20 May 2010

The sky split and then, for a moment, silence

KABUL, Afghanistan—My running partner and I agree that we owe our lives to a thick stone-and-concrete wall that absorbed the thundering blast produced by a 1,600-pound bomb about 60 meters away from us that killed 18 people, including 12 civilians, and wounded 47 others here Tuesday morning.

We were 50 meters away from the wall when at 8:11 a.m. the sky split. Then there was silence, not a dog barking, nothing, not a breath. Followed by the crackle of a vehicle on fire, black smoke rising, and pulverized stone, car parts, bus parts and body parts falling to earth.

Three seconds earlier we were within 10 meters of the wall, which now had a hole wide enough to drive a semi-trailer truck through. Three seconds earlier and we were probably dead men. I scanned myself, then my friend and, unbelievably, neither of us was bleeding. I looked at the gaping hole and it was not being breached by gunmen

“Run!” That I didn’t need to be told, thank you, and we broke away in the direction of our mini-van some 300 meters away.

“I think some of our colleagues are more scared than we are,” my colleague told me tonight some two and a half days after the fact. "____ asked me if I had any nightmares. No, I told him.”

My eardrums are still numb, I thought. “I didn’t experience any fear at the moment, but we really didn’t have time for that. It was just a matter of getting out asses away from there as soon as we could.”

I also realized that what I fear more than death by wartime explosion is an ordinary, forgettable death in which I keel over from a heart attack at dinner and plant my face into a bowl of red chile. Or one in which I step out of a car and into traffic without looking and get pancaked by the metro bus. Going out as collateral damage in a Taliban suicide attack at least has some panache.


  1. You might also enjoy this Mr. Media radio interview with Jonathan Alter from May 19, 2010. He talks about his book, “The Promise,” President Obama, David Axelrod, Rahm Emanuel, FDR, “The Colbert Report,” his wife and even does an imitation of Joe Biden imitating Arkansas Senator John McClellan. Classic stuff!

  2. Nothing quite like High Explosive to redefine, forever, your understanding of the phrase "sudden, loud noise."

    Glad you're alright, residual deafness notwithstanding...