My wedding anniversary was Monday. Twenty-five years, which is a shocking number to me. I remember the first time I realized I’d had a friend for that long, or that an album I’d purchased with my own money reached that age. It isn’t new knowledge that the older you get, the faster time goes, but sometimes the realization hits home and staggers you a bit.
Sheryl worked on Monday, so we spent most of last Saturday out and about, celebrating by purchasing new books at our favorite bookstore (The Printed Garden), eating lunch at a delicious Chinese restaurant, and looking for new flooring (puppy claws and hardwood floors do not like one another).
It was a pleasant day, and I was feeling pretty good about things as we drove home. At the intersection of a major highway, I waited for an opportunity to turn right. Traffic on this road travels between 55-70 MPH depending on the time of day. It is wise to wait for a very clear lane before turning as to avoid misjudging the speed of oncoming vehicles. In my old age (wink), I’ve learned some patience behind the wheel, so I waited.
A minivan in the far right lane slowed to a stop, and I concluded the light was turning red. In the moment before I decided to turn, I noticed a white Jeep approaching the minivan at high speed. It wasn’t slowing, wasn’t going to stop.
The impact launched the stationary minivan through the intersection (which was luckily still empty), and I watched in fascination as the crumpled car wobbled past me. I marveled at the damage (the rear end was obliterated), amazed to see the driver still conscious, attempting to maneuver off the road.
I heard my wife next, shouting something like “Use your brakes. Stop.” and I looked to my left.
The Jeep was bearing down on us, rolling at around 20-30 MPH. There was little I could do but wait for the inevitable. The Jeep crushed my driver side door, nearly bending it off the hinges. I may have let loose a swear or two.
With some help from kind people we were able to move all the vehicles off the road. Before I was able to exit my Toyota (through the passenger side door), paramedics were already on scene and the police arrived two minutes later.
Fortunately no one was hurt.
Unfortunately, the driver of the Jeep was very drunk. He spectacularly failed every sobriety test, and a search of his vehicle uncovered an empty pint of vodka. He was arrested and taken away before the first tow-truck arrived.
I spent the next hour stewing about my damaged SUV, angry about what had happened, how it had unfolded, and how unnecessary it all felt. Driving home, most of the adrenaline was slipping away, and my thoughts turned to the absolute luck of it all. Things could have been so much worse. Someone could have been injured or killed. If children had been in the van, they would have certainly been hurt. If the van had not been there and the Jeep had continued through the red light, he would have impacted cross traffic and maybe an unsuspecting Ryan turning right.
The carelessness, the selfishness of one individual angered me.
But something else pushed through- Compassion
I felt (and still do feel) so much sympathy for this young man who had made a terrible choice. I doubt this was his first time driving drunk, but the repercussions of this particular decision will certainly be many- The hefty fine for DUI, the arrest record, loss of employment (maybe), loss of insurance (and the likelihood his insurance company sues him), the driver of the minivan will likely sue; the inevitable guilt.
I don’t know what events in this guys life, what decisions or outside influences put him in the position where he concluded getting behind the wheel was a smart choice, but I feel so sorry for him.
I might feel differently if I’d been injured, or if someone else had been hurt, but I hope my compassion would remain intact. I’m not naive and certainly believe there should be consequences for actions, especially those that adversely impact others, but I really hope this kid gets his life together, and that this one bad choice doesn’t ruin his life completely.
Hope is a good thing, right?
Also, these events have caused me a great deal of introspection, made me reevaluate every time I’ve been out with friends, had a few drinks.
But that is what life is supposed to be about, learning not only from our own mistakes, but from the errors of others.
As of today, I’m still feeling grateful, thoughtful, careful. I hope that continues.