Yesterday afternoon I went to our local grocery store to pick up a few things. As usual, a few things turned into lots of things. The temps outside were high in the 90s, and the humidity levels were off the chart. I admit I’m not at my best in weather like this, but after walking into the store’s wonderful air conditioning, I decided to just take my time shopping while cooling off.
Finally, I was finished and checked out. The heat hit me like the proverbial blast furnace, but my car wasn’t that far away. As I pushed my cart toward my car, a large black truck crossed in front of me by inches. It startled me, but I went several steps behind it to get to my car.
Just as soon as I started walking, the truck backed up quickly. The driver obviously did not see me, and what happened next feels like a slow-motion nightmare. I yelled “whoa, whoa, WHOA!” and ran as fast as I could pushing a heavy cart. My mind went right to instant react mode and I didn’t stop running until I reached my car.
I don’t think that the driver even looked in his rearview mirror as he backed up. He must have heard me yelling and slowed down; his bumper was inches away from me. I don’t know exactly what he did because all I wanted in that moment was to get to my car, load up my stuff and GO.
Looking back at it, I wonder why I didn’t stop to confront the driver. I don’t even know if anyone saw me nearly get run over. All I remember is that I had to run and run fast. By the time I had loaded everything into my car and parked the cart, all I wanted to do was to go home.
In those short minutes my brain went right back to the primordial ooze to flee the oncoming danger. And honestly, I didn’t think that I could run that fast. Once in my car I started shaking, both in relief and anger. I was furious, and felt like an idiot for not confronting that driver. When I get scared, my go-to reaction is anger, then embarrassment; I always feel that things like this are somehow my fault.
What I realized on the way home was that I was experiencing a little PTSD. Years ago I had a car crash on my way to work on an icy morning. I was taking the on-ramp to get on the highway, and the tires hit black ice. The car struck the right side of the ramp, then the left side, and then it flipped over and landed on its wheels facing the wrong way. Long story short, help arrived immediately and I wasn’t hurt.
Then last November, a friend of mine and I were driving to a restaurant. We had an accident while turning onto the side road. Neither of us was hurt (nor was the driver who hit us), but it understandably shook us up.
So why am I telling you this? Because these ‘near misses’ happen and often our very lives flash before us. In some part of our brain we catalog at the speed of light, thinking ‘is this it? Is this the day I die? I’m not ready! I want to live!’
Believe it or not, I think that that last sentence says it all. At that fragile second we affirm that yes, we want to stay alive. We are not ready to die. We want more of life. So our “fight or flight” instinct kicks in. And when it does, we can run faster than we thought we ever could. We can swerve over enough so that we stay alive and unhurt. When the car rolls over and lands on its wheels, we are safe and in place.
…and if I could face the driver of that truck from yesterday, I would have a few choice words for his inattention. No shouting, no swearing, just an admonition (spoken through my teeth) to stop, look and listen.