Passing through steeply descending terrain amid dramatic peaks in the Hindu Kush Mountains, south of Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan, with treacherous cliffs dropping abruptly only yards to our left, my driver and I saw before us a disturbing scene of near disaster. A public bus had crashed into an enormous rock on the right hand side of the road. Disarrayed clusters of passengers surrounded the bus, but no one appeared to be hurt. My driver slowed to a crawl, for fear of hitting passengers who spilled out onto the road, begging for rides. As we drew abreast of the accident, my driver and I saw that the entire front end of the bus had been crushed against a house-sized boulder. Immediately my driver exclaimed, “Good driver! Good driver!”
We regained speed and drove another kilometer or so before I spoke. “You said, ‘Good driver.’ Would you tell me what is so good about crashing a bus full of people into a rock?”
“You not understand,” he said, “Driver lose brakes. Bus will crash. It must! But where? Driver has to decide. Not easy to decide in such situation. Easy to wait, and wait. Not easy to do difficult thing and crash up here. Easy to delay, later and later, until bus goes too fast! If he crash here, maybe some people hurt. No one die. Other way (he pointed down the mountain) everyone die. Everyone!” He hesitated a moment and then repeated, “Very good driver!”
We were silent for the remainder of the trip south to Kabul. The driver must have spent some of this time organizing his thoughts. Sitting together in his car in front of my hotel, he saw fit to shape our shared experience into a broader lesson.
“You young man,” he said. “Not yet realize, sometimes in life is better to crash when damage not too much. Sometimes you wait and wait. Damage very great! Price of delay too high! Must know when to crash.”
He looked at me intently, for a rather long time, as if his eyes could carry this lesson to a place within me that words alone could not penetrate. We say quietly. The sound of his breathing mixed with my own. The future felt suspended, as lightly as the specks of dust hanging weightlessly in the air between us.
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