Glad it happened

Years ago I worked with a hospital board member who had a confident answer for every thorny people-related situation:  "There's no problem so bad that a few good funerals can't solve."

Once the laughter died down, the shock value set in. I guess there was truth to that. People can't cause problems if they're no longer around.  

The shock value of that came to mind recently when I found myself in a car accident sandwich. A car had been following me too closely for my comfort over several miles, and as a result, my overpowering sixth sense was to pull over into a parking lot to let that car go by.

I didn't do that. Instead, I figured that once we got onto the expressway at the on-ramp nearby, that car would zoom around me and be gone.

Wrong. We both entered the on-ramp all right, and that's what the driver behind me intended to do. But there were brake lights in the lane ahead about 200 feet or so. I stopped just fine and was at a safe distance from the car in front of me.

However, the close car behind me couldn't stop or didn't stop, and plowed into me. That impact then pushed me into the car ahead.

So the three of us pulled over to the side and formed an instant trio. The young driver of the car behind me apologized profusely, saying how sorry she was, that she was trying to merge, and totally didn't see our lane stopped.

I apologized to the driver of the car I hit, and she couldn't have been nicer. "I heard two crash sounds," she said. "You got hit and then you had nowhere to go except into me. It wasn't your fault."

Our cars suffered little damage, no one was hurt, and we all worked through the insurance and police reports that followed. The whole thing was more of a nuisance than anything. As we were stuck on the side of the road feeling the constant whoosh of cars speeding past, we yearned to be one of those passengers who were unencumbered by the burden of a car accident and could travel on to their destinations.

It wasn't long before we were all on our respective ways. I headed to a quieter location where I could make the necessary calls and settle related matters.

Once I reflected on the experience, I realized that this car sandwich accident was good to have happened to me. Now for sure I'll be thinking actively about how life does change in an instant, about how to drive defensively every time I get into the car, and about the power I have to cause damage when I get behind the wheel.

I could have wished that this experience never happened. Deep down I asked myself, "Why me?" Why did I have to be the car in that exact place to get hit by someone following too closely? Because this was definitely a people-caused situation, a few good funerals could have solved it, right? Wrong again.

As inconvenient and maddening as it was, I'm glad it happened. Now I'm a more aware driver.

[Nancy Linenkugel is a Sylvania Franciscan sister and chair of the department of Health Services Administration at Xavier University, Cincinnati.]


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