet to earth. But they, like the Road Runner, fairly fly off precipices but never fall, because they don't look down.
Do they make me jealous? Absolutely. I am jealous that they feel stronger than steel, able to leap tall buses in a single bound. I envy their largely warning-less lives and youth.
But next time I squeal to a stop for a bicyclist I can barely see, I'm going to bite my tongue. When I pause for a pedestrian focused on his phone, I will breathe in slowly and soak up some of his indomitable calm.
"No worries," I will say through my window. "Take your time."
"Huh?" he'll reply
That's when I'll strike.
"If I were you," I'll say, "I'd be more careful with those cellphone screens. Reading in the dark? Not smart. You could go blind."