Nelson column: A dream becomes a nightmare
We all have dreams that pass through our consciousness from excited expectations to full blown fantasies. The positive ones we relishóespecially when they become fulfilled in real time experience. The negative ones haunt usóespecially when they pass into our consciousness as nightmares.
The last week in April, my wife and I visited some dear friends in Princeton, N.J., home of the renowned university and research facility that bears its name. Our stay was the fulfillment of a dream that carried with it the expectation of a wonderful visit and day trips into New York City for sightseeing and fantastic dining. To have hosts that know their way around the area like the back of their hand was our ticket to experience things that would be interesting, exciting, new and unique.
Our first day trip into the ěBig Appleî was wonderful. It began with a ride through Lincoln Tunnel and into what is known as China Town. From there we went to Union Park in order to watch the hustle and bustle while enjoying the relaxing respite of a park bench. Then there was the visit to the South Streets Seaport for market style shopping and sidewalk cafe eating. Finally we made our way across the Brooklyn Bridge to have dinner at a special local restaurant in Brooklyn. It was a great experience on a bright sunny day.
The next day, which saw heavy rain showers, was spent at our guestsí home. It was a time for great conversations, some local shopping, and a delicious gourmet style home cooked meal.
The following day after a leisurely morning and afternoon, we headed into the city again to visit the Museum of Modern Art with plans to enjoy dinner in a famous downtown restaurant. As we entered the Holland Tunnel that crosses under the Hudson River into Manhattan, our dream of another delightful evening soon turned into a nightmare.
Coming from three cars behind us, we heard four loud shots reverberate in the tunnel. Instantly we knew that something bad was going down, for a Jeep Cherokee sped by us forcing its way between us and the cars ahead. It was obviously on the run. It got about six cars ahead of us and became blocked from going further due to snarled traffic and a tour bus in its path. It was then that two persons from the Cherokee jumped out and began to run.
One, who was wounded from the initial shooting, opened the back door to an adjacent car and got in. The other runner was finally taken down by police who had chased him on foot. Because their cars could not get through, policemen on foot came running past us. One more shot was heard which must have convinced the runner to give up. The individual held up in the car’s back seat was soon taken into custody. One can only imagine how terrified the car owner and his passenger must have been with their uninvited guest.
There was a collective sigh of relief in realizing that the shooting was now over and things would be resolved without the element of the preceding chaos. Little did we know that it would take four more hours before the tunnel would be open to allow us to move on through.
It was like being in our own episode of CSI in New York or perhaps participants in reality T.V. The area in front of us was taped off, detectives came to investigate and analyze, a drug sniffing dog was brought in, pictures were taken, and the press reporters showed up to prepare their stories. Coming into the tunnel from behind, Policemen began interviewing the drivers and passengers in the twenty-five cars that were on lock-down just near the middle of the tunnel. They were looking for eye-witness accounts from everyone like ourselves.
Time had passed so that it was now close to three hours spent in our nightmare. Fortunately, the tour bus driver up ahead was gracious enough to allow us the use of its restroom. His bus was empty as he had just let off his passengers nearby in New Jersey. Soon almost everyone in the blocked cars was visiting the bus. All of us had to walk past the crime scene to access its restroom. Had that not been the case, a second disaster could well have confronted us. After more than three hours of duress, bodily relief was crucial. Soon afterward, the port-authority police graciously came by to offer us bottled water.
Following our visit to the bus, the fresh water was welcomed.
At fifteen minutes to eleven, four and a half hours in the Holland Tunnel, the impounded cars were allowed to exit. What a sense of relief, joy, and gratitude we all felt at the possibility of being able to leave. Our dream that became a nightmare was now over.
Once in the ěgreatest city in the world,î we drove to the heart of Manhattan to locate a unique restaurant. We found Yum Yum II in the heart of the theater district that featured Thai cuisine. So at midnight, we were finally relaxing, eating delicious food, and revisiting the evening’s events.
But most of all, it was an opportunity to give thanks and gratitude to Almighty God for just being there. Things could have been quite devastating if the scenario had been different. Our minds continued to fantasize what could have been if there was a gun battle with people being seriously hurt or even killedóourselves included. What would things have been if a fire started from a ruptured gasoline tank that took a bullet? The questions grew most depressing, but we were spared that narrative.
You and I live in a dangerous world. Evil, greed, anger, inhumanity and any other manifestation of sinfulness abound. But thank goodness, we were all safe. Our appreciation for law enforcement, civil servants, and government at its best was wonderfully enhanced. It would be naÔve to think that human kind could exist in any environment without authority and good order. Certainly it is costly to have the layers of protection that our society needs, but it is assuring.
The recent take down of Osama Bin Laden is not a glorious account, but a vivid example of vigilance and freedomís high cost on our national level. It seems to me that it makes us aware of our blessings and gifts, our gratitude and grace, and our need for service and acceptance.
If any of us think we can make it on our own, it may be that an examination of the reality of life in our personal story will open up a new vista. Hopefully, it will reveal a true attitude of gratitude coming from all of our hearts. Thank God we can still attempt to live our dreams and not have to wallow in constant nightmares that do come to an end.
Dr. David P. Nelson is a retired Lutheran Minister serving part time as pastor for care and homebound ministries at St. Johns.