Four Seconds

car crash

I drive up Eggert Road nearly every day. It’s a slight shortcut that gives me four extra minutes on my daily commute. Time is the most precious of commodities. I was slightly hungry and had lunch in my bag, but I required some dinner as well, so I decided to save some time by picking up a sandwich on my way back to work. I made that decision in the four seconds it took to spot the Subway on the corner. I signaled left and pulled into my turning lane. I stopped for the red and then received the green arrow to turn. I proceeded into the intersection, and I saw the SUV headed right for me. I braced for impact as there was no way to avoid the crash. The truck hit my sleek little car with a violent crunch and pushed me towards the center console. I felt deep heat in my side and glass in my shoe. My car came to a stop but not before tapping a second car driving through the intersection on my right.

I somehow was OK. Seat belts and airbags do indeed save lives. The “curtain” was down on my driver’s side, and I looked up to see several people running towards my car.

I thought, “Either I’m alive or death is a lot like being alive.” Someone asked if I was OK and I replied that I thought so. I tried unsuccessfully to pry off the seat belt, but it was stuck. I yanked it with both hands, and it came undone. I climbed over the center console, opened the passenger door, and got out.

I steadied myself and was fine. Someone said, “Turn the ignition off! There’s a lot of fluid there.” So I did. I heard someone say something like, “Wow! This guy is amazingly walking.”

My only thought was that I was somehow alive and walking, when I could have been severely injured or worse. The driver of the third car came over to check me out. He said, “I’m Vince. I was driving next to you. I saw everything. He ran the red! You OK?”

I nodded and we shook hands. “Brand new car!” I said and shook my head. “Well, at least we’re OK. Is this guy over here the driver of the car that hit me?” I asked, pointing towards a 60ish man with a mustache.

Indeed he was.

Blood trickled from his hands and I pulled out my phone to call the police, but they were already en route. I called my wife and sent shock waves into her system but told her I was fine. She called friends to get her to the hospital to meet me there since we are a one (and now zero) car family.

I turned towards the driver. “Hey, I’m Mike. What’s your name?”

“Dan,” he replied.

“You OK, Dan?” I asked.

“Yeah, I think so.”

The cops arrived and took statements. An ambulance came and began to push a stretcher in my direction. I saw Dan leaning against a pole. I had forgotten his name. I asked again.

“Dan,” he reminded me. “Hey, I’m very, very sorry.”

I had preached a reflection earlier that morning on God’s mercy. And that voice took over.

I walked over to him, “Hey, accidents happen. No worries. Insurance companies will work it out. Grateful that you are OK, too.”

And then I reached over and embraced him.

“Take care,” I said as the ambulance folks whisked me away.

Who among us doesn’t have four seconds he’d like back? A harsh word, a poor decision, an angry moment? The truth is that we all have moments that we would want to take back, and for some of us the results have been deadly.

Dan’s decision could have been just one more deadly decision in a stream of poor decisions made by us all. The communion of saints reminds us that we are also all sinners, in need of God’s constant embrace.

So I released my resentment and hoped the finances would sort themselves out. Dan was issued a citation, and the hospital cleared me to go home without any serious injuries and with some medications for pain relief for the next few days.

I am somewhat sore as I write this today, but soreness is thankfully all that I have wrong. I can walk and breathe and hug my wife. Gratitude almost always leads to peace.

Make me a channel of your peace, Lord. Amidst the mangled wreckage of four-second decisions, perhaps what we should most pray for is to release those who make the poorest of decisions from our hatred and our dark desires for revenge and instead seek gratitude.

About Mike Hayes 4 Articles
Mike Hayes is the Director of Campus Ministry at Canisius College and the founder of BustedHalo.com. He is the author of two books: Googling God (Paulist, 2007) and Loving Work (Orbis, 2014). He served as the principal editor for and co-wrote The World Youth Day Retreat Guide (USCCB, 2016) with his colleagues Becky Eldredge and Beth Knobbe. He attended MAGIS from July 15–23 in Lodz, Poland, and then World Youth Day with Pope Francis from July 24–31, 2016. Mike has been happily married to Marion since 2002, and the couple live in the Buffalo suburbs with their chihuahua, Haze.

8 Comments on Four Seconds

  1. I hope you continue to recover well Mike, and that insurance gets sorted quickly. I was a pedestrian several years ago, knocked down by a car- not my fault- and got a broken arm. But it was a young, inexperienced driver who was horrified by what she had done: there was no point holding it against her.

  2. Almost three years ago my husband and I were hit by a man driving a SUV through a traffic light. We were minimally injured, our car destroyed, the other driver could have cared less, company car he said as he kicked the bumper. He was charged, pleaded not guilty and nine months later we were called as witnesses for the prosecution. Just as I thought I’d forgiven him his cavalier attitude towards us, his disregard for our injuries and pain, destruction of our one and only vehicle, there we were confronted by him in that courtroom as he cross-examined us (he didn’t retain legal counsel, in his arrogance believed he could do it all on his own). It’s been a slow but sure process getting back on the road, both my husband and I still somewhat traumatized but making progress. I have a much better appreciation for our Lord’s command that we forgive over and over and over. To be bound by anger and a desire for revenge would have been a far more damaging outcome than what we experienced. Like you, we are filled with gratitude that we survived by the grace of God.

  3. Thanks to all. It’s been an interesting journey, especially with all the calls for revenge these days around the world. I’m reminded that this journey is long and necessarily repeated over and over.

  4. Your message really struck home today. I mean, literally, home. When my husband was a med student and grad student at UB, we lived on Eggert Rd for 5 years or so, until the house with our “flat” was sold and we moved to the West Side for the last 3. I read Ignatian Spirituality often, but this is the first time it made me nearly jump out of my chair. I live really, really far away from Eggert Rd now – Google maps says something like 9,000 miles away — but your post brought me right back. Glad you are OK. I am reflecting on your experience of being the embodiment of Gods mercy for Dan, and how I might be called to do the same. Thank you for a powerful evening reflection.

  5. Strangely reminiscent of an accident I experienced some fifty plus years ago. Person ran stop sign and removed the front end of my just purchased sports car. Driver and passenger disappeared into the crowd. Important thing is that there were no injuries save one in those days before seat belts. Headlight rim flew off the car that hit mine and managed to hit a pregnant woman standing nearby. Most important is that our Lord was with us and no one was really injured. Who could show anger? On reflection it was a blessing.

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