Yesterday night on my way home from work, I witnessed an accident. I was driving down one lane, and a car was approaching me in the other lane, going about fifty miles an hour. For a brief moment I saw a man stumble into the headlights of the car in the opposite lane. Media reports have confirmed that he was intoxicated. The only thought I registered before he was hit was the realization—I don’t even know if I could call it a thought—that he was about to be hit. The car hit him, and he flew up in the air. There was the sound of screeching tires and a sickening splattering sound as his body hit the sidewalk. I whipped my car into a nearby driveway and ran across the street to see if everyone was okay. The man was laying faced down in a puddle of blood that was pouring from his head. He was motionless. I assumed he was dead, but I checked his pulse anyway. I didn’t notice anything. I went to where the car that had hit the man had pulled off of the road. A woman nearly fell out of the driver’s seat into the road, already hysterical. I guided her to the side of the road as she wailed, horrified at what she had done. I called 911, told them what had happened, and stayed with the woman. I rubbed her back and held her hand. She said she couldn’t live with herself and collapsed on the ground. When the police arrived, they took over with the woman. I gave a brief description of what I saw and went home.
I was very calm during the event. In emergency situations—so far—I am remarkably calm. My mind takes over, and I jump into action. Who do I need to tend to? What do I need to do? How can I make the best of this moment and limit harm? I am as grateful for this trait as I am surprised by it.
Afterwards, I begin to shake. I cry. I need to recount what I saw and felt to someone. I have a tendency to lapse back into viewing the situation objectively while I am grieving that is frustrating: I’m aware of the fact that I need to express myself emotionally, but stoicism sets in. It leaves me with a feeling that I need to do something, or fix something. It’s very hard to describe.
I’m glad that I was available during the accident last night. I have experience as a bereavement volunteer with hospice, and have experienced tragedy in my own life. I tend to view life as a struggle, so my mind is never far from considering tragedy. Mentally, I am usually on a war-footing. I am comfortable in the presence of death. If it had been someone other than me there at that moment, I can’t be sure that they would have remained calm, or would have known how to interact with the hysterical driver. If no one had been there, I don’t know what would have happened with the driver. When she came spilling out of her car, she practically collapsed on the road herself.
I don’t understand a person’s tendency to curse fate when they are present in a critical moment. I understand it, I guess, but it doesn’t resonate. What I feel now, and began to feel not long after the event is a sense of gratitude that I was able to be of some small service at an important moment in the lives of two people. Much more challenging moments have come to other people, and many more people have risen much farther than I could ever hope to; but life requires so little of us so often, and our actions (and inactions) are often ambiguous at best. It’s good to be able to say that I did all that I could have done.
We’re not entitled to live a life unmarked by tragedy, or to be left unaware of what is ugly or unfair about this world. Moments will come for all of us, and when they do, we have to respond with what is best in us. Be proud of yourself if you are able to tap into some inner reserve of calm or bravery when you are tested. Carry the knowledge that life will test you around in your heart, and never pass up an opportunity to show yourself what you are made of. When the moment chooses you, be grateful for the challenge. Let it sharpen you.
As of an hour ago, the local news outlets have the man who was hit as being in critical condition in a local hospital.