When Worlds (and Cars) Collide…

Note this is the text of Michael’s Houston Moth Story Grand Slam – held on March 4, 2016

I was eager to get back to the hospital where Kelly, the woman to whom I am married, was fighting the mother of all infections. Though in a rush to get to the Turkish restaurant where I had ordered Kelly’s favorite meal for take out , I was clear and calm driving through the intersection. I saw a white van stopped at the stop sign starting to lurch forward. BAM I heard the crash as I fishtailed and then coasted to the curb to a stop. The van had smashed into the back passenger side of our beloved Prius.

I was ticked off! – forgetting for a moment that I was in Texas where people can legally carry guns – I jumped out of my car yelling -“What’s wrong with you – you had a stop sign!” The van driver replied “I did stop.” I was confused by her reply and yelled “but you hit me!” I didn’t have a stop sign, was driving under the speed limit – the accident was not my fault. Though I was not hurt physically – my mind was in kind of a blur. Lots of thoughts rushing. I called 911. Fortunately, no one was hurt and both cars were drivable. I retrieved my insurance information and walked to Van, now parked along a grassy curb. We exchanged insurance information. As I stepped back from the van, I smelled something foul. My day was not going well – Wife in hospital, car accident, and I had just stepped in dog poop.

My initial thought about the van driver – “she is my opponent – Don’t say anything that might indicate a weakness or admission of guilt.” Ah Ha – her insurance card is three weeks out of date! That must prove something!

As we waited for the police I started thinking about the events that were unfolding – we’d been in a minor accident. I thought of another accident – a student of mine, Kristin, an aspiring psychologist, only 28 years old – on a two lane country road – typical Thursday morning. A car coming the opposite direction veered across the centerline and into her car- she was killed – likely upon impact. When I first heard the news I didn’t…couldn’t believe it. Kristin had been so full of life – enthusiastic, optimistic, friendly, and motivated. In class we discussed deep and difficult subjects – like genocide. Kirsten was emotionally mature beyond her years – she was able to face these demanding topics with as much grace as any of the students, most of them many years older than she. And she was courageous. most of her colleagues believed that psychology is a technology – sort of like mental plumbing, but Kristen believed in the uniqueness of each individual – to her psychology was a spiritual mission. I saw in Kirsten the future of psychology, but now she was gone – I would have to live that mission myself.

My attitude softened – I went back to the other driver – Anita. I asked how she was. She said she had panicked because she had flashed back to a time a car in which she was riding had flipped several times down an embankment. Miraculously – she walked away unharmed. As we talked she relaxed and told me that her son had been born in the hospital we were standing just yards away from – 25 years before. I told her I was worried about my wife in another hospital, a few miles away.

Anita worried she would lose her job – she was driving a company van. Her boss came and I told him I hoped Anita would not be penalized for making a mistake that anyone could have made.

I told Anita: I’m not sure why God brought us together today, and I wish it had been in different circumstances, but I’m glad to meet you.

I learned a lot that day:

First, Connect with other human beings

Second: Whatever it is – pain, anxiety, anger, it will ease with time.

Third, Dog poop can be scraped from your shoe.

Eventually the police came and left, Turkish restaurant made me fresh food, Kelly recovered, and I was able to see that sometimes when worlds and cars collide – one world ends, but other times a new connection is possible.

Michael Winters is a Psychologist in Houston focusing on marriage counseling and therapy. Michael received his PhD from the University of Memphis and has been practicing since 1991.