I turned onto the exit ramp on my way home from work last Friday night, rolling slowly into the long line of cars waiting for the light to change. My mind raced through a recap of the week. To put it mildly, it had been a tumultuous time at work. My stomach churned as I tried to make sense of it all.
I finally made my way through the traffic light and followed the masses to the next one just a few hundred yards ahead. I arrived just as it turned red. It’s a relatively long light, so I shifted into park and settled into my head again. When the light finally turned, I shifted into drive. I moved approximately one car length and then heard the God awful sound of metal grinding against metal. My gas pedal was suddenly useless. The engine was running, but the car refused to move.
I tried to stay calm as the drivers behind me began to honk their horns. I switched back into park and tried engaging the gears again. The noise pierced straight through me. I tried shutting the engine down and turning it back on – thinking what? That it would reset itself like a computer? It became obvious that this car wasn’t going anywhere.
I was a sitting duck in the middle of an incredibly busy three-way intersection. My car sat blocking the ramp back onto the highway from which I had just come. On a Friday. In the middle of rush hour. As the lights changed, cars began to come at me from two different angles at a time. Horns blared, angry drivers shook fists and heads at me. People had obviously made their own assumptions about why I was where I was.
I called 911. I wasn’t sure if that was appropriate, but I didn’t know what else to do. I had to get out of the line of fire. Cars were narrowly missing me as they made their angry way by. When I told the operator my ‘emergency’ (was this an emergency?) she put me straight through to the state police. Sitting there with a phone to my ear brought out the worst of the venom from other drivers. I suppose I looked like a ditzy chick who drove through a light while absent-mindedly chatting on her phone. Apparently they thought I had made a decision to just sit in the middle of an intersection. You know, just for fun. An adrenaline junky maybe?
I heard the police cruiser approaching long before I saw it. It came up behind me with lights flashing and sirens blaring. The cars behind me parted and I breathed a sigh of relief. As the cruiser pulled up behind me the officer’s voice blared from his PA system. “Put your car in neutral. I’m going to push you.” I stuck my arm out the window and offered a thumbs-up in reply. He eased his car up to mine and pushed my car with his, issuing instructions over the PA. “You’ll roll into this next light. Use your brakes.” “You’re on your own here. Steer yourself straight.” “Ok, we’re going to ease into the taxi stand up ahead. You’ll be safe there.”
There was a service station less than two blocks ahead of the taxi stand. I wondered if (or how) I could ask him to push me there instead. I had no way to communicate with him. I helplessly followed his instructions, frustrated that I couldn’t talk to him, but far more grateful just to be out of danger.
As soon as I was safely parked in the taxi stand, I got out of the car to thank the officer for his help. I recognized him immediately. Thankfully, the recognition wasn’t mutual. A few months back he had pulled me over on the highway, citing me for an expired registration. He had shown no mercy as he wrote out a very expensive ticket. He had looked at me gruffly and admonished me at the time. “I could have your car towed and leave you here, ” he had grumbled.
But now the same man stood before me asking me if I’d like him to call for a tow truck. I thanked him and declined, thinking I might walk up ahead to the service station and see if anyone could help, maybe even avoiding the expense of a tow. I thanked him again as he pulled away.
I called Luau and he reminded me that we have AAA. “This is the whole point, Jess. Do you have your card?” I was obviously a little more rattled than I’d thought. I called AAA and then went about trying to figure out where to have them tow me. To the service station up ahead? To the car’s dealership? Luau and I set about making phone calls at the same time to come up with the best plan of action. All I could think about was the money. This was going to cost a fortune. Metal grinding on metal is never cheap. This wasn’t an errant fan belt. This was going to cost me dearly. I took a deep breath and settled in, thinking that the “anytime between now and an hour from now” was sure to mean “anytime between an hour and an hour and a half from now.”
I’d been at it for just ten minutes when the flat bed pulled up. A shy, unassuming young man got out and surveyed the situation. He hopped into the car and tried to put it in gear, but all he got was a quick, awful taste of the noise I’d been trying to describe. He cringed. I asked if it was something he thought he might be able to fix. He shook his head and gently said, “That sounds like you dropped your drive shaft. That’s gonna be a big job. You tell me where you want to go.”
The taxi drivers moved their cabs to make room for the truck and he pulled up in front of my car. As he began the process of hoisting the car onto the flatbed, I waited on hold for the dealership’s service manager. I climbed up into the cab of the cleanest tow truck I’ve ever seen. As the driver got in, I asked if he’d mind waiting just a moment while I figured out if something like this might be covered under the car’s extended warranty. I was afraid he’d be angry, or at the very least impatient, but as soon as I told him what I was doing, he asked if I knew the car’s mileage. I shook my head, embarrassed that I hadn’t checked it before getting out. Without a word, he climbed out of the cab and onto the back of the truck. He made his way into my car, checked the mileage and came back to report it not thirty seconds before the service manager asked me the question.
The manager looked my car up in his system and told me that the extended warranty had expired. Thirteen lousy days earlier. Thirteen. I was sick to my stomach. Murphy’s Friggin Law. A huge repair bill is like a punch in the gut right now. “Jess, bring it here,” he said. “I can probably do something for you. Just come on in and we’ll figure it out.”
I called Luau again and he promised to gather the girls and come pick me up at the dealership. I sat back and chatted with the tow truck driver. We listened to his Dominican house music and even laughed a little at the ridiculousness of the whole situation.
Once at the dealership, an older mechanic began to look over my car, checking it into the system. As I was lamenting my predicament, he looked up from his clipboard and said, “Friday the 13th, guess it had to happen. Been a pretty light day today though. No accidents.”
After just a few minutes, Luau and the girls picked me up. I exhaled as I climbed into the car with them. I was home. Katie had a million questions. I tried to keep up and shared the story as well as I could. I was exhausted.
The older mechanic’s words echoed in my head all night. Through dinner and bath time, into bedtime with the girls until I found myself still chewing on them late into the evening. No accidents.
There are a million levels upon which to interpret the concept that there are no accidents. I’m too firm a believer in self-determination and the power of individual will to truly embrace the idea of pre-destination. No matter how deep my (questionable) faith may be in God or Fate, I just can’t bring myself to believe that every moment of my life is predetermined. However, I do believe with all my heart that everything happens, in the way and in the time that it happens, for a reason. Whether that reason comes from the work of the greater forces of the universe can be left to a whole different conversation. What matters most to me is that in each and every experience, there is something to be learned. From catastrophes to victories, each and every thing we live through has value. Each and every story we have informs who we are and who we will become. Some of the lessons are obvious; some are well camouflaged. But when we’re open and ready to learn, the lessons are there. No accidents.
So I continued to chew on it. What was it that I was supposed to take away from all of this?
Why did my car curl up in the fetal position and say, ‘no mas’ in the middle of an intersection on a Friday night in the middle of rush hour? Or, if why is the wrong question, then what – as in what could I take away from all of this? What could I learn from all of it? Yes, I know; it was just a car breaking down. No one was hurt. What’s the big deal? But still, this is what I do. And so, from square one, I dissected the experience to within an inch of its life. Welcome to the inside of my head. (Yes, it’s crowded, chaotic and exhausting in there.)
When this all started, I was dwelling on work, as I’ve been for months. Hell, years. I was worried about money. I was concerned about how the decisions that I make will affect our financial security, or create a complete lack thereof. I haven’t figured out how to leave the stress behind when I leave my office. My stomach churned as I tried to make sense of it all. But as quickly as I could say, “what the hell was that?” none of that mattered a whit. Perhaps the God awful sound of metal grinding on metal was a wake up call. Sitting in the middle of that intersection, panicked, work was simply work. It was relegated to a distant compartment, where it should have been all along. What mattered ~ and always matters ~ is being safe and healthy and finding my way home.
Then there was the far too obvious metaphor.
I was a sitting duck in the middle of an incredibly busy three-way intersection. My car sat blocking the ramp back onto the highway I had just come from. On a Friday. In the middle of rush hour. As the lights changed, cars began to come at me from two different angles at a time. Horns blared, angry drivers shook fists and heads at me. People had obviously made their own assumptions about why I was where I was.
There I was ~ out of control, frightened, and completely misinterpreted by everyone around me. I couldn’t help but think of my baby girl in a store, assaulted by sounds and smells and lights. A baby cries. Brooke is scared. She screams. A fellow patron sneers at what they see as a little brat yelling, wondering why her parents don’t punish her for her behavior. They make assumptions based on what they think they see. We must always remember to step back and view the world through a lens of compassion. Our initial perception may well be far from what we are really seeing.
I had no way to communicate with him. I helplessly followed his instructions, frustrated that I couldn’t talk to him, but far more grateful just to be out of danger. I am so grateful for my baby’s ever expanding ability to communicate with us. We can never, ever take it for granted. Nor can we stop fighting to help EVERY child find words.
But now the same man stood before me asking me if I’d like him to call for a tow truck. Sometimes people that appear to be hostile may actually be the very people that ultimately offer salvation.
Without a word, he climbed out of the cab and onto the back of the truck. He made his way into my car, checked the mileage and came back to report it not thirty seconds before the service manager asked me the question. The smallest acts of kindness may be anything but small to someone else. It can take very little effort to be a hero in a tough moment.
I sat back and chatted with the tow truck driver. We listened to his Dominican house music and even laughed a little at the ridiculousness of the whole situation. There’s beauty and joy everywhere. Even in the cab of a tow truck. We just have to remember to look (or listen.)
“Jess, bring it here,” he said. “I can probably do something for you. Just come on in and we’ll figure it out.” When we’ve treated people with respect, they often treat us in kind. (The service manager convinced the company to cover the parts, even though the extended warranty had expired.)
Luau and the girls picked me up. I exhaled as I climbed into the car with them. I was home. All that matters in the end is finding my way home. (And home is not a place.)
Maybe in the end none of the individual lessons mattered. Perhaps the whole process was simply an exercise in remembering that they are there. That they are everywhere. And that there really are No Accidents.