Crash Lessons


Funny how much we take for granted. I travel the same road every week day to work and back. It’s a long drive, but I’ve gotten used to it. For instance, I’ve become accustomed to the feel and flow of the traffic and how it changes according to the time of day I leave for home. I’ve learned that some days, if you leave late enough, you can actually travel the speed limit. Other days, if you leave during rush hour, which lasts for about 3 hours, you have to realize it will be a slow ride all the way home. Most days, you can get to your exit without ever having to come to a complete stop. On the slow days it helps to put on some soothing music to ease the stress.

That’s what I did Wednesday evening. As soon as I realized my going home ride would take some time, I changed the channel from my customary New Country station over to my favorite classical channel. Listening to the gentle strains of a violin concerto definitely helped.

Patience and paying close attention to the traffic is a must in all driving situations, but most especially during rush hour. Keeping this in mind, I made my way over to the left most lane where I needed to be for my exit way down the line. Predictably, there were a couple of impatient folks who felt it their right to zip down the left shoulder to get ahead of the bumper-to-bumper crowd. The result is stop and start traffic. Folks up ahead end up jamming on their brakes when the yahoo in question zips around them unexpectedly from the left shoulder. On top of that, there’s the frequent lane-changers trying to leap-frog ahead. This night we had several sudden stops.

Unfortunately, sometimes drivers get distracted. We all say it won’t happen to us. We think we’ve got it handled. We think we are immune or that we are great multi-taskers or just better at it than most. But, then we learn we are wrong.

Traffic stopped abruptly. I stopped. The woman behind me stopped. The car behind her did not. Although he tried to swerve, it wasn’t in time. Helpless, I braced for impact. Like a croquet mallet hitting one ball into another, the car behind me was pushed into mine with a jolt.

My back received the brunt of the impact, but I needed to see if everyone else was all right. It’s just the mama in me I guess. The caretaker who needs to be sure everyone has what they need.

The woman behind me was just climbing out of her car and complained of a headache. The boy who couldn’t stop in time exited his vehicle unscathed, only complaining of a slightly bumped arm. It seems all his airbags deployed. Thank God those things really work!

The state trooper called to our accident got called away to another that occurred just behind us, taking our ID cards with him. We had already called our loved ones and as we waited for the trooper to return, I saw the young man’s mother giving him grief – in the most loving way possible. Watching and listening, I realized she was telling him many of the same things I would have told my own son. Or, as I like to call it, taking a learning opportunity. She not only used the current situation to help him understand how this could have been prevented, but she also turned his attention to the accident behind us. It turns out the new incident caused a serious injury to the initiating driver’s leg. The young man from our accident had earlier wanted to return to his undrivable car to sit and get out of the cold, but we had discouraged him since his vehicle was so close to the left lane. His mom was trying to open his eyes to see that it’s possible he could have been hit by that new accident, and with the air bags already deployed, could have been seriously injured. He listened respectfully and stayed quiet. Smart boy.

By the time we were all released, we had practically bonded. Not only had we all learned more about each other, but I’d like to believe we came away with a better appreciation of the frailty of life and how we should treat life more preciously. Especially our own.

Crash lessons. A lesson in patience. A lesson in paying attention and staying in the moment. A lesson in humility. A lesson in kindness.

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