This past Monday, I was on my way home, driving in rush hour traffic, when I rear-ended the car in front of me. This occurred at an intersection where they just put in a new traffic light and another lane. It’s disorienting, as we’re used to moving, but yielding to oncoming traffic. Now the traffic light prohibits right hand turns against a red light. In this particular case, the driver of the car that I hit was confused, thinking the light was red, when it actually was green. Luckily, I had reduced my speed on the turn and my car breaking system is pretty robust! So while I did hit her bumper, I did so with minimal force and impact. Just a few scratches that can be buffed out on my car, and her bumper, although it had many scratches, they didn’t look to be the result of the event that had just occurred (I’ll spare you the details of why this was notable). As far as I was concerned there wasn’t any major damage for either of us, and, most importantly, neither of us was hurt (although I was more worried about her, than myself). I asked if she wanted to call the police, or she preferred we each take care of our own damages, etc. That’s when she said “But my car has more damage than yours.” I looked down again at her bumper and I commented, “not all these scratches are from today’s accident, and there are no dents in your bumper. But it’s your call.”
“Oh know”, she said, “These are all from today.” Sigh … I could see it coming.
Ca-ching! I must admit that I was peeved by her exaggeration of the circumstances.
She did not understand that she had been sitting at a green light and had denied this until two witnesses appeared and told her (as did I) that she was sitting at a green light. The witnesses provided me their name and number and offered to help. I am grateful for these two women who stopped and offered their support. Most people would have kept on driving. But I do live in a delightful little town.
Regardless of fault, I felt really bad. And I have all week. Guilt sucks!
Two days after my road warrior mishap, I’m sitting in a meeting at work and my friend Courtney arrives late, seemingly shaken, and a bit “out of sorts.” She apologizes for being late. “I’ve been in an accident. Some idiot rear-ended me!” I sink in my chair, wishing I could slither all the way under the conference room table, into a hole in the middle of the earth! Guilt sucks! Naturally, I console her, and I am concerned for her, and I am choked up knowing that I did the very same thing to someone else 2 days ago. Admittedly, in her case, the driver really was an idiot for being in a car pool lane, illegally, and as the police officer tried to pull the driver over to the side of the road, he hit Courtney’s car. Courtney, as always, is sweet and supportive, and accepts my confession of being a “rear-end offender” with a hug and return consolation (thank you Courtney).
It is now 4 days later … I still feel bad. Why, why, why? The answer slowly makes its way to the surface.
About 6 years ago, I was driving to work, taking the scenic route, on a beautiful day and on a beautiful 2-lane road that winds through the mountains. The beauty ended the minute I ended up being a victim of road rage, by a male driver who didn’t want me passing him up. He decided he’d rather push me into the side of the hill, but to do so, he had to also push me into the other lane, head on with another car coming in my direction. I slid back as best I could, but I lost control of my car, which ricocheted off a boulder, spinning my car further until the velocity pushed me up the side of a hill, facing in the opposite direction. The windshield was smashed, both airbags deployed and the only thing that saved my car from rolling over was the boulder that latched itself to my front wheel. Did I mention I was driving a convertible with the top down? Rolling a car upside down, I’m pretty sure, would have been messy. As the car was spinning out of control and I watched the trees swirl around me, I thought to myself, “there is nothing that I can do now. This is out of my hands. I have no control over what will happen next.” What didn’t happen, and what I was eternally grateful for: I did not hit the oncoming car, a mother driving her daughter to school, and although my car was a goner, I walked away without a scratch (was pretty damned sore though). The woman whom I didn’t hit called the police, allowed me to call my husband using her cell phone, and acted as my witness. Because life’s circumstances often happen in split second timing, neither of us got the license place of the offending driver. Of course he never stopped, never even slowed down (but you know who you are buddy, having driven your black, Toyota Tercel on Bear Creek Road that April morning!).
I have often wondered where he was headed that day and upon arriving there, did he continue his day as usual: A cup of coffee and, perhaps, a “good morning” said to a colleague? Did he wonder if I was OK, or if I even survived? Just how, I pondered, does someone carry on a normal day after they have intentionally run someone off a road, never having looked back?
That event changed me. Changed me in ways that I had obviously forgotten until this past Monday evening at 6:00 pm. Sometimes we get fired up, get mad, or feel bad, or lousy. Everyone does, and that’s just how it goes. But when these feelings persist, like mine did, and I was feeling bad all week and I just couldn’t shake it off, it was helpful for me to take a step back and figure out why I couldn’t seem to let it go. While this recent incident didn’t traumatize me, it did help me identify a previous hurt that I had forgotten, but that was, nevertheless, still there lurking in the background. And when I think about it, sometimes when we are forced to bring something back to the surface a time or two, it helps us heal. Helps us understand, and that in of itself can ease a burden that we unknowingly carry. And I did the right thing: I stopped, and I made sure the driver was OK, I traded phone numbers, and I felt sorry. But now, I can move on and get over it already! Cuz after all, guilt sucks!