Three weeks ago today, I was walking home from work when an SUV made an illegal right turn on a red light and crashed into me. I spent most of the following night in the emergency room and had surgery on my hand a few days later.
There have been many incidents in my 23 years frolicking on this planet that at the time seemed world-shattering. There was the time I deleted my 150-page senior thesis off my hard drive two days before it was due. Or the time I pocket dialed my crush just as I was explaining to my best friend how I thought I could drown in his blue eyes. But nothing remotely close to the feeling that consumes you right before tragedy strikes. The following lessons were learned over the course of the last three weeks and have, in many ways, changed the trajectory of my life.
1. Helping Hands Are Everywhere
I have never before felt more like New York City was a community then I have the last three weeks. I’ve had strangers offer to hold my coffee as I’ve one-handed fished for my MetroCard, cashiers offer to carry my groceries to my apartment–even a taxi driver pulled over and asked if I wanted a free ride across Central Park while walking to work. Everyone I meet has a story to share and an unending stream of sympathy and encouragement. The amount of kindness I’ve been shown is enough to restore anyone’s faith in humanity and our ability to empathize with one and other.
2. Death is a Real, Possible Thing
Upon arriving at the hospital, the paramedics explained to the nurses what had happened. One of them mentioned that I was very lucky had the driver not stopped when he did, from the way that I fell, he would have run right over me. That is to say, I could have died. I now understand–at least better than before–that death is a biological fact that nobody is invincible to. It is no longer a distant reality that floats forever on the horizon rather it’s a real thing that can happen at any time. And subsequently…
3. Seek Joy in the Banalities of Every Day Life
Should I have died that night, my last day on Earth would have been unremarkable. It was a day that saw me going through the motions, complaining about little bothersome things like the weather and my new diet. We all have the choice to dwell on the good things or the bad things, there are plenty of each in the daily struggle that is life. It’s sound cliche, but choosing to relish in the small joys is one of the best things you can do for yourself on a daily basis. Choose to appreciate the day, eat that second cookie, and live fully and happily right this very moment. Put joy into the world and it will be returned to you in full.
4. Value What You Have Before You Lose It
I believe that for most people, the solution to the human condition and the key to happiness is understanding and appreciating the true value of what you currently have at any given time. I have never appreciated my hands more than I do now that one of them is hoisted up in a sling and strapped to my chest.
The simplest things are nearly impossible with one hand. Watching me try to put skinny jeans on is more painful than watching Miley Cyrus twerk on a teddy bear. Brushing my teeth without spitting in my hair, opening a soda bottle, don’t even get me started on showering… its unbelievable that we don’t wake up every morning and kiss each and every one of our appendages and then light candles at shrines in their honor. And especially as a writer…well, I won’t even tell you how long it’s taken me to one-handed type this much (okay fine, it’s been three hours and thirteen minutes). Appreciate what you have in all aspects of your life–the little things and the big things equally.
5. Family and Friends Are Everything
Strapped to a stretcher in the ambulance, all I could think about were the people I loved and how desperately I wanted them near me. There is nothing in the world that can replace the love and support of close friends and family. The following weeks found me inundated with all forms of kindness and proof that I was cared for. Again, as cliché as it is, life is truly about the relationships you form.
6. Be Good Company To Yourself
Thanks to concussion-induced migraines and the metal pins that were placed in my hand during surgery, I was on enough pain medication to render me bed ridden for almost two weeks. And as my friends and family have full time jobs and lives that don’t revolve around sitting in bed watching Gossip Girl reruns with me I was left alone for the majority of the day time hours. It was during this time that I overcame my fear of loneliness and learned to be not only self sufficient but also happy with being by myself. Bored with TV and movies after the first few days I was left with my thoughts and a few good books. I carry with me now the inner peace that I found in those empty, quiet hours.
7. Let It Go
During a car crash, the moments right before the impending impact seem to slow down so much that time feels as if it’s almost stopped–but then the actual contact happens so fast that when you’re being picked up off the ground afterward you can’t even process what happened.
The first few days and nights after the accident, all I could focus on were those slow moments. Every time I closed my eyes I would see the headlights and be once again gripped by that same all-consuming fear. If and when I finally fell asleep, I would wake up crying and shaking. I was holding onto all the fear and the pain, viewing the accident through a very narrow lens. It was only once I began to focus on how lucky I was that it was not worse and to reconstruct the accident as a challenge necessary for growth that the visions of the headlights began to dim. In letting go of all the fear, space was finally made for gratitude and hope.