We were in a hurry. Flying down the highway toward Middletown, opting for this quicker route from our small town to reach a college event, I glanced into my rearview mirror and my life was about to change.
Two lanes were being forced to merge left into one lane for bridge repairs about a half-mile ahead. For some strange reason no one was immediately behind me. I had already pulled over to the left lane and was stopped while a handful of cars continued forward on the right hoping to merge further up the road.
That moment when I looked into my rearview mirror was characterized by frustration. We were running behind. I hate to be late. I am a punctuality fanatic. Every route I could have chosen to Middletown had construction and slow-downs. I did not expect this one. Playing in the background was a relaxing song from the album, The Piano Guys.
In that instant I didn’t really think. My life didn’t flash before my eyes. It just happened, and then it was over.
A young man, who looked like he was approximately 20 years old, was driving a Subaru wagon. He was driving very fast, and he was not paying attention. He did not see that we were stopped. He was in my lane and heading straight for my car at 65 to 75 miles per hour.
At the last moment, he swerved away from my car (I get very emotional and begin to shake just recalling it). He steered right fairly hard, but did not spin out. Somehow, he maintained partial control over his car. And then he hit that guard rail, but not before he had managed to steer left and almost straighten out his vehicle. And then it was over.
My heart was pounding, hard. I was not alone in my car, and in the moments after this young man had brought his car to a stop on the right shoulder of the highway, I took a quick assessment. I asked my sons if they were okay. I didn’t really mean physically. They had just witnessed their first collision, and we had nearly been victims.
Being guys, of course they said they were fine. I know I wasn’t. My heart was still pounding, and I was breathing short, quick breaths. I shuddered and knew that our evening could have ended quite differently. We could have all been riding in the backs of ambulances. Any one of us could have been killed. That was how bad this collision could have been.
Then, mom mode kicked in. The first vehicle to pull over was a large black pickup. I looked to make sure the road was clear, and pulled from the left lane over to the right shoulder and got out of my car. I walked deliberately toward the young man who was already out of his car assessing the damage. He looked fine.
The driver from the pickup truck and I asked the young driver simultaneously if he was okay. Physically, he was alright. I could tell that emotionally, however, he was not sure how to handle this situation. He was nice-looking, medium-height, with light brown hair and kind blue eyes, and this could have been his last day on earth if he hadn’t looked up in time. If he hadn’t reacted the way he did and gotten control of his car (with a lot of help from that guard rail), he might have rear-ended me, flipped over trying to avoid me, or hit a tree on the center median of the highway.
The first thing I did was thank him for not hitting me. If you have never been in a collision of any kind, or needed to avoid a stopped car such as he did, it is difficult to imagine. I have been in two fairly serious collisions in my life, both in my early 20s, one where a driver pulled in front of me making a left-hand turn then stopping and the other where a driver just didn’t see me coming and pulled out in front of me from my right. In the first I didn’t have time to swerve enough; there was no way to avoid hitting that stopped car. I told that young man yesterday that he did an amazing job avoiding a serious collision.
I explained to him that this situation might have ended so very differently if he hadn’t looked up in time to swerve. I think I shocked him because I wasn’t yelling at him. I wanted him to experience vast amounts of gratitude for his life (and ours). The adrenaline was flowing and we were all assessing the moment. I looked in this man’s eyes and told him that I was glad that he didn’t hit me or anyone else, and that this incident should be life-changing for him, an opportunity to consider his future driving habits.
He laughed and said that this was his “wake-up call.” I told him that I didn’t ever want to read in the paper that he had been killed late one night driving home from . . . I don’t know why, but I was just being a mom in that post-traumatic moment we were sharing. He gladly accepted the small lecture and did something unexpected (my 21 year old commented on it later that night). This young man reached out and hugged me. I told my son that I don’t think he was comforting me but that he had needed a hug, some kind of reassuring human contact. I embraced him (no, I never thought to get his name — I didn’t need to) and walked back to my car after ensuring that he could handle changing the flat tire, that his car would be drivable and that he had a working cell phone should he need to call someone.
This entire incident could have ended differently. That is what makes me cry now as I write this post. My youngest son was in the right rear passenger seat. His older brother was in the front passenger seat. They could have been seriously injured or killed. In that moment, our lives might have changed forever as a family and as individuals. We could have had a very different future ahead of us if that young man had plowed into the rear of our car at high speed.
I am so thankful, and, yes, thanking God for protecting all of us yesterday. I acknowledge publicly that I believe in angels. We are alive.
We arrived safely at my event, albeit slightly shaken up, and we had an enjoyable evening finishing it off at home with a small family celebration of my 21-year-old’s birthday. Yes, he turned 21 yesterday. We watched The Empire Strikes Back, ate amazing chocolate cake, two flavors of delicious ice cream, and those of us who were 21 and up enjoyed a refreshing microbrew. We laughed an awful lot at that movie (we have seen it so many times that we know all the lines and don’t even need to hear the dialog). It was a memorable day, a lovely evening, and a fun night.
We celebrated life last night. We are all alive, and that young man is alive.
On my way to the ball . . . my life, and my sons’ lives, changed for the better.