The accident happened at the worst possible moment, although there is probably never a really good moment for a car accident. I was driving home through the rain, thinking about how much I had to do before I left for my daughter’s college graduation that week. I was thinking about what a difficult week it had been and feeling triumphant. I accomplished so much! Good for me! And then…crash! I was driving through an intersection, almost home, when an elderly man turned left and smashed into me, demolishing the front of my car.
Time slows down during accidents and emergencies. A crystalline clarity comes. I was aware of my thoughts. Wasn’t I driving straight through a green light? Was the driver impaired? He turned on red! But the thoughts seemed slow and overly simple, like a headline news stream, compared to the full feeling the impact. There was the sensation of the collision and the sound of crunching metal and breaking glass. And there was a deeper seeing. I watched myself try to refuse to take in what was happening. My mind tried to push it away with objections: It wasn’t right! Why did it have to be happening on the week of Alex’s graduation? Why did I have to be in that place at that time? And at the same time, a deeper awareness watched all this and more: I saw that every cell of my being was bracing itself, contracting, scooting away, DID NOT WANT THIS TO BE HAPPENING.
But all my thinking and objecting could not undo it. I sat stunned in the rain in my crushed little hybrid car. It got worse. The other driver, an elderly man who did seem a bit disoriented, got out of the big van he was driving and yelled at me to call the police because he did not have a phone. He hit crushed my car and then he yelled at me! His bullying manner was so unexpected and so wrong that I burst into tears. A volunteer fireman appeared out of nowhere and slipped into the seat beside me. He asked me if I was hurt. I told him that I was not although my feelings were very hurt. He nodded, this witnessing angel. I told him that my daughter was graduating from college that week. I told him that I loved my little Prius, and that I just bought it a few months ago. I told him it had been a very difficult week. These things happen, he told me kindly. This seemed incredibly true and profound. A very similar thing happened to him not long ago, he told me. Someone was texting and ran into him. Accidents happen. We both nodded. The important thing is that no one is hurt.
People should pay attention, I told him, realizing in my shocked state that this was also deeply true. Paying attention is the key to not being hurt. We waited together in the rain for a long time until the lcal police came. The press of errands and tasks just stopped, the flow of traffic proceeded around us, and I realized I would never be able to control life with my thoughts. Accidents would happen. It struck me as very strange then, that I would choose to live my taking the counsel of these ordinary thoughts, driven as they seemed to be by this pervasive fear, this grasping need to keep a grip on things, to keep unpleasant experiences out. I didn’t want to refuse life, drowning it out with our re, every shutting it out. Even as the tears flowed, I realized there is another way to live—not to like or dislike but to be receptive, to be interested and willing, open to receiving the truth that is always being offered. What inner conditions or qualities can help us meet life as it is?
“Don’t turn away,” counseled Rumi. “Keep your gaze on the bandaged place. That’s where the light enters you.”
We can practice being present with difficult feelings moment by moment, little ripples of fear or embarrassment or sadness that arise. As we see that we can be with these feelings for a moment with kindness and curiosity, seeing without fixing or fleeing, we may notice something else. We are not just what happens to us. We are also the compassionate light that sees.