Tuesday, March 02, 2004

The nearness of Death

I'm not normally someone who spends a lot of time thinking about dying. It'll happen eventually of its own accord. All I can do is eat right and get some exercise so I don't open the doorway too widely too soon. But every once in a while something comes along that demands you attention.

Nature and my house conspired to bring just the whiff of death wandering into my life yesterday. We've had a long period of unusually cold weather here for the last month or so. Consequently we have had any snow melt, it just kept building up and up. The weight of the snow then compacts it into ice. We had quite a wall of it building up along the edge of the roof just over the walkway between where my family parks our cars and our front door. In the last week the weather has warmed up into the 40s several times and the snow and ice has begun to melt. But not that big ice dam along the edge of the roof. The roof edge is easily 30 feet long and stands two country house stories above the ground. Yesterday as my rector dropped me off at home following a meeting in Buffalo I commented that I was beginning to worry about all that ice. What if it fell on someone?

The comment was quick, without any feeling of foreshadowing. I said goodbye, walked along the path, up two steps to the small back porch, pushed open the door and went up the 13 stairs to my apartment. What did that take? Maybe 5 seconds? As I stood at the top of the stairs I heard a LOUD rumble then a thud. I had a pretty good idea what had happened, ice fall always sounds the same. Quickly moving to my bedroom I looked out the window. The rector was pulling back into my driveway, dialing his cell phone. He had seen the entire ice dam come down, as a piece just seconds after I'd disappeared into my house. The section over the walk fell just inches to the left of where I'd walked. On the bottom step to the porch sat a piece the size of a basketball, exactly where I'd have been standing if our conversation in the van had taken another few seconds.

By quick estimate about 500 pounds of ice came down. Tore the phone lines out of the exterior wall and destroyed some of the siding. No other damage. I called the phone company and they'll show up sometime before spring (even with the wires hanging low over the side street). Everybody safe.

So why did my hands shake for hour? It really wasn't close. But it was close enough. Close enough to catch that whiff. Too close.