Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Collision Course

Two days before Thanksgiving, I was traveling down a state highway and saw a car in an intersection ahead. As I drew within thirty or so yards, the car entered the left lane in front of me. I honked and moved right. When I saw that he might not stop, I laid down on the horn and the brakes, but it was too late. He “t-boned” me and sent my car careening sideways down the highway, finally coming to a stop facing the wrong direction. I looked out and saw pieces of my pickup in the road.

I sat there a few seconds to see if I had gone to heaven or was still alive. There must be a brief time when we are protected somehow, seconds when our minds block things out. Because when I looked out the window, a wrecker was already parked across the road and sirens were blaring.

Then I saw the car that had hit me. Smoke boiled and liquids poured out of the little convertible. I thought the “jaws of life” would be needed to extract the driver and any passengers from this metal pancake. Had I just been involved in an accident that had taken a life?

I pushed open my broken door, stepped out and, heart racing, started toward the car. Seconds later, the driver kicked open his door and stepped out unhurt.

In the old days, after I pinched myself to see if I was alive and asked if the other driver was alive, I would have probably uttered a string of expletives at the situation, maybe even at the other driver.  “Are you drunk or just stupid? Where did you learn to drive? Look what you did to my truck,” might have been some milder exclamations.

This time, I think I only uttered a single expletive, and that was to myself. When I met the other driver between his car and mine, I just said “Are you okay?” He asked the same of me. Now, I’m not going to tell you that I stepped out of my car with a feeling of gratitude in my heart. I didn’t say, “Thank you Lord, for sparing us both” until a few hours later.

I’m also not going to claim that I felt great sympathy and goodwill for the fellow whose mind temporarily deserted him for parts unknown, allowing him to pull out on a state highway without looking. We could have both been killed or badly injured (I think the step rail on my pickup kept that from happening). But I was glad he was alive and told him so (I learned that he is the father of three school age children). He admitted fault and we shook hands.

I have had a few near misses in the past, been run into at stop signs twice, but I have never had a wreck that could easily have killed me or someone else. So it seems I should learn something from the experience.

I write a lot about coincidences, luck, blessings, and Godwinks, but usually to tie positive events together. I think I understand why, when good things happen. But I can’t explain those moments in time when two forces collide, often tragically. Who knows why two fathers hit a collision course that morning? I don’t have space to tell you the unusual circumstances that put me in that particular spot at that exact moment. Suffice it to say that it was a highly unlikely series of events that put me there. Also, three seconds sooner or later for either of us, and we would have avoided the collision.

So what did it teach me? The old Jim would have only focused on the terrible and expensive event, how my pickup will never be the same, how it was sure to upset my life for weeks, maybe months to come, and how it ruined both Thanksgiving and Christmas. But the new Jim asked questions like:
Was this father of three headed for death by an eighteen wheeler later in the day or the next? Did this wreck save him from a fatal encounter with a truck that might have hit him before I did? Was there a safety flaw in his vehicle that could have taken the lives of his entire family later?

We’ll never know the answers to those questions, of course, but I’m glad they come to mind.
I dreamed about the wreck for several nights, replaying the scene and wondering what I might have done to avoid the collision. No answers came.

The event told me more about the person I want to become. That person is one who would have stepped out of the car with not just concern, but forgiveness for the driver who had almost killed me, recognizing that our roles might have been reversed. The person I want to be would send up an immediate prayer of gratitude. I will eventually get there. 

Questions come to mind when one is talking about fate, predestination, coincidences, luck or Godwinks. What if someone had been killed? What happens when the cosmic forces collide and terrible things happen to innocent and good people? Why do bad people sometimes succeed while some good people never realize their dreams? Using logic and normal cognitive thinking to explain these things can sometimes get in the way of opening ourselves up to faith and timeless truths.

So did the wreck ruin my Thanksgiving and put a damper on my Christmas spirit? I should mention that my pickup is still in the shop awaiting repairs, and that I am having to spend countless hours dealing with insurance claims and the repair itself. And I am doing it all without my truck.

As for Thanksgiving, it went pretty well. But when we had possibly the worst ice storm ever about ten days later, I started to feel sorry for myself again. Like many others, we lost power for three days, telephone service for two. We lost all our refrigerated food. I had to literally saw my way out of our driveway the next morning. Our place looks like a tornado hit it, with more than fifty large tree limbs on the ground and probably a hundred smaller ones. But a tornado did not hit. We have a wood stove and I have a lot of dry wood. I still need my truck and I don’t like dealing with insurance claims, but family is coming for Christmas and I promise not to let these things spoil our celebration.


Doc Turner said...

Really fine thoughts in today's blog. God keeps working on us, little by little, and once in a while, in great big chunks, to make us more like Him.


Carroll Kennemer said...

Jim, I am not a serial reader but I so much enjoy your blogs. Yes Jim, such happenings tend to humble us. Any time I get into a "why me pity party", I don't have to go very far to put myself in a much better place simply by looking at those who "Truely" have problems. Just on my street, a man in need of a liver transplant, a lady with 5 kids at home with her second bout of cancer, my next door neighbor - a young 74, slipping on the ice while going to his mailbox. Seven staples in his head & possibly broken ribs. And the closest one is a 44 yr. old niece with a 6 yr. old & a 13 yr. old - having a seizure in August, a malignant tumor on her brain - now with cancer everywhere so bad she is in hospice & unlikely she will make it to Christmas.
And yes - I question why Lord? We simply do not have the answers as to why these things happen. But as you have done, the best way is to accept things that happen, learn from them & as you said - Try to become a better person.
Possibly & Probably because of my relationships with the people I've mentioned above, I have come to appreciate good health as one of my most treasured assets.

Jim Ainsworth said...

Doc, Thanks for taking the time. Saw your dad today at SS Rotary. He's looking good.
Carroll, always good to hear from one of my oldest friends. Your words mean a lot. Merry Christmas.