Two hours ago I witnessed an accident.
I am at Holy Cross Monastery in West Park, New York—here for three days of retreat.
I have driven up this morning, but I have checked in early and no lunch is
served, so the friendly woman at the welcome desk directs me to a sandwich
joint down the road.
I drive down the highway until I find the deli in a strip mall. I pull off the
road. Just as I get out of my car, I hear a screeching, squealing. I cringe, wait
for the impact . . . but nothing.
There are other cars, vans parked in the strip mall and I can’t see what’s up ahead,
so I walk out and look down the road. Then I see it. A black mini-van sitting
in the road. Six feet away from its front bumper is a jack-knifed semi. Six
feet more and the mini-van would have been fatally minimized. I go to see that
no one is hurt.
I walk up. A woman is standing outside the mini-van, talking on her cell phone. She
is shaking uncontrollably. She’s dressed up—wearing a skirt and sweater—no coat.
It’s in the forties and a light rain is falling. She’s explaining to someone how she looked up
to see this semi coming, and closed her eyes to die. When she opened them, the
behemoth was resting six feet away. Her breathing is shallow, stertorous.
I walk around her car. I can see the truck now. The trailer bed (luckily empty)
has whipped around and gashed into half the cab. Green fluid is spraying from the radiator and
running down the asphalt.
Then I see him. The driver. He is on his cell phone too, pacing back and forth along
the side of the road. He is crying. A big man, wearing work pants and a short-sleeve
blue shirt with an American flag on his right sleeve. The shirt is untucked and
bulging slightly over his belly. His head is shaved; he wears an earring. “Oh
God,” he is saying, “I f-cked the truck! I’m so sorry, man.” Talking to his
supervisor, no doubt. He is crying, but he is angry, outraged. “The lady just
pulls out—in front of me! Ohhhh, God. Where? Right on 9West! Oh God.” He bends
over and weeps, holding the cell to his ear.
I stand in the road, feeling useless. It is a horrible accident, but the two cars
have not even touched; no one is “injured.” I want to help the woman. I can see
she is in shock, shaking like the Scarecrow in Oz, hypothermic in the cold rain
that has certainly caused the semi to skid and collapse on itself. I want to
say, “Do you have a coat?” (I have none to give.) But I do not want to interrupt
her phone call. It doesn’t seem my business.
I want to help the poor man. In swerving to avoid an accident he has spared the
woman but destroyed his boss’s rig, probably worth six figures. Would he lose his
job? It’s not often I see a truck driver cry like that. I’m a pastor. I want to
put my arm around him, help him find a place to sit down, get a blanket, put it
around his shoulders.
By now locals are directing traffic around the mess. In the distance an
approaching siren. I skip the sandwich, get in my car, thread my way through
the line of stopped cars and head back to the monastery.
I sit in this quiet, preternaturally peaceful place, looking through leaded glass
windows out over the Hudson River. I do not know those people, will never see
them again in my life. In ninety minutes the wreck will be cleared and except
for a faint green stain on the road, there will be no evidence of what had happened—or
what had almost happened but did not. Still, my slightly jumpy heart rate is
telling me that I am implicated in this. What can I do? Nothing. Pause, breathe
deeply, pray for that woman, that man.
Thanks, David. You did good. You got out of your car int he rain and you went to help, at least to look and see if anyone needed help. That’s not nothing. That’s what community requires.
You’re right–it just felt so inadequate…which I know you know. So…making friends with inadequacy was the thing.
Cathy in Orlando, FL says
“Making friends with inadequacy” – interesting thought. Maybe it’s the lesson we all get the chance to learn when we face suffering in various stages and haven’t a clue what to do. Praying seems too easy or not enough – but it is the only thing we CAN do. I suppose becoming friends with inadequacy is when we know that praying is “doing something.”
Are you a writer, Cathy? Your thoughts and expression are really fine. I felt in reading your resaponse like I was reading another blog post. Thanks.
Cathy in Orlando, FL says
Thank you for your kindness. I am a closet writer. I enjoy writing essays, and I journal as a form of prayer. I have been thinking about writing a blog, but have basically been a big chicken (how’s that for fine expression?). I guess I need to make friends with my inadequacy. 🙂
clark s johnson says
David, What tragedy averted, thanks be! Holy Cross, oone of our favorite places. Sally and I wilkl be going up shortly Blessings,clark
Ginny Lovas says
Hi David – I thought about this blog of yours all evening. What would my response be? The Nurse in me would hug the woman, and, of course, offer First Aid if any was needed – which makes me think I need to put a blanket or two in my car for such an emergency.
I thought a lot about the Community issue – Joe and I have a neighbor who falls once in awhile. While his wife was alive, Joe, and his partner, Tom Topar once rescued him from a fall in front of his house, and Joe went to his house at 6a.m. shortly after to get him off the floor. We do what we can – we respond
Respond – I think that is the important thing – do we (I) do enough? Not always (at least not me), but the response is the Christian thing to do – we just do this, and then we worry about what we could have done differently, or better.
Still pondering this! Ginny
Yes, you’re a nurse–and your work in the Auxillary puts you in places where people are in need. So you’re a compassionate responder-I know first-hand.