My eyes popped open. I was wide awake and I knew it was too soon. I rolled over to check the time. 5am exactly. My mothers words of advice ricocheted around my sleepy skull.
“When you are awaken early in the morning, God is trying to talk to you.”
Reluctantly I flipped through my Android and found the Bible app and began to read. 30 minutes later I decided I would go to work early and lift in the gym. So I showered and dressed and checked the weather, a high of 49 degrees.
As I sat in my car I said a quick word of prayer for protection while driving and going through my usual day. It was almost a ritual at this point in my life, but not quite meaningless. As I pulled onto the road my alarm to wake up buzzed in my pocket, exactly 6:10.
The first half of my journey has some “fun” bits of road where you can stretch your cars legs, which I often do. But for some reason I drove the limit. Still in a groggy state I turned on the radio, half listening and half in a random stream of consciousness. I noticed a powder looking spray in the headlights of the oncoming traffic just above the barrier.
‘Weired,’ I thought. ‘Maybe a truck spilled something…’
As I neared the final curve of the highway I noticed a thin substance covering adjacent parking lots dimly lit by the lights, but it was so dark I could not tell exactly what it was. Then I noticed tracks forming on the highway.
“Snow?” I said to myself aloud? There was no snow in the forecast and there was definitely no snow at my apartment just 8 miles or so in the opposite direction.
I slowed down being way more cautious than usual. In my sleepy state I saw the tracks getting very erratic. Then a silver rectangular object caught my attention as it reflected my headlights. I swerved to avoid it losing traction. It was too late. I made contact. Even more objects smaller in size littered the road as I gripped my steering wheel hoping the damage to my car would be minimal and praying I didn’t cut a tire. Glass and plastic bits bounced off my bumper and undercarriage in a stomach churning symphony of noise. I corrected to get back into my lane where suddenly a rocking shadow, that my sleepy mind interpreted as a giant, was standing in my way. I swerved left again checking my mirror to make sure no one was approaching in the fast lane, just as it seemed the giant stepped away to the right.
As I passed the giant I peered at it trying to control my car. It was no giant. It was an SUV and it looked like it was standing on its nose??? “No way. I have to be dreaming.” I thought.
I slammed on my brakes and pulled to the shoulder. The Anti-Lock-Brakes popped and pinged as my summer tires struggled to grip the icy road surface and stop. My car under-steered, and the passenger side dropped off the road and the car finally came to a halt. I looked back as the lights of oncoming cars lit the giant from behind confirming that the wheels were where the roof should be.
“Maybe it was a cleared accident.” I reasoned in my head. “Maybe I am tripping from lack of sleep and I did not really see it move?”
I slammed my car into reverse watching as other cars swerved and skidded to avoid the overturned car. Sweat immediately beaded in my armpits as I imagined a tractor trailer or another car plowing into the car and pushing it into me. Two or three cars pulled to the sides of the road, paused then pulled off.
“Is no one going to help?” I yelled as if anyone could hear.
Scared to reverse the remaining distance I got out of my car and ran up the shoulder. Through my mind ran images of red asphalt, decapitated or crushed occupants, all the worst case scenarios I could think of. I shivered more from fear of what I would find than of the cold.
“Please God.” Was the only prayer I could mutter as I jogged and slipped in my dress shoes in the wafer thin snow. I pulled out my cell phone and dialed 911. Many times as a kid I had dialed 911 as a joke and been scolded for it. For some reason those memories came back to me and I hesitated to press ‘Send’.
As I neared the car I saw the back-lit silhouette of a person. Not sure what was going on I yelled.
“Were you in there?!”
The silhouette didn’t respond. ‘Could this be some type of trap?’ I though to myself. ‘Is he going to rob me?’ I prepared myself for a fight just in case.
“Hey! Are you O.K.? Were you in that car?” I repeated loudly and more forcefully.
“Hello 911 what is your emergency…?”
“Yeah, thanks for stopping.” The silhouette responded holding his head. I jogged past the silhouette and ran to the car.
“Hi I have an overturned vehicle Northbound on route 309…” I paused with the 911 call.
“Is there anyone else in the car? I asked as I peered into the side of the SUV.”
“No, just me.” He replied.
“Thank God, are you O.K. dude?” I said finally getting a glimpse of his bearded face from the lights of traffic. I gave the dispatcher our location.
“Only one occupant, he crawled out it looks like, but he is bleeding from his head and face. It doesn’t look bad but he should probably be checked out.” I reported as I watched the driver pace back and fourth while rocking himself obviously shaken up and cold.
“Come on dude, get in my car. You’ve got to be cold.” I said as I grabbed his arm.
“Thanks man.” He said, “What is your name?”
We exchanged names and he began to tell me how he had lost control and flipped several time.
“I just kept thinking, is this it? Is this how it ends?” He said shaking his head. “I don’t want to get blood on your car.” he said holding his hands up and indicating towards the door.
For the first time in the light of my car I got a good look at the man who introduced himself as Kyle. Blood covered the right side of his face and his hair was matted down with blood on the top of his head. His arms had blood running down them and his hands were covered red.
“Dude, don’t even worry about that.” I assured him. Just shut the door and stay warm.”
We talked more about how the snow was seemingly localized to just this area. I told him how I was awaken earlier than usual and decided to drive slow to work.
“Everything happens for a reason.” I said to myself.
“I believe in stuff like that.” Kyle said looking me in the eye.
Sirens blasted and flashing lights cut through the dark as the first officer arrived on the scene blocking off the road. Kyle reached for the door.
“Stay here and relax.” I said. “I will go talk to him and when he comes just stay in the car and put your window down so you can speak to him.”
I ran to the officer and greeted him. I stuck my hand out to shake his but he ignored me as he walked past.
“Were you involved in the accident?” He said over his shoulder.
“No, I stopped to help.”
“Where is the driver?”
“He is in my car.”
“The officer walked to my car shining his flashlight on my license plate and all over the vehicle. ‘Oh boy, are you going to pull me over?’ I thought to myself. I had one too many run ins with officers in this area who felt a young black man could not be driving a bright blue BMW unless it was stolen. ‘Is this your car?’ was often the first question I was greeted with when rolling my window down during a traffic stop.
“He’s in the passenger seat if you are looking for him.” I said sarcastically.
A few moments later fire trucks, ambulances and more officers pulled up. Still no other motorists had stopped. I thought how cold and un-involved the average person had become and it saddened me. I watched as the Paramedics tended to Kyle.
He thanked me and I gave him my phone number telling him to let me know when he got out of the hospital and to contact me if he needed anything. It sounded hollow and formal but I really meant it.
As more police officers pulled in I decided this is where I would take my leave before I too would need assistance. I pulled away and watched them walk Kyle to the ambulance through my rear-view mirror. I thanked God for keeping him from a worse fate. I also thanked God for allowing me to do just a little bit for someone else. I wouldn’t even call it help as I feel like I did nothing but provide warmth while he waited, exactly what I would want for myself or my family in that situation.
I drove the few miles left to my office and heard as John Butterworth on WHYY announce an overturned vehicle on 309. So many times I had heard those words on the traffic report and they were just that, words. Each life seems so insignificant in a world of daily tragedy. People die what seems like every second. They fade away as quickly as the next thought comes. A new appreciation for life and a desire to make mine meaningful crept into my now wide awake head. Second, third, and fourth chances happen.
Wake up! Make your days count. And what really counts is how you treat people.