Poets have often viewed autumn as a time to contemplate the brevity of life.

The leaves falling from the trees as they turn from a vibrant green to dusky, shades of orange and brown, the sudden bracing chill in the air after summer’s warmth, the preparations for the end of the year-all of these serve as a sober reminder of our own mortality, with winter being a logical conclusion to die very long year we call our life.

Near the end of last month, I was the connecting element in a three-car accident-meaning that both of the other cars slammed into me. I didn’t contemplate my mortality as I was being knocked around the highway like a pinball.

That didn’t come till later.

Later that day-in fact, less than an hour later-I had to leave for Hutchinson to appear onstage in a community theater production of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.”

Despite being only occasionally coherent, I still went onstage and tried not to make a fool of myself. (Rather than cover the huge bruise on my forehead, we just decided “they’re coming back from a war anyway….”)

The director, a good friend of mine and also the mayor of Hutchinson, told me later he could see the accident was manifesting itself in my acting, particularly in lines like “The night has been unruly….”

I knew it was, because the echoes of those two horrific sounds-both of being rear-ended and then being sideswiped-kept haunting me, onstage and off, for days to come.

I don’t think it really dawned on me until several days later when I went to the salvage yard to retrieve the things that had been in the back seat.

The acoustic guitar, somehow, got pushed to the top of everything else and survived without even being out of tune. Everything else got trapped beneath the 45-degree angle the seat had been transformed to.

I walked around what had been my car, inspecting it. The driver’s side door had been crumpled in, mere inches from my body. Three of the tires were flat. Three of the windows were broken. The front seat was also at a 45-degree angle. The steering wheel was bent into a semicircle.

The tape deck, at the front of the car, had popped out when the back was hit. The back was completely caved in, and the force of impact had imprisoned my doughnut tire inside the wreckage.

My car-which had always been small-now bore a striking resemblance to a Sucrets box.

After breaking the door locks with a metal bar about as tall as I am and ripping out the back seat, we were finally able to get to the things I had on the floorboard.

There was a duffel bag of clothes-I had been planning to stay the weekend in Hutch for the duration of the “Macbeth” run. Overdue books from every library in a 30-mile radius (most of which escaped miraculously unscathed). Papers galore, including an old draft of my novel. My glasses, protected inside their case.

After retrieving all my junk, my father and I began to walk around the auto salvage yard, looking at all the cars. This was late September, and October’s chill had already begun to bite the air. We looked at cars that had flipped, cars that had burned, cars that were up on blocks after their tires had been scavenged. The salvage yard had become a graveyard, every car like a tombstone, every car a story with an unhappy ending.

I was finally able to process what I already knew as I stood there-all platitudes aside, I was lucky to be alive. I don’t consider myself a particularly religious person, but in that moment it was easy to believe that protection had come from something supernatural.

It was a kind of a quiet epiphany, a realization of life’s brevity, the realization that your life could change permanently and irrevocably in the time it takes you to blink, the realization that winter wind can sometimes be felt in spring just as it was for members of the Thayer family several weeks ago.

We all die-but none of us know when. It could be 80 years from now, it could be tomorrow. No one knows-and this is perhaps the most terrifying realization of all. Autumn-as nature itself prepares to die and complete a yearly cycle-seems to be the natural time to contemplate this.

The poets knew what they were talking about.

“Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player who struts and frets his hour upon the stage….”

-William Shakespeare, “Macbeth”

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