The other night I was driving to what would have been my 3rd yoga class when something big happened.
It was about quarter after 6pm, on one of the first fall-like evenings of the year. it felt simply beautiful driving with the window down, hand out, riding in the wind.
Suddenly I heard tires screeching. I looked up, and beyond the 5 or 6 cars ahead of me I saw smoke. Then fire. Then the screams reached my ears. I can’t tell you what it was but something pulled at my heart. I immediately crossed the other southbound lane to the left of me, and pulled into the median, facing the northbound lane. I left my car, unlocked, window still rolled down, and wallet on my seat, and ran toward the burning car and piles of mutilated metal and glass.
A woman stopped me, frantic, “Can I please use your phone? I need to call my husband.” As I handed her my phone I asked if she was hurt. She wasn’t. So I left it with her and ran towards the worst part of the scene. Three men were hovering over the man they had just pulled out of the burning car. He was flailing and screaming. They were pressing a blanket on his severe head wound.
“Is there anyone else in the car?” I asked.
I turned around and faced the other car involved. Two men were helping the man still in the drivers seat. I saw a woman, pacing and crying, holding her side with blood coming out of her mouth and all over her left hand. It was her husband still in the car. Her two daughters, also passengers, were sitting on the side of the road, in shock but not visibly badly injured. So I stayed with the woman. I asked her name. Linda. She was terrified for her husband, still stuck in the car, trying to move with the help of the 2 strangers. I finally was able to get Linda to sit, by putting her in view of her husband. We got him to tell her he was ok. She had just returned from Mayo….for her cancer treatment. She said she would never get into a car again.
Finally after what seemed like an eternity, a multitude of police, fire and paramedic personnel arrived.
One officer got behind Linda, crouching in the grass behind her, and stabalized her neck. A paramedic in front of her assessed her injuries and bandaged her hand. I let go of her just for a moment to retrieve my phone to get ahold of her brother for her. He didn’t answer. She begged us not to call her father, for “he was too old, and has already been through too much”. I refocused my attention to her, holding her other hand, when the officer asked me to do him a favor. “These mosquitos are terrible and I can’t move as I am holding her head straight. Will you smack them for me?” Before my first slap on his forehead I asked if he was sure – it isn’t every day you’re allowed to hit a cop. He nodded and with each smack of those pests upon his skin I apologized. One unreal and nearly humorous moment in a situation even more unreal and much more horrible.
As it became evident my “help” was less needed, I stepped back and watched the scene.
The firefighters dousing the melted car. The paramedics securing neck braces and hoisting each person on a gurney. The police officers getting statements from each witness, each stranger, each hero. I found myself standing next to a young woman, she looked to be about my age. She had been enjoying the seemingly beautiful evening with a bike ride, when he heard the same tire screeches I had, but they were much closer for her. A car which had swerved out of the way, luckily unharmed (the woman who asked me for my phone) nearly clipped the black of this young woman’s bike in trying to stay out of the accident. But her tires, and quite possibly her life, were spared. She quickly decided when this was settled down and we were able to go she would take the quick way home. After a few more minutes, watching the ambulances begin to drive away and the investigations and clean-up processes start, she said the magnitude of what actually just happened around her was just beginning to hit. She was going to call for a ride home. She tried several friends but no one answered. The scene was nearly clear now and the officer we had spoken to said it was fine for us to leave.
I turned to her and said, “I have the smallest car in the world, but let me take you home. we’ll fit your bike in there somehow”.
She agreed and we walked ourselves and her bike toward the middle of the 4-lane highway where I had left my car. Window still down. Wallet still on seat. As she was taking her front tire off in order to fit it into my tiny little vehicle better, it was then that we finally introduced ourselves. Her name was Taylor. We left the scene, maneuvering through the last remaining emergency vehicles and I drove her back to her dorm downtown. We were both a bit shocked but not too much for friendly conversation during the drive. She is a computer science major. She asked if I was a nurse because I seemed so calm and knowledgeable about Linda possibly having an internal injury. I said I wasn’t.
When we arrived, as she was reassembling her bike, I thought, maybe everything does happen for a reason. Maybe there is such a thing as being at the right place at the right time. and maybe, everyone who comes into your life, no matter in what way or how fleeting their presence may be, maybe they are supposed to be there. Maybe everything means something. Or maybe it doesn’t. But still, I gave her my number (and of course facebook info….I mean, this day in age….) and said, if you need a friend, or a ride, or anything, I’m here. And we’ve spoken since.
And everyone involved in the accident will be just fine.
When I finally drove home that night, much earlier than if I would have made it to my yoga class, I pulled into my driveway, looked up and the now dark and star-filled sky and started shaking. What if it had all turned out worse? I was 20 feet from a vehicle completely engulfed in flames. Linda and everyone else stayed conscious the entire time, but what if she hadn’t? What if those men wouldn’t have stopped to pull a stranger from that burning car? What if I hadn’t stopped? It may be silly to dwell on the “what if’s”, but everything you do, and even choose not to do affects the very next event in your life. And even sometimes later events. And even sometimes other people’s lives.
What would you do?