Turning left on the corner of Peach Street and Delaware Avenue in my small hometown of McComb, MS, I did not expect to get into my first and only accident. I was driving back home from church only a few weeks after I just got my independent license. The light turned green and barn! Another car ran through a red light and hit my driver door knocking me almost into the passenger seat. (Yes, I was wearing a seatbelt.) I wish that I could say that I took it like a man, but I didn't. I called my parents and with a trembling voice said those words every teenager dreads to say, "Mom, Dad, I got into an accident."
Luckily, I was not hurt but the car was totaled. The other driver complained about his neck and back spasms and was screaming that it was my fault. Then, my Dad arrived on the scene, and, after checking on me, he put me in his truck. We then went on the longest 10-minute car ride back to the house. The whole ride home, my father exclaimed, "We are going to lose our house! That man is going to sue us, and we are going to lose the house!" Luckily, my mother and my oldest brother were at the kitchen table ready to console me. After telling the story, my brother looked up and said, "Dad told you that we were going to lose the house, didn't he? Don't worry, he said the same thing to all of us." Suddenly a wave of relief came over me and by the end of the night my father, brother, and I were laughing at the whole situation.
Now, my father is not an irrational or unkind man. He has been and remains a wonderful father, and he is one of the smartest men that I know. Thinking back on the whole event, I wondered what drew him to such an over-reaction. I also thought about how many times I too have over-reacted about a future situation assuming only the worst outcome.
Any time there is a rupture in our lives, car accident or not, we feel violated and vulnerable. In these chaotic moments of our lives, we go into this survival mode where we assume the worst and hope for the best. Our responses of anger or fear are often not proportional for a situation. On the one hand, this is part of our human instinct for survival. Yet, how helpful are our negative assumptions or irrational feelings in handling the accidents in our lives?
For years, I thought that if I assume the worst and hope for the best, then I would be prepared. I thought that my feelings of fear and anger were helpful in protecting me from future pain. Now I have come to see that humanity's negative assumptions and ungrounded feelings are often its greatest prophet. Meaning, if you and I go a.round preparing for the worst, then the worst will find us! Accidents will happen, but preparatory fear or anger are not helpful, only present joy and hope. You and I have a choice today to be either negative about our future or joyful about the present. Many of you may even have valid reasons for your anger over past incidents, but nothing is keeping you from experiencing joy at this present moment but yourself. Sure, accidents may happen, but you can choose a joy which will make you complete (John 15:11).
-br. James Martin Nobles, O.P.