Roughly twenty-five percent of American drivers have been involved in some sort of auto accident in the past five years. Six years ago I was involved in car-bike crash. I was the driver and that day changed my life.
It was a sunny summer evening and I was facing west about to turn south. The sun was in my eyes as I scanned the left and right– trying to find an opening to enter the busy two-lane highway for my two-mile trip home. The intersection was known by folks in my office as a precarious one. Traffic traveled fast. There was a slight bend in the road and an incline that made cars appear seemingly “out of nowhere.” I often found the turn unnerving.
It was just as I turned into the road that I heard a thud and saw arms go up in front of my Jeep bumper. I jumped out to find I’d hit a cyclist– a real cyclist, not a commuter.
Onlookers who came upon the scene, two of whom actually knew me, would later tell me they thought I had gone into shock which is likely true given my own background. As I tried to dial 911 the cyclist, a young woman, began yelling at me.
As it goes these days, folks involved in auto accidents typically don’t talk to each other after the event for legal reasons. And so, in the months that followed the only way I could learn anything about what happened to the cyclist was via social media. It was through Facebook no less that I learned the extent of her leg injuries and her plans to return to racing. Yes. She was a serious racer and rather militant when it came to roadway rights and cyclists.
While the accident took her out of commission for several months I was glad to see she returned to her love the following spring and placed in a local race. And while I suspected she held a grudge against me (some entries on her FB page indicated this), there was a lot she didn’t know.
It takes a brave injured party to reach out to the person on the other side of a negative, life-altering experience, and the other day “Val” did just that when she messaged me though my LinkedIn account. Apparently she had been involved in another accident and several other near misses and was speaking out in the media about her experiences delivering “share the road” messages. She wanted to let me know that she had given her account of our accident and had characterized me as “lacking attention” that afternoon. She offered me a chance to give my side. For this I was thankful and began at once to type.
I started by telling Val that the accident impacted my life greatly. I completely stopped driving for more than three years (and where I live there is no reasonable public transportation by the way) and that I don’t really drive to this day but once in a blue moon. I explained my childhood trauma whereby I was hit by a car while straddling my bike as I waited on the side of the road for a car to pass. My injuries, I wrote, were serious as most of the bones in my face were fractured; my left eye forever dark…blinded. Despite the numerous surgeries that followed, I advised that I never felt anything bad toward the driver– an elderly man who was likely blinded by the setting sun that evening in 1969.
My encounter with Val in 2011 was a replay of what had happened to me– a tragic addition to the accident tape of flashbacks that had been playing in my head since I was five. Finally, I explained my side of things, which was the reason for her writing me. I told her I had been paying attention when I pulled out onto the highway. I had done all my half-blind person extended head checks which required me to twist my head much further than a full-sighted person and double make sure. Quite simply, there was too much going on with the traffic and I did not see her sleek silhouette coming up the shoulder. Thanking her for reaching out, I wished her the best.
The next day I received a thoughtful second message from the cyclist saying how much she appreciated my honesty and that my reply had given her a new perspective of things– one that made her one-sided experience whole.
While it is not easy to reach out to someone who has hurt you in some way, I recommend trying whenever possible. It sometimes takes space and time, and it doesn’t always turn out well, but potentially there is greater healing for the soul if we can better understand the other side. Invariably nothing is close to the whole when viewed from one perspective.