(Special Note: I originally posted this story on July 24, 2015. Today, August 1, I heard from the woman who was the driver of the car involved. She has posted a lengthy comment at the end of this post. Please be sure to read it.)
Early yesterday evening, while riding back home to Atlanta from Chattanooga, Tennessee, where my friend, Paul, and I had spent an enchanting day as tourists, I had a brief encounter with my mortality.
When taking a road trip, Paul likes to take the back roads as much as possible. So do I. So, when we left Chattanooga, we traveled the country roads for a good hour and a half, enjoying the wide open spaces, tallying up all the Baptist churches, and, finally, making a pit stop with a roadside farmer who was selling homegrown cantaloupe and tomatoes out of the back of his pickup.
Eventually, Siri steered us onto I 75-Southbound to Atlanta. Traffic was tooling along smoothly and without incident – all six lanes of it. We were driving in the far left lane. And, you know how when you’re on a long trip, you get into a rhythm and settle in to the uneventfulness of it all?
So, there we were: tooling along, enjoying a nice road rhythm and settled into the uneventfulness of it all when, literally, from one second to the next, a car was spinning around in front of us, travelling across two lanes of traffic. When it entered our lane, I called out, “Whoa! Whoa!” But I wasn’t even that loud. And, I wasn’t even scared.
Paul was able to slow down and stop the car in time to avoid a collision. The spinning vehicle, a VW Jetta, had come to a stop on the shoulder and was facing southbound, in a perfect straight line.
“Pull up behind so we can make sure they’re okay,” I told Paul. I immediately called 911. Paul, a nurse, got out of the car to check on the VW’s passengers. Then, we waited for the police to arrive.
It turned out that that VW had one passenger, a woman, who kept saying, “I’m lucky to be alive.” All four of her air bags had deployed, yet her car was barely damaged. It seems that either she clipped a semi when she was changing lanes, or, the semi clipped her. I don’t know. We didn’t see any of that. All we saw was a car revolving across the lanes, a sight I’d never seen in real life, but had seen in “reel” life – the movies – about a million and a half times.
We stayed on the scene. The driver was pretty shaken up, as you might imagine. Paul kept her company by her car until, eventually, the police came and Paul and I were free to drive off.
And that’s when my mind and body registered what had just happened… how close we’d come to a possible fatal accident; how quickly one’s life can be altered, literally from one second to the next; how perfectly that car had spun across the lanes, neither striking any other vehicle nor the median, next to which it came to a perfectly-aligned stop; how, given the gravity of events, no one was hurt. All of it…an Absolute Miracle.
I awakened several times last night. My first thought kept going to the incident and to how fleeting our lives are. We might want to live to be (you fill in the number) but there is no guarantee of anything, after all. I thought of how precious life is and how each precious moment – and each precious person – deserves our full attention, appreciation and respect.
I thought about what I have done in my life. Then I thought about what I haven’t done for one reason or another – mainly because of fear. Then I thought about how much time I waste not doing what I know I’m supposed to be doing and how my time might run out while I’m wasting it by being afraid.
Mostly, though, I thought about the perfection of that series of moments which led up to the accident. I pondered how perfect was each detail, as if the event had been choreographed specifically for all of the people involved.
And then, all day today I found myself pensive and contrite. But mostly, thankful. Deeply, deeply thankful.
I went to the gym for a workout and marveled at the perfection of my body and its ability to perform any number of tasks which I ask of it. Then I went outside to sit by the pool and enjoy the air after a fresh rain.
As I studied lines for my acting class, my mind kept drifting back to the mysterious series of yesterday’s perfectly choreographed moments.
I was filled with absolute gratitude and humility for this beautiful gift of life which, for some reason that I will never know, I have been granted. And, yesterday, spared.
And while I sat there swimming in gratitude, I felt something around the top of my head. I picked up my cellphone and used its glass as a mirror. At the exact moment that my eyes looked into the glass, I saw a butterfly – a purple butterfly with black wings – landing atop my head.
There she sat for a moment, reminding me that all was well. You might not know this, but it’s a rare occurrence when a butterfly lands on one’s head. She reminded me that, even if I don’t yet fully understand it – and may never – my part in the incident which occurred yesterday was as perfect and right as the rare gift of her presence atop my head, right there and right then.
Now, read the comment from Susan, the woman in the car: