Monday, February 15, 2016

Vulnerability and Compassion

Being vulnerable is not a strong point for me. I could go on and on about this and the reasons it is my current truth but frankly I need to cut to the chase because otherwise I might chicken out on being vulnerable in a new way on this blog. On January 5 while driving at dawn, I hit black ice on the high way, my vehicle spun out and rolled multiple times into a ditch, landing on the driver's side door. I was trapped inside for a few minutes before figuring out how to get my head out of the metal that was bent around it and my knee that was stuck between the door and the steering wheel. I have a fracture in my neck and in a rib. In the realm of neck fractures mine is mild, I had a few weeks in a soft brace. I am sore from time to time but mostly I am back to normal. Or I was until Friday morning.

Friday life required me to head an hour East to our closest big city. A drive I have done multiple times since the accident with out incident. I don't love doing it but I do. Friday was different for two reasons: my daughter was with me and there was blowing snow and a slippery road warning. The morning of my accident it was the wind that blew me onto the ice. As soon as I pulled out on to the highway I felt the wind blowing the car a bit. I immediately tensed up, I was already nervous about ice in the 10 degree temps and now wind and it snowed the day before. It was going to be a long drive, I had given myself three hours to make the typically 1 hour drive. (I made it in an hour and a half.)

Mostly because of my profession but partly because of my nature as a human being, I spend a lot of time compartmentalizing my own junk. An example: recently when I went to a nursing facility I saw one of my congregants struggling to eat, in a very similar way to my own father near the end. The tears welled up almost instantly as I walked up. Do you know what I had to do in that moment? I had to remind myself this is not about me and my junk. I can deal with my junk later (I had an ugly cry). I greeted the person and helped get them situated and advocated for the proper utensil. I walk with people and it is my call to show them compassion. Sometimes that means I cannot react how I would like to, it means I have to in a split second assess the conversation, hear what is said, what isn't said, what might be said with out words, and think about where that person is coming from. Sometimes I would like slap a person but I have to make this sort of assessment in an instant and respond with grace, love, and compassion. (I fall short, don't worry.) This spills over into all of my life, friendships, random encounters with strangers. It is a part of who I am.

From time to time I find I am really frustrated when people do not return this sort of understanding, even though I know it isn't typical. Friday morning was one of these times. As I pulled on to the highway and my new car wobbled in the wind and the snow began to blow I drove painfully slow. I am talking that annoying car that does 20 mph under the speed limit, which is 80 here. I am pretty sure every car I encountered was passing me, some getting blown toward me. The semi trucks were the worst because of how the wind effects them. Now listen I don't expect everyone to stay behind me... I just found myself wanting to scream, I was you, the person passing the slow cars five weeks ago, you don't know what happened. Car after car passed me. I had both hands on the wheel, squeezing so tight I had to stop at the half way point to rub my hands, they were hurting from my death grip. All the while trying to play it cool as to not freak out my kid.

Here is what I am asking you, the next time you fly past that slow moving car and get all frustrated think about who might be driving that car and what they may have faced recently. Maybe it is an older woman who never really drove but was recently widowed whose life has been turned upside down and she is trying to cope and find her new normal. Or maybe it is someone who got the worst phone call of their lives and they are in a daze as they try to drive to their loved ones.  Maybe they are just a jerk hell bent on ruining your day.

Or they could be me. A woman who is doing something really hard and really brave albeit slowly. I drove my hands clenched, my jaw set, my heart racing, all while trying to keep a calm demeanor for the sake of my child. As I got with in 20 miles of the scene of my accident it was almost impossible for me to keep driving. Maybe that jerk you are passing, has hands that ache from the gripping the steering wheel so tight because a few weeks ago she was stuck in a ditch. Maybe she is quietly sobbing as the snow blows across the road and feels her vehicle wiggle in the wind. Maybe she can't let out all the emotion because her six year old is in the back seat and she doesn't want her to fear car trips. Maybe she knows if said six year old had been with her on the morning of her accident, her skull would have been crushed between the ceiling and the door. She knows this because the car seat was wedged there, she had to rip it out to prop a door open. Maybe she sees things she has never noticed before like how there are two story drops off the side of the road in certain places. Maybe she is highly aware of all the tire tracks going off the road. Maybe thanks to the frozen ground five weeks later she can still pick out her own tire tracks as she passes them. Maybe she is scared and full of anxiety but she is also strong and brave, everyday getting back behind the wheel even when she would rather not because she is only 35 and can't hang up her driving keys yet. Maybe she needs more time to process a very real traumatic event. Maybe she is worried about some upcoming long drives and how she is going to make them. Maybe she just wants to feel normal but as her anxiety ramps up her muscles tighten and she can feel the fracture in her neck. Maybe that person you are flying past is me, maybe I am doing OK, but I am not great.

After an accident on stairs that left my daughter's arm broken and needing surgery I started to have anxiety attacks, like really bad anxiety attacks that sent me to the ER three times in two weeks. They came again when we faced being with out a home last year. Since moving I have only had one, until the accident. These attacks range from feeling like I am dying to draining me of all ability to be productive. I often have to lay down and focus on breathing to make it through. My whole drive on Friday I was breathing through and fighting off this kind of paralyzing anxiety. I haven't told many people about this struggle but it feels like it is time. Friday morning sucked a lot! The drive home was much better because the wind had died down.

I say all of this to beg you the next time you encounter someone like me you might have compassion rather than rage. Maybe you could pray for that person instead of facebooking about how people shouldn't drive in bad weather if they can't handle it. Maybe the person who needs your compassion isn't driving but in your way somewhere else. Take a step back, take a breath, and for a moment try to understand where they might be coming from.

Today I am grateful for the people who I have been able to share this journey with so far even the hard, ugly, embarrassing parts.

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