The Bearenstain Bears changed the course of my day today. They made me miss a phone date with (my wife) Anna who is at Campus by the Sea this week–a place only slightly more difficult to reach by phone than a federal penitentiary.
I was running in our neighborhood this morning, both kids in the jogging stroller, when I heard the most alarming sound–the throaty crunch of metal on metal that accompanies a car accident. I looked up, pushing 6 pounds of children tends to make me look down, and caught the immediate aftermath of the collision. A pirouetting Oldsmobile span 180 degrees pushing a VW sedan into the curb.
I ran the next block and offered assistance. Thanks be to God, no one was visibly injured. I have my suspicions about the driver of the car which was hit–she had hit her head on the steering wheel with enough force that the mark was present several minutes after the accident. Thankfully, I believe that she was taken to a local hospital with her young son.
Observation and reflection are a natural part of my make up. It’s impossible for me to experience something like this with taking note of things that strike me as odd or ways in which it connects with the rest of my life. So here goes.
- “I’m okay.” Running up to the scene of the accident my first question was: “Is everyone okay?” It’s a perfectly natural question, but it’s meaning is limited by it’s context. I think I meant, “Does anyone have a life threatening injury?” The drivers were in the process of standing and walking and replied: “I’m okay.” I assume they meant something similar me since in the direct aftermath of a trauma like that, it’s impossible to do anything other than take stock of anything that feels like a life threatening injury.
- Body language. Body language can derive from one’s moral sense. The driver who struck the other car immediately went over to her and inquired after her. Is that a moral action? Did he do it as a result of feeling responsible for the accident?
- Tunnel vision. In the aftermath of the accident tunnel vision sometimes exposes victims to other dangers, which they are unaware of because they’re focusing on what just happened. In this instance, one of the engines was still running. There was some oil on the ground, but I didn’t smell gas. I asked the driver to turn his car off–it took me two requests before he complied. I suppose it’s a natural response, but had the car been leaking gas we could all have been in danger.
- The bystander effect. I was one of several people in or near the intersection who witnesses either the accident or its aftermath. In the end only a very few of us stepped in to make sure everything was okay. Interestingly, the majority of the people who intervened were either on walking on foot or emerged from houses or the church next to the scene. In a split second, more like a nanosecond, I asked and answered the question: should I intervene? In that nanosecond, I appealed to an inscrutable authority–The Bearenstain Bears. Specifically, The Bearenstain Bears and the Golden Rule. The golden rule is, of course, do to others as you would have them do to you. I simply asked myself: would I want someone to check on me and call 911 after an accident? Do I want to live in the sort of neighborhood where people do this? I would and I do.
There are lessons to be gleaned from even the most mundane or most terrifying happenings of daily life. I’m glad that I learned to do to others as I’d want them to do to me.