An accident -- and then the comforting words of strangers

Janet Zinzeleta

March 20, 1991|By Janet Zinzeleta

THE CRUNCH of metal, the shattering of glass; soon the flashing of lights and the wail of police car and ambulance sirens.

One minute I was driving along feeling safe and confident. A few minutes later, I was being carried on a stretcher to a hospital emergency room.

With the loss of my car, as with any loss, there were emotional stages: shock, anger, sadness, finally acceptance. I am left, too, with a renewed sense of vulnerability. If this could happen once, so unexpectedly, it could happen any time. I relate the feeling to my and my children's reaction after my husband's death. (If he -- young, strong and healthy -- could get sick and die, another of us could, too.)

The accident also intensified my awareness of being alone. Though others were supportive and helpful, the one person whose sympathy and concern I most craved was not there to provide it. There was no one who cared in the same way, on the same level, as my husband would have. The sense of isolation was astounding.

Something good came from the experience, though. Immediately after the impact of the accident, as I sat trying to absorb what had happened, a young woman and a young man appeared at the window of my car door.

"Are you all right?" they asked.

I said we didn't seem to be seriously hurt. They both spoke calmly and soothingly, telling me that the Lord was with me, that everything would be all right.

"Where did you come from?" I asked.

The young woman had been driving by and had stopped to see if she could be of any help. The young man had been walking up the highway and, hearing the crash, had come to see if there was anything he could do.

A man who works in a store in the shopping center on the other side of the highway had heard the noise of the accident and had rushed over. He was talking to my sister, who was in the front passenger seat and quite upset; he held her hand and talked quietly to her, telling her that the Lord was watching out for her. From either side of the car came comforting murmurs, each person speaking reassuringly of the Lord.

To be honest, people who do a lot of talking about "the Lord" usually turn me off. But as I sat shaking all over, I was aware of a most beautiful sense of brother and sisterhood. Here were three strangers who took the time to be true neighbors. Thoughts of the parable of the Good Samaritan came to my mind, as did the words of Christ from Matthew 18:20: "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." I was aware of a little circle of love around the five of us.

I also thought of the three kings who came from foreign lands to bring gifts to the newborn Christ child. Our three "kings" were from different backgrounds. The young woman was white, the young man appeared to be from India and the man talking to my sister was black. Their gifts were compassion, caring and love.

Two hours later, after having been X-rayed at the hospital, I discovered that the young man had come with his girlfriend and had waited patiently to drive us home. When I explained that the hospital had called my brother-in-law and that he was coming, the young man gave me his name and phone number and told me to call if I needed anything. Another phrase from the Bible came to me: "In as much as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."

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Janet Zinzeleta writes from Ellicott City.

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