Thursday, February 16, 2006

The Longest Two Seconds

The man soars past like a daredevil shot from a cannon, but there is no net to snatch him back from the sky.

Bodies do not rise and fall in slow motion, so the real time must have gone like this... He launches when his Norton motorcycle meets my front wheel. One Mississippi. Two Mississippi. Impact head-first, a helmet-tipped missile striking the pavement.

The longest two seconds of my life.

We men carry around images of ourselves — fast ball hitter, great lover, excellent driver — so easily borne past their expiration date because they are so rarely tested. Then someone goes flying through the air because we sent him, and we find out who we really are.

To admirers and detractors alike, Dick Cheney was a man in control. A man handy with a gun, even if his bird hunting more closely resembled skeet shooting. And then Harry Whittington dropped bloodied in a south Texas field.

Now Dick Cheney says, "The image of him falling is something I'll never be able to get out of my mind. It was, I'd have to say, one of the worst days of my life."

Though I sometimes find the vice president's words suspect, I believe him on this point. The fact Whittington survived will not erase the memory of those first horrible seconds.

Miraculously, the flying motorcyclist walked away intact. He accepted my apology with grace, and I promised to dig into my meager bank account to fix his bike. It took months before I got behind the wheel again, and more than 30 years later, I still look for the next stranger riding in my blind spot.

Dick Cheney the tough guy may never again take a gun in his hands without thinking of that man on the ground. But on one of the worst days of his life, Dick Cheney went to dinner instead of the hospital.

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