The great thing about the laws of physics is that they continue to work, predictably, even when you forget all about them.
I was reminded of this yesterday evening when I wrecked the car.
I’m uninjured, just a little bit rattled, and the car appears to be fixable. I’d gone up shopping, and meant to take the highway back, but was a bit spacey and frazzled and ended up on the old river road. It’s a beautiful drive in good weather, and I usually go that way, but it’s narrow and curvy and hilly and I’d more or less forgotten about the ice. Never mind that the ice is still all over everything, everywhere, ten days after the ice storm. It is dangerously beautiful, that ice – the trees and wires glitter in the sunlight as though the world were made of cracked glass catching all the light in the world, but the ice that lingers under the packed snow on the roads is less beautiful than dangerous.
And so I was on the old road, heading down into farm country at dusk, the clean pavement reduced to two ruts in the packed snow. Came over a hill and into a curve hugging the center line, because that’s where the clean pavement was, and saw an oncoming truck doing the same thing in the other lane. Reflexively pulled away from the center line, caught ice and fishtailed the car, overcompensated for that and in cinematic slow-motion my car spun across the road, through the snowbank and floated to a stop in a ditch full of snow a few yards from a dairy barn.
A passer-by pulled over to make sure I was okay, and let me use his phone to leave Spouse a message. I didn’t have our cell phone with me, though I’ve tried to be in the habit of carrying it when I’m away from the house: I’d spilled water in my purse earlier and so I didn’t have the whole dog-and-the-kitchen-sink with me, just my wallet and asthma meds. No cell phone. No granola bars. No water. For eight winters I’ve driven around with granola bars and bottled water in the car, just in case I end up stuck in a snowbank. The one time I get stuck in a snowbank….
It wasn’t even my idea to go looking for a place to get out of the cold. I guess it might have occurred to me eventually, but the suggestion came from the guy with the cell phone. I was hesitant. I didn’t want to bother anyone. I never want to bother anyone. And the farmhouse looked dark and empty. But the sun disappeared behind the trees, the sky was clear and the air was bitter cold, and my cheeks were starting to sting when I thought I saw motion in the barn, so I slipped through an unlocked door into a brightly lit room.
Warmth. Humidity. The pungent aroma of cows and their inevitable byproduct: sweet and earthy and, well, not that bad compared to standing around outside in the cold. I did not venture further into the barn; I might have found the farmer sooner. But I was very conscious of trespassing, being somewhere that I wasn’t supposed to be, and I still don’t trust the world.
I have been soaking in church lately, and my mind and soul are not always with my body (which is part of how I ended up where I was in the first place) and wandering alone in the twilight with the smell of cattle and waiting in the dark kept bringing the Nativity story to mind. The story of being a stranger, of just showing up somewhere and being let in. It is so foreign and scary to me, and I am not sure why.
When time had passed and I was starting to wonder where Spouse was, I slipped out of the barn again. I hoped it was a tow truck, but the flashing lights belonged to a huge tractor operated by a young man who was moving snow out of the way. He’d seen my car off the road, and checked to make sure nobody was in it, since it was the second accident of the day in the same spot; the previous one, he said, had been an SUV that rolled down the embankment and sure enough, there were more marks in the snow a few yards up the road. The farmer let me use his phone to call Spouse again (to discover that he hadn’t found the first message.) And I waited in the warm pungent barn awhile longer until Spouse turned up with our cell phone to wait for the tow company.
I am grateful. Grateful that I was not injured, grateful that the car was not damaged worse – some front end damage where I put the corner through the snowbank, dead headlights and at least one leaky tire – and grateful that I missed a telephone pole, a couple of road signs, oncoming traffic and a small maple tree. Grateful for the kindness of strangers with phones and tractors. Grateful for the sweet pungent warmth of a dairy barn on a bitter cold evening. Grateful for insurance call center folks and dispatchers and tow truck guys working on New Year’s Eve. Grateful, today, for the body shop folks who were open on New Year’s Day to start getting things put back together and grateful that I wasn’t planning to use the car most of this month anyway.
And grateful for friends near and far who care about this sort of thing. Part of this re-learning how to be human is learning how to be cared for. I am grateful for the opportunity to practice this hard thing easily.
This could have been so very much worse.