This past Sunday evening I began heading home to Ashland after a full weekend in the Bay Area. I stopped at Harbin Hotsprings in Middletown for a few blissful hours of alternating hots and colds before getting in my car to continue North.
About 15 minutes after leaving Harbin, as I drove along the 2-lane Hwy 29, in one mesmerizing instant I witnessed an approaching car suddenly crash horrifically into the side embankment, flipping over and rolling twice before skidding to an upside-down stop just off the road.
It was a moment of profoundly heightened awareness. Everything seemed to slow way down and I noticed a powerful lucidity of presence. Filled with immense concern for the people inside the car, I immediately pulled my own car over to the side, along with a few other cars who had also witnessed the accident.
I got out of my car and stood back for a moment, leaning against my car, as I watched two men running at full-speed towards the upside-down vehicle. For maybe 10 seconds I waited, breathing and reading the situation from a short distance, trying to discern whether it was right and true for me to get involved.
Then I heard a very clear voice within my own heart, saying simply: “You have a role to play here. You are needed here.” When I heard that voice speak with such clarity, I moved quickly without hesitation towards the accident.
Two people, a young couple, were managing to crawl out from the upside-down car. There was a flurry of activity amongst the people who had all stopped to help. Someone was calling for an ambulance, someone else was determining whether or not the car might explode. I knew where my place was—right with the couple, and so I helped them to crawl as far from the car as they were able to before collapsing, and I sat down in the gravel, holding them as they were shaking and crying.
I watched as the adrenaline that had propelled them to escape from the car, gave way to deeper waves of shock and trauma.
The young man, who had been the one at the wheel, was in pretty rough shape. His face was cut up badly and bleeding profusely from several different wounds. He wept continuously, “I’m so sorry, oh God, I’m so sorry…” His girlfriend seemed relatively physically unscathed, but was experiencing extreme shock and terror, rocking, weeping hysterically, “It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay….”
I helped the young man to lie down, and then sat at his head, holding his head and his heart, while his girlfriend shuddered, sobbing and shaking beside me. A couple of other people pulled their cars over to help. By some incredible luck, amongst the people who pulled over, one was a firefighter and another a nurse. It was determined that the most notable physical injuries were to the young man’s face, and we decided that it was best to keep him lying still on his back while we waited for the ambulance. Someone handed me some clean rags to help stop the bleeding.
For maybe 30 minutes as we waited together for the ambulance I overheard myself speaking with supreme gentleness to this young couple. The heart spoke so simply—powerful words of reassurance and protection, gentle words of gratitude for their lucky lives. To his constant wail of profound apology and remorse, it felt natural to acknowledge his sorryness for the accident, to remind him that accidents can serve to teach us, and to invoke a possibility of self-forgiveness.
I carefully picked shards of glass out of this young man’s hair, so acutely aware of his damp, dark curls, tenderly feeling how this was someone’s precious child in my hands. I felt the unmistakable grace and divine timing of my getting to be there; the honor of getting to hold this young couple through such a scary life moment of trauma.
All the while I simultaneously watched others moving around us, everyone doing their unique part to help. It was the most extraordinary orchestration and collaboration of human support.
Two people found a way to crawl into the car to retrieve the couple’s wallets, keys and phones. Somebody else directed traffic slowly around the accident. I could hear a woman staying on the phone with 911 to help direct the ambulance to our exact location. Yet another person helped the young woman beside me to call a couple of her relatives to let them know that they had been in an accident. I helped to hold the phone up to the young man’s ear so his sister could speak comforting words of love to him.
It’s amazing to notice how in a crisis situation, there are no strangers. We are so clearly in this together. All the socially conditioned agreements we collectively carry about how we are supposed to behave with people that we don’t know instantly fall away in a moment of crisis. What arises instead is the underlying pulse of our shared humanity, and the natural ways we can let our love and care for one another lead.
We all stayed until the ambulances, firetrucks, and paramedics came, and then it was clear my role was complete. I carefully handed them over, and stood up to walk away.
One of the men who had also been helping stopped me, taking both of my hands in his, and we shared deep eye contact for a moment, exchanging simple words of mutual gratitude, speechlessly alive together in this collision of crisis, humanity and Grace.
I waited for a pause in the traffic, and then crossed the highway back to my car. I glanced back at the scene of the accident and noticed the young man was being put onto a stretcher and carried to the ambulance.
As soon as I was back inside my car, I felt a big wave of cleansing release move through my entire body, rippling through my emotional body and nervous system… my animal body shaking it off, coughing it off. I was impressed by the efficiency with which my human so simply cleared out the pain, fear and trauma it had presenced. And that was it. I pulled back out onto the highway, and continued onward, driving the remaining 4 hours back home to my children.
There was something incredibly beautiful about this experience that has stayed with me, four days later. The simple words I heard, “You have a role to play here” have penetrated with such poignancy. It was a powerful way to be reminded—through this heightened presence invoked by crisis—that everyone carries different, yet equally necessary gifts.
Thank God for the people who know how to determine whether a car will blow up, or whether there are broken bones, or how to extract valuable objects from an upside-down vehicle, or how to actually save lives.
And since I don’t really know how to do any of those things, I’m so grateful that I do know how to sit with people in their pain and terror; how to help move the weighty burdens of shock and trauma. With all the awkwardness I feel at times in this earthly realm, how honored I am to simply be an angel here… for as long as this fleeting human life allows.
This time of being alive on our planet IS a crisis of sorts. May we notice the reality that there are no strangers, EVER, and that we are all clearly in this together. May we each hear the undeniable clarion call of the heart, announcing that we too have a role to play, and that we are absolutely needed here.