The Aftermath of an Accident

1273 Relax and Succeed - Dad there's been an accidentHe came in the door quite tentative, as though he was afraid of even being in the room. It was a kitchen, and his father was busy making a sandwich and was slightly distracted. “Hey Dad,” he softly interjected into the moment.

“Hey! How was the day?” His Dad spun his back to his son, opened the fridge, and started balancing a big collection of ingredients in his arms.

“You know, it was a day. Not perfect by any means. It had some parts that really sucked.”

His Dad smiled as he closed the fridge with his hip and turned back to making his sandwich. “Well, you know how life is. We don’t always get what we want,–[starts to sing it like Mick Jagger] but if we try sometimes…”

“Dad.”

[singing] “…we get what we need!”

“There’s been an accident–I was, I was in, an accident.”

The sandwich froze in suspended animation. Totally still, looking straight down at his bread, the father very evenly asked, “You’re okay. You’re not hurt? No one else is hurt?”

“No! No. No, I’m okay, everyone’s okay, the airbags worked and the ambulance guys said we’d all be okay.”

His father slowly looked up in a very slow, very scary horror movie villain-ish kind of way. “And you said something about… my car…?”

1273 Relax and Succeed - You get more apologies

His son gulped. “The car… the car is–I was in an accident. A lady, she was coming at me, and she was speeding and so I thought I had time to make the turn but….”

His father is listening in a very clinical way, and he responds likewise. His voice is unnervingly even. “Okay, well… if no one is hurt, and you’re not at a fault, then the other driver’s insurance will cover everything.” The son’s eyes bulge, and one might conclude that the official report may not align with his own. “The important thing is that everyone’s alright.”

“What if she lies though? It’ll be my word against her word, so…”

His father doesn’t take long to realise the son is delivering the truth in less painful portions. “Mmhmm. If the police can’t verify the stories they’re being told then who knows, right?” The ‘right’ part is goes with it’s own accusingly arched eyebrow. The father is barely containing an explosion of anger.

The son’s still too naive to notice his father is being facetious. “Yes! It makes me so mad that she might get away with that!”

“I can totally understand son.” The Dad slaps a piece of meat on the bread so hard it splatters his mustard, but he doesn’t even blink. “I can totally understand your anger. Your intense, burning, rage. It’s just so… intense, isn’t it? Isn’t it intense?”

The son’s starting to catch on and he realises he’s hiking pretty close to a bear. “Maybe I should just go and, and, think about this.” He gets an idea that he likes and runs with it. “Yeah! Dad, if it’s okay with you, it’d probably be good for me to meditate on how this happened to, you know, make sure I don’t do it again. I’m really sorry about the car.”

1273 Relax and Succeed - How much more grievous

The dad clears his throat, struggling through his pain. “Thank you. Ah, yeah. That sounds like a good idea. You go. And we’ll talk about this later when we’re both not so… emotional.”

The son eats it. He blew it and he knows it. Resigned, he looks his father in the eye. “Are we okay Dad? You and me? Is this too big?” The son looks genuinely scared.

The Dad sees his son’s character underneath his mistake. He’s still seething, he doesn’t deny that reality. But he can see that his son feels genuinely bad. The only explanation for that is that his son cares and shares his wish that it never happened. “Nothing is ever too big. Ever. Do not make me confirm that by having to visit you in prison. But even there–yes–I love you. But you’re right. This one is big. I am currently seething and I am barely not screaming at you.”

“If you have to I understand.”

“I would also be the first one to call the cops if you did anything serious.” The son puts his hands up. “How bad is it?”

The son grimaces. “I don’t want to tell you.”

“AH!” His father cries out in anguish and buries his face in his hands. Eventually, he slowly emerges by turning the act into a facial massage and a chance at attitude renewal. “Okay. Okay. Yes. Okay. Clearly Bad. Bad. It. Is. Okay. But you’re okay, everyone’s okay. That is the important thing. That is what’s important. It is.” He’s really trying to convince himself it is.

“Everyone is safe. All the people are good. It was just the things Dad. Only things, no people.”

The Dad sees his son’s attempt to paint it all as favourably as possible and that makes him madder. “Yes. Just the… just my… car.” He just wants the kid to take it! And he’d demand that if he was half good at doing it himself, but at twice his son’s age even he still sucked at just eating obvious responsibility. The whole reason was because people did care when they made mistakes. That made it hard to stay mad.

Suddenly the son turns and says very authentically, “I’m really sorry Dad. It was my fault. I wasn’t paying attention. I’m so sorry about your car. I know you really loved that old thing.”

“A lot of my life happened in that car.” His son just looks at the floor, understanding that it was more than a car that was wrecked. It was a talisman that helped his Dad find his way back to some cherished memories. The father clears his throat. “Okay. I am mad, you feel bad, that seems… appropriate. I would definitely like some time away from you though.”

1273 Relax and Succeed - Control your emotionsThe son puts up his hands again, guilty. “For sure.”

“Okay, good. Thank you. That will help. Please don’t ah… don’t try to make me feel better. I’ve just gotta–this is really painful, and I’ve just gotta feel that. If I don’t I’ll end up resenting you, and I love you, so that makes no sense. I can’t feel that love at the moment, but I know it’s there, so I’m going to trust the love I have for you and spend some time focusing on other things and eventually we’ll be able to sit in the same room without me picking at your smaller mistakes untiI I finally create an excuse to yell at you a bit. If and–no, when–that happens, please think of it kind of like a pressure valve. It’s better than a full explosion.”

The hands go back up again. “Totally understand. Perfectly reasonable price for such a big and horrible mistake.”

He’s still biting back a lot of fury, but he also proud of himself. “I like to think so.”

“No no–you’re doing good.”

“Really? Because honestly, I just want to kill you right now.”

The son grimaces. “I get it. I kind of want to be dead right now.”

Now the Dad grimaces a smile. “That helps.” He nods, with tense approval. “That helps; knowing you want to die.”

The son is entirely okay with that. “Good. Good. Yes. A slow and painful death. I deserve that pain.”

“You’re my son, I don’t know if I need the pain, but the death… the desire to die does make me feel a bit better. Thank you.”

“No problem. Thank you. This is…” The son motions to the space between them. “This is very reasonable.”

The Dad mock smiles. “Good. Good. Well, I think I should eat something–keep my blood sugars in alignment, you know. So, uh, you have a good day and we’ll, uh, talk.”

The son pauses. He looks at his Dad again. “Thanks Dad. I’m sorry.”

They have a moment where there eyes meet and they both know they’ll be okay. “Go.” The son half-smiles as he heads back out the way he came in.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.

Losing Your Cool

I acted like an asshole. It happens. I took a negative situation and instead of converting into a stronger, better connection with the other person, I lost the moment and I ended up compounding the complexity of the issue with too much thinking. I regret it, but I’m okay with it–if that makes sense.

764 Relax and Succeed - Show respect even to people who don't deserve itI have a church near my home that’s used by a few different groups and one rather ironic congregation in particular is pretty famous in the neighbourhood for disrespecting the neighbours (and really, each other too). They’ll park blocking the road, or they’ll block the alley almost every week and they’ve even been so bold as to park on a neighbour’s driveway, trapping him in his garage for two hours. This always feels decided un-Samaritan-like.

This group experienced a lot politeness from the bolder neighbours initially, although the quieter group was calling tow trucks so maybe those two forces cancelled each other out. In the end it’s never really changed. When I got home after running errands the other morning I saw the contractor down the street having to back his trailer all the way down the alley. The more convenient exit that I was coming in through was blocked enough on my side that he wouldn’t fit.

I rolled down my window and spoke to the young couple who was now blocking the other side of the lane too. I politely let them know that a neighbour would surely call the city if they left their vehicle there. The husband indicated he would move it (as many often claim they will and then don’t). And sure enough, when I walked back he hadn’t. Now the fact that I walked back already shows I was lost.

764 Relax and Succeed - It may look as if the situationWhy did I walk back? Why did I personally feel the need to police the situation? The truth: I hadn’t had enough sleep and I was grumpy. It had nothing to do with these parkers. I was out very late at a friend’s wedding and I was operating on a few hours sleep and it probably didn’t help that I hadn’t had my morning coffee. I’ll usually catch myself being a bit short and I can usually settle myself immediately by just dropping any internal conversation and/or any attachments. Today I chose not to lose the attachment. Today I let the conversation in my head roll.

So I walked back to see if the future I wanted to live in had come true. Remember, I tell you that wanting is an ego-pursuit because it is. My ego wanted that guy to respect that contractor. I used to be a contractor and so I connected him to me, and I imagined him as a decent hard-working guy who was respectful and yet he was being forced to do something difficult for no good reason. Those thoughts added to my negative brain chemistry, which made it more likely that I would convert even more neutral experiences into negative thoughts.

I got attached to them moving the vehicle; I thought I needed it to be happy. And so when I saw their truck unmoved I was actually happy to see the wife returning to get her wallet, which she’d forgotten. I still quite politely told her about the contractor’s trailer and tried to contextualise that it wasn’t a petty request; it really was a big hassle for the guy to have to back out.

764 Relax and Succeed - Choose and direct yourselfI’m not sure, maybe my tone sounded sharp or maybe I had bad body language or maybe she’d been up late at a wedding too and maybe she was just as grumpy as me. She’s entitled. Either way, her reaction to my explanation was, “It’s only for two hours on a Sunday. You must hate God.”

What?!?! My reaction to that statement was far too rapid. My immediate calculation was that she had deflected their personal responsibility onto us, and worse she had justified it by suggesting my very kind and decent neighbours were only asking because we hated God. That lack of personal responsibility and that debasement of God really struck me inside and a feeling came over me that leads to bad news every time.

It’s a little rise. That’s how I feel it. Up until that point I can recoil my thinking quite effectively. After that it races forward and I get a shot of adrenaline and it invariable pushes out words that will be sarcastic and condescending. That kind of arrogance inspires me to want to stab someone with words that will reduce their confidence in that arrogance. And so I said something I deeply regret.

764 Relax and Succeed - When you judge anotherMy terrible and intentionally hurtful reaction to “you must hate God” was a lie. I said, “no, my family was just intelligent enough that they didn’t raise me to absolve myself of being an asshole with my car by conveniently believing in an invisible man in the sky.” That statement suggests that I’m against people believing in God or that I don’t believe in what could be called a sense of God when that’s not true. I have no issue with God. But I pretended to so I could stab her with some science. She scowled and was off and I was left with the sort of ugly feeling that really motivates you not to repeat the action that lead to it.

With no positive course of mind to pursue I simply walked away, but as I did I was already well aware that I’d gotten lost in my thoughts. I immediately began to introspect. My ego wanted. It wanted that vehicle moved and it didn’t like someone turning God into a lame excuse for behaviour that defied the story of the Good Samaritan. I acted superior. My response was to really focus on how much I did not like that feeling and I used that to motivate me to learn from the experience.

By the time I’d walked the few hundred feet home I had settled. I went through what happened to look for where my thinking took over. I realised that I should have noticed the first unsettled sense when I was motivated to walk back. From there it was the attachment to the car being moved, and then my thoughts tying this one experience to all of the previous ones–which of course she’s not responsible for. And finally my ego’s distaste for people using a positive symbol to justify negative behaviour did not help. I’m bad with hypocrisy.

764 Relax and Succeed - Your best teacherI deeply regret what happened but I can’t go back in time so I’ll take it as a lesson. I’m human and I allow for mistakes. But maybe from now on, on the nights where I know I’m going to get very little sleep, I can leave myself a note for when I wake up. Something that reminds me that I might be inclined to be grumpy and to keep an eye out. I think today that would have been enough to do it because when the negative thoughts showed up I could have contextualised them relative to me rather than to her. Lesson learned.

The reason I can’t regret it too much is that this is the yin and yang of life. We need these little moments to remind us where the path is. You can’t have a path without there being not-path. The path I’m usually on feels very warm and pleasant. This did not. It reminds me why I endeavour to stay as mindful as I can each day and so I am grateful for having had the experience.

If the lady I spoke to just happens to be reading this: you have my wholehearted apology. That wasn’t a nice way to speak to you. It’s wonderful you’re enjoying your two hours of holiness. My desire for my neighbour to avoid some unnecessary frustration and the expense of a late-charge on a rental was pointless if I was going to add that negativity to your day. Again, I’m sorry I was unable to be a better person at that time. Thank you.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organisations locally and around the world.