It was a Friday afternoon, just before 5pm. An hour earlier, I had driven home, walked in the door like it was the beginning of my weekend, then realized I had forgotten to drop off a package for a client in the neighborhood. With my office only a mile from my home (I’m super blessed, I know), I promptly got in the car and drove back.
Taking advantage of another visit to the office, I decided to take care of a few more things before ending the work week. Then, I grabbed the package I promised to deliver to my client, and I stepped out to make the short trip back home. I needed to make a left turn out of my parking lot and cross a four-lane road. This was a fairly busy street, especially at the end of the day on a Friday, but I knew it well enough to know there were breaks in traffic. Sure enough, I saw one as soon as I was ready, so I made a dash for it. A dark blue Camaro was going fast behind me, but we both slowed down for the red light at the next intersection.
As I waited, eager to get this one last thing done, I began to consider what I’d do with my evening.
Suddenly, I heard a screech and a crash of metal and plastic. I realized that Camaro behind me just got rear-ended.
“Thank God it’s not me,” I thought. “My Friday is still intact.”
But then a force slammed my Honda Fit forward into the orange Mustang in front of me. I could see the now pitched-roof shape of my hood and could feel my already small car taking up less space.
My body was just starting to respond to what happened as I got out of the car. I could feel my pulse in my fingertips; my eyes began to take in what was now my new reality. My car was smashed in both the rear and front, but I was okay. I could walk, talk, think, and call 911. It was quite a while before I made it home that night.
Though the only other car accident I’ve been in was nearly two decades ago, I am familiar with the healing process that follows. I have worked on many massage clients after car accidents and one thing is fairly consistent: they don’t realize they have an injury until weeks or months after the accident.
I’ve heard story after story from people who started to have some unexplainable pain and decided to come see me. While going over their health history, I’d discover that they were in a car accident earlier that year, but that they were “okay.”
Knowing this narrative well, following my accident, I became fearful of what I might experience down the road. I’m not sure what’s worse: having the pain side-swipe you by surprise months later or anticipating it happening for months.
But here’s the other thing about car accidents when it comes to healing from musculoskeletal pain: so often, it was an injury that wasn’t our fault.
Through years of working with clients on pain rehabilitation from various injuries, one common question comes up: Why did this happen? Having a degree in Religious Studies really pays off when I have to answer these questions. Not because I simply explain, “That was God’s plan.” Rather, it’s because I have a handle on ways to approach questions like this.
In the study of religion, Paul Tillich called these types of questions, “Questions of Ultimate Concern.” This is one of the roles that religion can play in our lives, as it can provide some answers to these types of questions.
There are many injuries one can experience that make some kind of sense because the person injured was more directly involved with the cause. Someone broke their arm playing a sport; someone has a repetitive use injury because they are a professional musician; someone decided to do a wheelie on their motorcycle to show off and is now paying the price; etc.
But it makes less sense when we are the victims of someone else’s doing, when we just happen to be at that place at that time. Like, say, sitting at a red light.
When we have pain months after an accident we didn’t cause, that pain make less sense to us. It’s a grand recipe for “Why Me?”
In my experience, there is often a related emotional component to what we experience physically. A lot of the deep healing work that I do with people has to do with uncovering this element and working to heal what I call the “non-physical” parts of ourselves. But through this lens, understanding car accidents, or accidents in general, requires a particular kind of faith. Personally, I feel a connection to something greater out there and trust that, “Everything happens for a reason.” But the challenge of holding this belief while healing from a car accident is next-level-trust-in-the-universe territory.
In the week following the car accident, I’ve been paying attention to what I am telling myself and how I am interpreting my new reality.
“What could be the blessing here?” is something I’ve been forced to ask myself. Car accidents stir things up. The bodily injuries that arise from them add to what is already present – at least in one like mine, where I’m walking away from it and not in pain the week after.
But here’s the message, loud and clear: Life. Is. Short. Rushing from one thing to another is not getting you anywhere. You need to slow down. It’s time to take care of your body.
I know 100% that I needed to hear this message at that moment. I know 100% that I was not going to hear it any other way. If God felt it appropriate to gift me with this experience, so be it. But it is I who can ultimately decide that this was a gift and a well-needed one. There are moments when that perspective is not easy, but this understanding has me moving through my days with joy despite the setbacks, the evolving pain in my body, and the increased fear and distrust of other drivers.
Let’s be honest: I got lucky – really lucky. Change one small element of this accident, and my bodily injuries could have been more severe. Instead, it got me just enough to get my attention. In the mid-1990s, when my mom was treated for breast cancer, and was equally lucky, she would go on to say, “It wasn’t enough to kill me, but it was enough to change my life.”
This accident has been the same. I walked away from it. I had the means to replace my car. So far, two weeks later, I only have minor symptoms. I have the knowledge and resources to treat any residual injuries. This experience will help me to do my job as a therapeutic massage therapist even better. There’s a lot of room for gratitude here.
It is easy to believe in a world of random events and coincidence, one that is devoid of an intelligent designer. It takes work to see beyond the veil of what we know and hold out a belief that maybe there is something more. That maybe this happened for a reason.
Believing that things happen for particular reasons is hard work that provides reprieve. If I can take a seeming misfortune, and shift my perspective to see it as the perfect circumstance to propel me into a new phase of my life, then is there any misfortune at all?
We want to believe that we are in control of our lives and most of the time we seem to be. But accidents make us confront the reality that this is not always the case. Though some may get stuck feeling that they deserve pain and suffering, religion and spirituality offer a hand by which we can pick ourselves up. By providing a means for answering the big questions like, “Why me?” the belief in something greater delivers a kind of reassurance.
Many people throughout history have relied on their beliefs to get them through hard times – granted, times much harder than this minor accident I had. And the message stirring my belief remains: it’s time to slow down.