Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Car Accident Shows Me the Real Purpose of Life

Last Saturday began like any other Saturday. After I finished praying I went to my car to drive to Mass. I knew I needed to gas up. At the exit gate for the apartment complex, I could either turn right to go to Mass first, or turn left to gas up before going to Mass. It was 7:30 (really, time to go to Mass), but I figured I could squeeze in the errand on the way. I was very confident in the time--I was nearly there at 7:33.

I was nearly there when I was involved in a car accident.

As I came up to a green light and was ready to enter an intersection, I saw a car in the intersection across my lane. I became confused: cars can't be pulling across my path while I have a green light. "That's not how traffic signals work," I thought, and when I saw a second car (a white pickup truck) pull into the intersection I slammed on my brakes, hoping to stop at the stop line until the craziness stopped.

This all happened in a matter of seconds! I wish I could convey things that quickly, but I can't communicate in words that elegantly.

I began to realize that my velocity wasn't dropping fast enough, and the white truck was not moving quickly enough to get out of my way. I skidded toward the intersection, aimed like a juggernaut at his driver's side. And I thought: "Oh my. This is probably my death. Is this it, Jesus? Wow. I hadn't expected it to happen this way. Okay, Jesus. Okay! I just...I'm not ready!"

I was surprised that I did not feel very frightened. I was almost calm. I felt like I was standing at the edge of a tremendous ridge at evening--steep and dangerous, but also beautiful, quiet and without threat. Although unafraid, I was very moved (possibly attributable to high sympathetic tone), and a little regretful.

I tensed for impact. An enormous sound (part "boom" and part "crack") came as my truck met the other truck. A shock wave went through me and my airbag deployed. I felt it touch my nose as I came to a stop. The dirty ivory of the airbag and its dusty vapor overwhelmed my vision for an instant.  My hands still gripping the steering wheel, I began to realize that the accident was over and I was still alive. I thought of all the potential injuries that I could have, but I soon realized that I was completely unhurt.

Immediately after this I looked out of my windshield at the front of the truck and realized that I was going to have to tell my father I destroyed his favorite car. But next I looked out my driver's side window at the white truck. "I could have killed someone," I whispered aloud to myself in horror, and went into a Hail Mary for the other person. As I prayed that they were alive, I wondered how my life would change if I had committed manslaughter. I was looking out onto the other truck's driver's-side window, but the side airbag had gone off and I could not see what the driver was like, or whether there were passengers. My hands still gripped the steering wheel, my feet still pushed clutch and brake. My engine was still running.

Then I saw a flicker of movement behind the airbag, and I breathed. Rediscovering my hands, I tried to open my door (thinking I could maybe medically be of use to them), but I could only open a few inches.

Then I saw an ambulance in the left turn lane just behind where the white truck had been. Its lights were flashing and two EMTs were coming towards the wreck, but I hadn't heard a siren.

The one coming toward me called out to ask if I were all right. They opened the door of the other truck and let out an unhurt older man. She came to my door, pulled it open with some force, and suggested I come out of my car because of the fumes curling out of the deployed airbag (which had sat undeployed for twelve summers, so who knows what I was breathing). The EMTs called the police and dismissed the fire engine and second ambulance that came. The police drove me home. I sat in my apartment for a minute and cried, overwhelmed.

My soul couldn't figure out what was going on! I was prepared for an ordinary day, and then death came. Then, I was preparing for death, and instead I got back an ordinary day (sans car). "Jesus," I asked, "I know something this big is probably very purposeful and a sign from You to me about something. But what?"

It took me a few days. As I thought about the moments before the accident and my little "I'm not ready" and feelings of regret, I was reminded of a scene from the The Pianist. As the Jewish protagonist, Władysław Szpilman, and his sister are being marched into boxcars headed for concentration camps, he whispers to her: "I wish I knew you better."

That was the whisper of regret in my soul as I careened into that pickup truck: I wish I knew Jesus better. What is life for except to fall in love with God and to become slowly conformed and even identical with Him, to spend everything with Him and on Him?

The ambulance that appeared without a siren was actually right behind the white truck in traffic, and was headed back to its station. The EMTs driving watched the cars in front of them turn at the red light. They watched the accident. One told me as I sat in the ambulance, "we said to each other, 'this is gonna be bad,' 'this is not going to end well.' It's really surprising that both of you are completely okay." I'm living on borrowed time. I hope that time will now be rightly spent on the real purpose of life: I want to live with Jesus so that I can die with Jesus. I want to know Him better.

No comments:

Post a Comment