I thought I’d skip the gym and walk the dog, since she hadn’t been out in the day before. I thought we might go to the beach since it was such a beautiful, sunny day. I drove along in the fast lane of the freeway in stop and go traffic, thinking about the evening ahead. The traffic was finally speeding up after having gone slowly for a few miles.
I thought “Dang, those cars in front of me are stopping fast.” I had to stand on my brakes pretty hard, but I knew I was ok because I am a freak about leaving enough following room on the freeway.
Not “Oh shit.” Not “Oh my God.” Nope. “Here we go.”
He smashed into me from behind. My car then hit the SUV in front of me. Which hit the van in front of it. It was all over in about a second. My windshield wipers were flipping madly. My glasses had flown off. My hood was all bent up, and my engine smelled funny, but I could still drive my car a few feet onto the shoulder.
I found my glasses and thought “Take this slowly. Don’t make any sudden moves.” The guy from the car behind me walked up and asked through my window if I was ok. He looked so afraid.
Remarkably, we were all ok. No one was bleeding.
I wasn’t afraid. I wasn’t angry. I was rattled, but I was able to remember my priorities – make sure everyone is safe – the kid in the car behind me, the lady in the SUV, the guy in the work van. Call to report the accident. Talk to the paramedics. Talk to the highway patrol. Call for a ride. Tweet about the accident. Gather all my stuff from my car, which I was sure I would never see again. I was just going step by step, shaking but holding it together.
Big welts were starting to form where my seat belt had caught me. My neck hurt, but not broken hurt, just ouchy hurt. When the tow truck got there, he had me hop in the cab. I sat there quietly, looking at the driver in the mirror as he risked his life to load up my smashed car, trying to remember all of the things I needed to do.
Then I started pouring sweat. It was the weirdest thing. One moment fine, the next just drenched, sweat literally dripping down my face.
My co-worker Matt gave me a ride to Mom’s. I held it together on the ride, joking with Matt, who is hilarious. I held it together at Mom’s. And all day Friday as I worked from home and Friday night at dinner with CC.
On Saturday morning, I went to Mom’s and she told me “Your cousin was over last night.” My cousin is a retired police officer. “He said people usually die in those accidents where they get hit and smashed into another car.” She said it casually like you would say a random fact like “Four out of 5 dentists recommend sugarless gum for patients who chew gum.”
Then I went to a workshop at church where we were asked to “check in” – to say how we were feeling. It was a big circle, and it was random, not in order, so I thought no one would notice if I didn’t say anything. But the workshop leader looked at me and gently said “Sue? Will you check in?”
I blurted “I’m in a lot of physical pain – I just had a car accident and I feel like I’ve been beaten. I’m so bruised and I don’t know if I can handle being here for six hours.”
He said “What do you want from us to care for you?”
And then I lost it. The eyes of 30 loving people, the knowledge that I was almost killed, the fragility of my body, the rip in the fabric that turned an ordinary day into an ordinary horror…it all folded in on itself and turned me into a little black hole labelled “Emotionally Spent.”
Everyone was teary. Everyone was looking at me with concern and I just sat there and soaked up the love and goodness they were sending me. I said I wanted to just stay another half hour and see how I did with it.
The workshop was about creating a safe space to be who we are, who we really, deeply are, and I got to be Exhibit A in being who I was, right in that moment, out there in front of everyone, hurt, shaken, lost.
It sounds like a crazy hippie thing, creating a place for authenticity and for expressing the deepest desires of our hearts, but I had never needed it more, and it turns out the group needed me so they could see how the process worked, not just for happy idealistic moments, but to hold a space for expressing pain and suffering, whether those wounds are fresh and new, or whether they have been carried for years and years.
Yet at 4 p.m., after a whole day of sitting in an uncomfortable chair with a badly battered body, I bounced out of there filled with energy and with a light heart. The love and willingness of 30 random strangers and friends to meet as we were, where we were, right there, and to open our hearts and to be together, fully together, made the whole world new again.
At 10 a.m., I would have said that would not be possible. But there you go. Life is full of so many odd and wonderful things.