What a Crash Taught Me about Life

The car accident I witnessed a few days ago caused me to reflect on life, my attitude, and how much we don’t understand. I’ve witnessed a few accidents before, but they were not particularly surprising to me—a car failing to stop at a light or a rear-end collision. However, this accident seemed out of place. The drive had been like any other. The sun was shining and there were very few clouds in the bright blue sky. The SUV violently jumping the median and snapping a decent sized tree stood in stark contrast to the tranquil, pleasant atmosphere around it. It shocked me how it seemed to occur for no particular reason, on a segment of busy road that had fortunately cleared for a few seconds.

I live very close to a large mall. The road in front of the mall is divided and has a median that is filled with rocks, trees and bushes, until it begins to approach the next intersection. A small SUV about 100 feet in front of me entered the left turn lane that is built into the median, but the driver did not slow down and did not turn left. The first thing that caught my eye was the cloud of dust that shot out as the rear axle launched over the curb. In the same moment, the SUV ran directly into a sizeable tree. As the wood snapped, it was as if my vision slipped into slow motion; I could see the details as splinters of wood burst away from the trunk. A combination of the curb and the tree caused the car to spin nearly 180 degrees as it came to rest on the other side of the median. The broken tree collapsed, blocking two lanes of traffic, and removing the vehicle from my view. Thankfully, all oncoming traffic was stopped at the next light.

I braked, navigated my car around the grapefruit sized rocks that had been tossed into my lane and wondered what to do. The only car between me and the SUV stopped in the next turn lane, only just behind the crash. As I slowly approached, I saw a young man dash across the street and fling open the driver’s door. The driver was a woman, probably in her 50s. She looked frightened as she gasped for breath and flailed her arms, possibly to push the airbag away from her.  I watched in my side mirror as several other vehicles stopped and people rushed to help—the stoplight must have turned green. Those who stopped had likely witnessed the crash as the were waiting at the red light.

Initially, I considered pulling my car over and rushing to help. However, there were already a couple people there and I realized I would not be able to do much. So I slowly continued forward, keeping watch in my side mirror as I waited in the left turn lane at the stoplight.

The light changed and a horde of cars came from my right (the mall exit), making a left turn down the road where the crashed SUV and broken tree laid. Due to the left two lanes being blocked, the vehicles were quickly forced to merge. I glanced at the faces of the drivers in the leftmost lane. From where they were, they could not see the accident that had occurred only a hundred feet in front of them. The expressions of annoyance and aggravation on the face of one woman stuck out to me. She would be held up for only a minute, while another woman could have been seriously injured or killed.

Making my turn, I continued on my way home as I reflected on the incident. How often do we react to situations without really understanding the circumstances? I wondered if the annoyed woman felt ashamed when the cars in front of her moved and the accident came into view. I don’t judge her for her reaction. More than once, I have felt ashamed after reacting rashly or judging someone prematurely.

Upon arriving home I said a prayer for the woman’s health and safety. Over the next hour or so, I reflected on the irony of the situation I had just witnessed. Have you ever noticed that it can be easier to keep calm and act rationally when big things occur? I remember a few times when I had to give someone awful or uncomfortable news. I was filled with anxiety and dread, but their calm responses to the news filled me with a sort of relief. It is amazing to see people evaluate the gravity of a situation and slip into problem solving mode. Yet, I have noticed the same thing in me. “The car broke down? Well, we have to get it fixed, I guess we will have to be extra careful with our spending for the next few months.” It is not the big things, but the small things that tend to upset me.

Life seems to be a mixture of the mundane and the unexpected. When unexpected things occur, we act like the aggravated woman more often than we like to admit. In our interactions with those around us, we judge without understanding. In reality, we know very little about what is happening in the lives of those around us. Unspoken pains could even weigh down the people who are the closest to us, and we would never know it.

Many great individuals have commented on the “measure of a man”. Martin Luther King Jr. claimed a man is measured, “Not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy”. Plato claimed the measure is, “What he does with power”. Lord Kelvin, (the scientist for whom the temperature scale is named,) believed the measure is what a man would do, “If he knew he would never be caught”.

While all of the above statements are profound, I would suggest a different measure. I believe a person can be measured by their reactions to the little things. It is not easy to react gently when someone is needlessly rude (especially if you’ll never see them again). It is not easy to love those who consistently aggravate us. Yet the way we react in everyday situations are the evidences of our true character. They are evidences of the people we really are. When measured by this standard, I fall hopelessly short.

We should all seek to cultivate a spirit of understanding and empathy towards the people around us, whether we know them or not. The true reason little situations aggravate us is selfishness. We tend to act like the world revolves around us and expect everything to go our way. However, the Bible teaches that we are to be humble and value others better than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). That is something to think about the next time something (or someone) irks you.

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Jon Ewald, MD

Jon Ewald grew up in Minnesota and has a love for the outdoors. He obtained his medical degree at Loma Linda University, graduating in 2020. He is currently completing his residency in Radiology at University of Pittsburgh.

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