Roles, priorities, collateral & timing: 4 takeaways from a car crash

I will start this with a happy note - no one involved with this crash was killed or sustained life threatening injures.

The first thing we heard was a tire skid. Milliseconds later, a white car skid through the lot, ending up in a ditch just beyond our building. My attention couldn’t have stayed there for more than a second when my ears queued me to look up as a grey sedan roared into our lot, crashing into the back passenger corner of Katie’s SUV. (Katie is the chef I work with for those who may not know.) Everyone in the store immediately moved into action. One person on the phone with emergency management, another running out the door to check on the people in the vehicle while yet another looked for the kids at the shop to make sure they were inside and safe. As I made icepacks in our demo kitchen, it dawned on me that not a single person had been told or had asked, “What should I do right now?” There is something to be said for the activation of human instinct that comes out in an emergency. Somehow people seem to just know their role, and they act rather than questioning it to death. There often isn’t time to question or hem & haw - only time to acknowledge where the gaps are and fill them. 

Before emergency officials had arrived on the scene, a third vehicle that was allegedly involved in the accident, drove off. According to the driver of one vehicle involved, an initial action by this vehicle had been the catalyst to the entire event,  I honestly couldn’t believe that they would just drive away like nothing had happened - even if they had done nothing wrong and had simply witnessed the events as they unfolded. Around that time, the first of the first-responders arrived, then the second. After one woman was loaded on a stretcher into the back of an ambulance, someone asked me, “Are you ok?” Then I heard another person say something along the lines of, “I think she is in shock.” It hadn’t even registered in my mind that the vehicle that hit Katie’s car was coming directly for the full-length glass window set I was standing in. I use those huge windows to stage food photographs every time I am at the restaurant. I felt my hands begin to shake as the reality of how if even one factor of the situation had been different, the outcome could have been devastatingly different. 

Later that night, I met up with two friends who were in town from California & Kenya. My sweet friend Meredith, kept asking if I was ok. The initial reflection that came from the entire event was pretty simple. What things am I giving a hill of crap about that don’t really matter? I feel like that's a pretty natural reaction to getting what feels like 10,000 volts to your central nervous system, When I got home that night, I made a list. Not to my surprise, there were several things that I had built way more than a hill for that seem really irrelevant when put in perspective. I titled this list “Crap mountains” and put a reminder in my phone to bulldoze my crap mountains, freeing up my energy to give a crap about things that actually matter.  Does so&so think I’m cool? Shouldn’t care. Is my work impressive enough to get applause from others? Shouldn’t care. Is it going to be weird the next time I see X-person? Who cares, because I sure as heck shouldn’t. 

The next morning on my drive back to Nashville, two other reflections emerged as my brain started really processing the previous day. I remembered hearing at least one person call the whole thing a “freak accident.” That thought was unsettling to me because the event was far from a freak accident. Sure, we didn’t play a hand in the events that caused the incident, but that doesn’t make it a freak accident. However, it does pull things out of the realm of our control, which can be scarier than the worst of nightmares for me and the other planners on the planet. It’s somehow more palatable to call something random or a freak accident than to accept that negative consequences in our lives are sometimes nothing more than a collateral result of someone else’s choices. It’s even harder to swallow that some of the most painful consequences come as a result of something as simple as someone not paying attention. Do people always have bad intentions when bad things happen? No, sometimes they don't have any intentions at all. Do I think the driver who left the scene of the accident set out with the intention to cause a crash? No, I don’t. It is often indifference, not malevolence that makes the biggest mess. When you’re on the other side of a poor decision made by another, it’s easy to take it personal, and indeed, sometimes it is. Sometimes people are ruthless and intend to cause harm. But a lot of times they don’t. They didn’t think up a million ways to ruin your day, your project, your life etc - no, they just didn’t think. You were collateral in the deal. Yes, it sucks. It sucks a lot, but making collateral personal is just adding salt to the wound. If we make things personal, they’re easier to rationalize. However accepting that not every bad thing that happens to us is a personal attack takes a weight off our shoulders that we were never intended to bear. Anyone who’s ever dealt with an addict has seen this ring true in an extreme form. I can speak from firsthand experience that taking things personal when dealing with someone with an addictive disease creates a hell where neither you or the person you love, who is struggling with the disease, is going to get better. For me. healing only began after I stopped believing that I had anything to do with the person’s disease. Taking things personal was not only sabotaging my own physical and mental health. It was throwing gasoline on an already thriving flame, engulfing any attempt to genuinely love, care for & want the best for the other person. 

The lesson of indifference is two-fold in this situation. Sometimes we’re the collateral, a by-product of someone else’s choices. Other times, we’re the driver who leaves the scene of the accident. We didn’t mean to cause any harm. Nevertheless, crap hit the fan as a result of our choices, and there’s one heck of a mess to clean up. One undeniable takeaway from this situation is the power of paying attention. Sometimes our lack of attention can do far more harm than deliberate actions. 

My final takeaway from this whole situation is remembering that even when I feel like I’m not where I need to be, I probably am. Katie and I are on a very strict deadline for a  huge project right now, and as you can imagine, there are curveballs seemingly around every corner. Wednesday was our final day of shooting last week. We still had several recipes to cook & photograph when we realized we were missing crucial ingredients from a few recipes. We ran to the store, and ended up running into several people we knew while we were out. On the drive back, I could feel both of our cortisol levels rising, knowing we only had a few hours to pull a lot off. We normally park in the back of the store, leaving the front spots for customers. Since we were already running late & on a time crunch, we zipped into a spot in the front - the spot directly in front of the window where the crash happened. Had even one factor been different, we may not have parked there - or even left the store in the first place. This realization sent chills up my spine. I often catch myself feeling like I’m not progressing fast enough. I beat myself up when things don’t play out in reality as they did in my head. "Am I a failure because things don’t always execute as smoothly as I thought they would? Am I really doing what I should be doing if the road getting us to the finish line isn’t the straight shot I mapped in my head?" - these are the types of doubts that race through my anxious, perfectionist brain when the narrative isn’t flowing as smoothly as I planned. This situation reminds with a freaking megaphone and sirens that just because I’m not where I thought I would be, doesn’t mean that I am not where I’m supposed to be. And in this case, thank God things hadn’t run as "smoothly" as my picture perfect plans anticipated they would. When we make plans, we often do it from limited perspective. In hindsight, I view all those tiny curveballs of the day like little angels, hijacking the plans that had been made from my limited perspective. We weren’t off course - we were just taking a different course. Indeed, I was right where I was supposed to be. 

I am so thankful that no one was killed or sustained critical injuries in the accident last week. I am also thankful for the reflections that have come in the aftermath of the situation. A little perspective can change a lot.

Kathleen A DearmanComment