If you’ve ever been in a semi-serious car accident, you know what I mean. On the scale between fender bender and tragedy, this kind of wreck falls about midway. I’m talking about one of those wrecks that, though you walk away apparently unscathed, you realize you could have been hurt much worse if things had been even slightly different: if your car didn’t have those safety features, if you’d been going faster, if your breaks had not been brand new . . .. You got lucky this time—but just barely.
The day after, you don’t feel so lucky because you find that you hurt in places you didn’t even know you had. You turn your head in a certain way and pain shoots down your back. Automatically, your brain records this information and will not let you turn that way again. (Pain is such a good teacher, isn’t it?) That’s the way it goes for the next week or so. You keep finding new places that hurt, adjusting this way or that, to accommodate the pain. It works. Mostly.
The next time you get in your car, you realize that your physical aches and pains are nothing compared to the anxiety that washes over you behind the wheel. You are far more cautious and watchful. You hold back. You startle more easily. This new hyper-alert sensitivity, this extra hesitancy, remains. It’s the new normal.
It’s been 30 years since my brother’s life-altering wreck. He was a freshman, in his second semester of college, and it was exam season. He’d been studying at the university, so it was late when he drove home that night. Meanwhile, a 59-year-old businessman & his wife who had been visiting their grandchildren headed home--tipsy, sure, but they could still drive. They picked up a 6-pack of beer on the way.
At the point of impact, both drivers were going about 50 mph. (“That’s like driving 100 mph straight into a brick wall,” my daddy always adds.) My brother remembers bits and pieces from the scene: the flashing emergency lights, the jaws of life extracting him from the vehicle, being covered—blanketed really—by shards of glass. . ..
The grandfather died at the scene; his blood alcohol content more than triple the legal limit (this without the additional 6-pack). His wife, so intoxicated that medical professionals struggled to get a read on the extent of her injuries, survived.
My brother had what would be called a full recovery and we are all grateful. But that wreck changed him in permanent and irreversible ways. He has scars he wouldn’t have had. He has sinus problems to this day because of all the glass that was embedded in his face. Plus, he has plenty of other physical frustrations (nothing life threatening, thank God) that can be traced back to that wreck. Plus, for years—decades, actually—he would find bits of glass working their way out of his flesh. My mother suspects it’s not all out yet.
I’ve had his wreck on my mind a lot lately. Monumental anniversaries have a way of bringing the long ago into the here and now, so there’s that; but the other thing is, wrecks don’t just happen when you’re driving. I’ve experienced (and I bet you have too) painful losses that have left my heart feeling a bit like a crash site. You know what I mean, right? Maybe you’ve been blind-sided by life before as well.
Just like after a car crash, you keep uncovering fresh pain.
Life contains all kinds of wrecks, doesn’t it? And I think it is okay to acknowledge that we are changed by such things, changed in ways we never wanted to be.We wish the memory hadn’t been clouded over by future realities. We never wanted to give up our dreams, but circumstances required it. So painful, in fact, that even when we think we are completely fine and have grown beyond and in spite of the hurt, a new pain can work its way to the surface and bring it all back.
At those times, even if you are mostly fine, you might need to stop, treat the new pain you’ve found, and rest, knowing that sometimes to heal the pain, you have to spend some time feeling it first.