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April 3, 2011

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.

Then I looked in my rearview mirror and saw the guy’s utterly panicked face as he tried to stop his maroon car behind me and my next thought was “Oh, here we go.”
Bye bye little car

Not “Oh shit.” Not “Oh my God.” Nope. “Here we go.”

The other guy's

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.

  1. April 3, 2011 08:03

    SO glad you’re okay, friend. xoxo

    • April 3, 2011 12:24

      Thank you. It’s funny that it didn’t hit me until I found out that most people would have been dead…that struck a nerve. A big, giant twangy nerve.

  2. April 3, 2011 08:14

    Oh Good God I’m so glad everyone was okay, but how terrifying. Your church group sounds amazing to me, and I love your insight about your just being in the moment giving permission to others.

    Sending love and healing your way and one bit of advice–slow down for the next week or so. Like extra extra slow. I’m sure you’ve heard this, but accidents like that throw everything off balance and leave you more vulnerable. Healing take longer than we think.


    • April 3, 2011 12:23

      Thank you. I am driving Mom’s big Lincoln and banging my shins and knees all over again because it is so different than my car. You’re right about slowing down.

  3. April 3, 2011 08:15

    The dynamic nature of this whole enterprise is fascinating, isn’t it?

    I’m weeping because I’m so glad you’re okay. And also because of the perfect timing of that workshop & gratitude for that for you. I have a meditation group that helps me process in the same way, that I landed in shortly after a traumatic incident. I was able to unexpectedly receive that kind of support in spite of my usual awkwardness in those kinds of situations, and I left feeling like you describe. That’s why I still go back, because I know I need to.

    I’m glad you wrote this.

    • April 3, 2011 12:22

      Thank you. I’m glad I’m around to see you again. It would have sucked to not be (maybe, who knows?). Usual awkwardness, yes. I have that!

  4. April 3, 2011 08:19

    oh here we go. yes. it has always amazed me that in the actual moments of crisis and vulnerability, we seem far more wired for coping than we tend to give ourselves credit for. it’s the aftermath, the becoming okay again in spite of having looked all that vulnerability in the face, that’s hard. i am so glad you had 30 loving faces to support you in that. i am so glad you are okay.

    • April 3, 2011 12:20

      Thanks, Bon. You’re right, when the adrenaline wears off is when the shock really comes.

  5. April 3, 2011 08:28

    How incredibly frightening! I’m glad you’re OK, and your church sounds wonderful.

    • April 3, 2011 12:19

      My church keeps getting awesomer and better. I wish everyone could have a place where they feel so at home. Dogma doesn’t interest me, nor “belief,” but learning to live this life with love and presence and kindness, and that is what I get there.

  6. April 3, 2011 09:58

    Lucky, indeed! So very happy to her that you are okay. And so very wonderful to hear that you are surrounded by so much love and support!

    • April 3, 2011 12:18

      It is the stressful times in life when we really find out how much love there is for us. It’s funny that it is so hard to express.

  7. April 3, 2011 10:30

    I’m so glad you are okay! What a terrible ordeal. So much love to you…xoxoxo

    • April 3, 2011 12:16

      Not as terrible as it could have been. Being thankful for being alive!

  8. April 3, 2011 10:38



    SO glad you’re okay.

    • April 3, 2011 12:16

      Well, me too! I was thinking of you the other night and wishing I could see you soon.

  9. April 3, 2011 13:42

    Glad you’re ok. I recognize that stretch of highway. My cousin lives near there.

    I think that scenario is what keeps me off of the freeways here most times.

  10. April 3, 2011 14:54

    I am really so glad you are okay. Car accidents are so scary.

    • April 3, 2011 17:23

      I had never had a bad one before. It IS unnerving.

  11. April 3, 2011 15:32

    I am so, so glad you’re okay, car not withstanding, and that everyone else involved didn’t end up more hurt than they did. From experience with a really terrible accident 8 years ago, I vividly remember the getting through it stage. And I’m still not sure how we did get through it, but we’re still here!

    • April 3, 2011 17:23

      Thanks, Mar. I hope the kid who hit me didn’t get in too much trouble. He was driving his dad’s car.

  12. April 3, 2011 17:46

    Holy crap.

    For some reason this made me cry.

    I am so glad you were not hurt any more than you were.

    • April 3, 2011 19:27

      Aw. I know how that goes. Sometimes seeing someone else’s trauma makes me get all teary. Hug.

  13. April 3, 2011 18:06

    I’m so glad you’re OK, even though you are in pain. I hope you heal up soon. Is that your blue Honda Fit? That’s the same car I have.

    This almost happened to me last weekend, although not on the freeway, but on LaCienega. The car in front of me hit the car in front of him, and I was able to stop and had an empty lane on the right. But – like you – I saw in my rear-view mirror someone else coming at me, and thank god she was able to stop.

    Poor kid with his dad’s car. It’s so like you to be caring about someone else while you are in pain yourself.

  14. April 3, 2011 18:09

    Holy smokes, that’s terrifying. Did your airbag deploy? I see the one for the guy who hit you, but not yours. In any case, I’m glad you weren’t badly injured and that you have a good support system. Sometimes these things wait a while to rattle you.

    • April 3, 2011 19:26

      No airbag. I think it must have been defective. This led my insurance lady (on the phone) to suggest that my car was probably not totalled since the airbag did not deploy. If they think they can fix it, they are nuts.

  15. April 4, 2011 07:26

    Whoa. I am so glad you’re ok. I felt shaky just reading about the accident.

    I always find that I lose it the most when people are kind to me. I’m so glad you had that much support and love around you in the aftermath of this.

    • April 4, 2011 22:11

      Yes. The compassion gets me every time.

  16. April 4, 2011 09:23

    I’m so glad you had that workshop on that particular day. And that you’re OK. And that your mom clearly hasn’t lost her flair for understatement. Wow!

    • April 4, 2011 22:10

      My mom definitely has her own way of communicating.

  17. April 4, 2011 18:27

    i’m glad you’re okay.

  18. April 4, 2011 23:42

    Scary! I’m so glad you’re okay and that you held it together when you needed to.

    • April 5, 2011 21:36

      Scary indeed. Driving by the same spot the other day, there was an overturned car. THAT didn’t help.

  19. April 5, 2011 12:32

    I’m so glad you’re okay and that you had a safe place to let your emotional “hair” down.

    • April 5, 2011 21:37

      Yes, it really helped. I’m so glad about my church, which is weird because I don’t feel like a church person.

  20. Parsla permalink
    April 5, 2011 18:35

    I’m glad your okay. Sounds like Goldie was in the car, too — how’s she doing? I had the dumb luck of totalling two cars in as many months, both times with the fuzzy guys in the back seat; I’m not sure who was more scared of getting back in the car — me, or them.

    • April 5, 2011 21:35

      Thank goodness Goldie wasn’t with me. I would have had a heart attack.

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