In a moment life ends. In a moment my work is of little importance. The writing attempted, the web projects, the social media postings feel hollow and void of meaning. The joy of the innocent, the friendship sought, the exuberance of simplicity, lost in naivety, slowly extinguished by the predators of advancement.

This morning I sat in the local coffee shop. I battled with the daily distractions of technology, I battled with my own ruminations of what to write about, I battled with the narcissism of it all. I paused and stepped outside to queue up for the loo. On my phone, checking Instagram, I listened passively to the white noise of conversations on the back patio. Owners, dogs, friends, all connecting. People come and go, some are known, others are strangers.

I catch the concern in a woman’s voice as she calls to her dog. I turn to see the yellow-colored mixed breed trotting around the patio barrier, perking it’s ears up in recognition, then moving more quickly toward friendship. Toward a familiar vehicle, the familiar form that emerged, the face of a friend. I listen as the woman calls more fervently. I hear the deep voice of diesel to my left. I observe the dog’s pace quicken while the friend too calls for it to stop. The owner now shouting its name. I see what is to happen before it occurs, but there is nothing to do. I watch, for a second, hoping the dog stops, hoping the driver of the truck is listening to the mounting chaos. The dog is caught, by the grill, rolling under the chassis, crushed by the rear wheel. I looked away but somehow still witnessed every moment. It plays in slow motion in my head. In the aftermath people are screaming for the dog, others yelling expletives at the machines driver. The dog lays in the street, breathing heavily, unable to move, quickly surrounded by friends. Within minutes it passes to another place, then silence. The owner is laying on the asphalt beside it, in shock and struggling to breathe herself. The driver keeping his distance as authorities arrive.

In a moment life ends. I become somber as my own vitality drains. I feel sadness. Sorrow for the physical pain of passing, for the guilt the driver may feel, for the guilt and questions that will no doubt form in the owner’s mind, in the mind of the friend who showed up moments too soon. Guilt as the removed bystander for not having the awareness to make a difference in this morning’s outcome. Could it have been avoided? If I weren’t on my phone, would I have been aware of the situation sooner? Would I have had the presence of mind to reach for the green leash dragging behind, or the courage to act? To simply reach out? I saw it — ten yards, maybe five, out of reach — within reach. In retrospect I was paralyzed, recoiling inwardly, shrinking physically, bracing for the event.

It angers me now, the lack of awareness, the instinctive recoil from conflict. How many times has lack of awareness and action negatively impacted life — living.

Why does this incident weigh heavily on me while others go back to sipping coffee? Why am I haunted still by suicides of those I’ve never met? Just this morning I was thinking of the famous and the unknown who’ve made the decision to end life rather than push through suffering. Perhaps sadness and frustration swirl within because I am the bystander, I recoil from the frontlines of the fight. Likely I couldn’t have changed fate today, nor could I have changed the lives of those I didn’t know. But what if I could, would if I had.

Until I act I’ll continually be haunted by what if. Let’s extinguish our “what if” and move toward action.