"There's no way to reflect about being in a car accident, without being in one. They're always really different." -Christine Hillgrove
In June 2009, a woman backed into my younger sister's door in a parking lot. Minor damage, major scare as this small confrontation in a parking lot with Christine's driver side door was the first car accident my nuclear family encountered. My family jokes, with dark humorlessness, that this bump was the catalyst for the Year of Tests (potential brain damage, open heart surgery, stroke, house fire -- that is a long story and I'll get to it later).
In the fall, my youngest sister, Katie, was T-boned in the middle of the last major intersection before her high school, stopping up traffic and pissing off students who were racing to make the first bell. The car died, yet Katie walked away jolted (no, she was not on time for school and I suppose some of the impatient passersby were late as well).
On November 13, Christine, who was in Italy, made plans to return earlier than expected (again, more later). The night before she was scheduled to fly home, the car in which she was a passenger was T-boned, flipped all the way over and back on its feet.
This is Italy, land of the tiny cars. The FIAT somehow protected its contents and all four people walked away. However, Christine waddles around with an injured back that frequently pops out of joint, end of pain not in sight.
All Saints Day Mass concluded at 8:30pm on Monday, a highly unusual time and day for anyone to be leaving my church's parking lot. I followed fellow parishioners out of the lot, making my way to the turn lane to enter a major road. This is when I heard tire screeches, scratching metal and an indistinguishable thud coming from the perpendicular road.
I witnessed the second half of a major accident that turned one car on its side. The horn was holding a long, continuous honk.
In the panic, I managed to call 911, as I know other parishioners did. Several were able to pull over their cars to help, all with phones to their ears. On most days, the traffic passing that crash would have been sparse. Fewer than five people would have seen it, which means fewer people making the call for help.
Mass dismissal brought hasty help, I watched the sirens pass very shortly after hanging up the phone (I would have caused another accident if I had tried to pull over). I'm asking a special prayer request that the members of the crash survive. And if they do not, please pray for their souls, their loved ones, and for those Good Samaritans who pulled over to help.
My immediate thought was of gratitude. My family has faced a lot of emotional bruises over the last year and Christine still wears physical signs of it. We grew closer to each other and to God over the same year.
But I never really let myself understand just how close I was to losing my sisters.
You've watched the movie scenes a million times: protagonist realizes this life is short and we need to make it count. Again, as Christine said, "There's no way to reflect about being in a car accident, without being in one. They're always really different."
The impact of this crash is still pushing on me.