In January, I was in a car crash. I crashed my car.
It was a good crash in the way you want it to be. I was the only one in my car. The other driver was the only one in the giant truck I rear-ended. Traffic was moving slowly. It was a freak accident that, if I had hit any other vehicle, I think we both would have driven away from it. We would have bounced around, and then squinted at each others’ bumpers and decided it wasn’t even worth getting the insurance companies involved.
As it stood, I totaled my car at what felt like a brisk walking pace. My Focus made contact with the towing package of the big F250 in front of me. It was a soft, mushy force meeting an immovable object, and the result was exactly what you’d expect it would be.
My fault. I let my eyes linger in my rearview mirror just a hair too long and couldn’t stop in time. And so my car was totaled. It leaked most of its fluids out onto the road and the rest onto the bed of the tow truck. Total Loss, the appraiser said.
The truck was able to drive away with barely a scratch. And I walked away with a bruised ego, my knee split open, and some burns from the airbag.
With those things, and a strange new relationship with fear.
I… did not expect that.
You see, except for being very sore and very tired the day after the crash, for a while I was pretty okay. A little twitchy while driving, but good. But then I started to notice something. It took a while to put a name to it, because I’m not accustomed to it. I’m a big guy, privileged, confident enough. Fear has been a relatively foreign concept. But now, I have a newfound sensitivity to fear that has crept in since the car crash.
For some things, it’s the usual sort of fear. Like, I was working on a project over the weekend dealing with electricity. You should be a little scared by electrical work, as it deals with, you know, electricity, but it went beyond my usual caution in doing projects. I saw the consequences of possible mistakes. I was careful with plotting the simple circuit, generous with the insulating electrical tape, and I double- and triple-checked everything before plugging anything in, and I still thought about the mangled lump of broken pieces that were all that were left of my engine.
It only took a minute to override it and get on with my life, but I still hesitated a bit to consider and reconsider the possible consequences.
I did not care for it.
I was looking at this new scar I have on my knee, and the other kind of fear crept in. This more insidious fear is of the possibility of not being able to be as present for my family as I want to be, and it is a very, very scary thing. If things had gone differently, I might not be able to be the parent I want to be, the partner I want to be. If the burns up my arms from the airbag weren’t just burns. If the split-open knee was more than cosmetic damage. If there was more than one night of uncertainty and tears and fear for the kids. If there was more than a couple of hours of confusion and anxiety for my wife.
If. If if if.
That is scary. That if – that cycle of ifs – scares me.
It’s been a couple of months now and I think I’ve started to come to terms with that new fear, that little bit of extra caution. It’s part of me now. It’s not a part I love, if I’m honest. But while it’s an unexpected new wrinkle to my general emotional makeup, I’ve come to understand it’s not all bad. It’s also drawn into stark relief the gratitude I feel to my family for the support they’ve given us. Knowing the ifs – and being a little afraid of them – has amplified the deep sense of peace I feel when doing things with the kids. It’s deepened the comfort and warmth and certainty and centeredness I feel when I’m spending time with NJ. And it’s made me savour my alone time and the things I love doing a little more.
This isn’t, like, relief after a brush with mortality. The crash wasn’t nearly dramatic enough for that (and besides, I find death to be a tremendously boring thing to think about). But it did make me consider the possibility that I could not be this, the person that I’ve built. And it’s reminded me that I like this me. I like this me, and my family appreciates and relies on this me. And it’s made me recommit a bit to the me I’ve chosen to be, and to pay a little closer attention. I think I’m getting more out of this me I’ve chosen to be.
If the cost for that is a little extra sensitivity to fear, then I’ll take it.
Take care of yourselves, and as always, paddle your own canoe.