Moments That Stop You in Your Tracks

Posted April 16, 2012

I’ve never been in a car wreck, and after this morning, I’m glad to say that’s still true. But it almost wasn’t.

I was driving on the outer loop of the Capital Beltway from Maryland to Virginia around 9 a.m., listening to the Tom Joyner Morning Show. They had just finished talking to the man who was trying to be the first black bachelor on the TV show, “The Bachelor.” The woman announcer, Sybil made me laugh at how outraged she was that this black man would be exclusively dating white women on national television. I was doing about 60 mph in a group of cars – fairly typical for a morning commute at this hour. The brake lights of the burgundy vehicle in front of me lit up as we approached the bend where I270 joins I495. It’s not unusual to see brake lights on the beltway during rush-hour traffic, but this was no light tapping of the brakes; these were coming-to-a-screeching-halt brake lights. I immediately reacted and slammed my foot on the brake pedal.

Just three days before I had been at the repair shop getting new rear brakes – for a couple of weeks, I had been hearing that giveaway grinding sound of worn brake pads. I walked out of the repair shop about $400 lighter but reminded myself that brakes are not something to mess around with.

As I skidded forward, I felt everything in the car slide onto the floor. Ahead of me was a sea of cars and red brake lights. Behind me a white SUV was advancing at high speed. We were in the far left lane with cars quickly coming to a stop in the right lane next to us. There was no way she was not going to hit me. The white SUV veered to the left and disappeared from my rear-view mirror. I waited for the inevitable impact. As I rolled forward, the SUV suddenly reappeared behind me, now moving at the same speed. I realized I wasn’t breathing and took a deep gasp of air. She hadn’t hit me!

We continued to move with the rest of the traffic as everything gradually slowed to a stop. At that moment, tears filled my eyes – perhaps at the realization that I was okay, that we were all okay. I was shaking and needed to talk to someone – that human instinct, I suppose, in a moment of crisis, to connect with another person. I wanted to pull over and talk to the young woman in the SUV behind me to see if she was okay, to see if she was as stunned by what had just happened. Instead, we sat on the highway surrounded by people, each one of us cocooned in a metal box.

With the car now stopped in a line of traffic, I reached down to the passenger floor to retrieve my cell phone. I wanted to talk to someone. My parents are overseas and I couldn’t think of who would be available to answer my call at this hour on a Monday morning. I connected my earpiece and called my friend and neighbor, Brenda, hoping she wasn’t in a meeting. She answered, and helped me to breathe and eventually made me laugh. Hearing her voice, her concern and having the opportunity to share the moment gave me the release I needed to reach my destination without dissolving into a sobbing mess.

I am grateful to my brakes. I am grateful to the instant reaction of all the drivers around me to stop without anyone of us hitting another vehicle. And I’m grateful to Brenda.

It was a frightening reminder of the value of three things:

  1. Car maintenance – don’t put it off!
  2. Be present – pay attention to what’s happening right now, in this moment.
  3. Good friends and loved ones – having people to call during a crisis (no matter how large or small) is priceless!

Life is precious and can be so fleeting. We must cherish it, cherish each other and make the most of every moment – spend it with loved ones, do things that bring us joy. I’m grateful to be here to share this experience with you.