Archived Story

Plans, dreams, goals … and accidents

Published 10:15am Friday, January 27, 2012

Column: Notes from Home

This winter two separate accidents hit like localized earthquakes, the personal kind of shaking that disrupts life for only a family and friends. Unless they were at ground zero when it happened, strangers aren’t going to know anything happened.

One made it into the papers, with a photo of the burned-out remains of a car lying in a ditch. The driver — lacerations, broken bones and internal injuries — managed to crawl out before the vehicle exploded. The other involved a high-speed collision with a deer. No injuries. No pictures. No newspaper. Only the highway patrol and the insurance company were involved in a write-up of that accident.

Both caused an abrupt shift in perspective, for those in the accidents, and for me.

The second one — a “minor” incident — happened a few months ago. It involved a collision with a deer. It caused adrenaline to flow, led to phone calls and finally nervous relief.

All the “what ifs” scrolled through my head: What if the deer had come through that windshield instead of just cracking it? What if the driver had lost control? What if a semi had been in the next lane? What if … the thing no one wants to happen does happen?

But even with all of that, it only affected life in the short term. While plans and schedules were shifted, it was only temporarily; dreams, goals, life went on with barely any adjustments. Everything that was lost or damaged was replaced or repaired.

The first one I mentioned — last week’s accident — caused quite a bit more, um, excitement. Unwanted, dangerous excitement. For the young man involved in that accident, for his family, for his circle of friends, the ground shifted beneath us all on the day of the accident, revealing the paradox of the human body: both incredibly fragile and incredibly tough.

He lives by himself in ground zero right now, but all of us will have to get used to the changes wrought by an icy road and a deep ditch. However it’s described — plans that won’t be realized, dreams that will have to be deferred, goals that can’t be reached — his life will not be what he, his parents and siblings, or any of the rest of us had expected.

Accidents, like earthquakes, bring chaos. This one reached into a family and created chaos in the life of a son, just beginning to settle into the routine of college and setting the foundation for a career.

It’s hard for all of us when a child is the one who suffers. We can accept more easily, it seems, the pain and suffering of adults. It still causes disruptions and chaos, but an adult with experience of suffering lives at ground zero, not a child. We can be told to “deal with it” and we’ll listen. When it’s a child, we want to pick them up and hold them and make the pain go away.

The young man in that accident is a friend, not a family member, but his pain still affects me. Their readjustments and disruptions are things I worry and pray about. Maybe it’s because I have a daughter who lives far away who was the passenger in the car that hit that deer. Her fiancé was the driver. That they escaped completely unharmed didn’t really bring complete peace to this father. What if …? Will I ever stop worrying about them as they live out their lives, far away from the protective shield of my arms?

Being a parent is all about managed helplessness. Even when they are young, in our arms, our houses or our cars with us driving, accidents can happen. I was driving once when we spun out on ice and slid into the ditch. A fence post crushed the door that was right next to the seat where that same daughter sat in her car seat. Nobody was hurt. The car was repaired.

Accidents that don’t kill or cause permanent damage to our children remind parents, if we’re paying attention, that those kids of ours can find a way to rise to the challenges that accidents cause. And also that we will not stop worrying about the accidents that do more than create temporary setbacks.


David Rask Behling teaches at Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa, and lives with his wife and children in Albert Lea.