I’ve been reminded recently of the value of living in ‘now’…being wholly present in your surroundings, embracing life and everything it throws at you, so you don’t miss one drop of its energy, force, wonder and purpose. Two months ago someone’s unsafe driving ran me off the narrow country lane leading into my village. My vehicle, having finished travelling of its own accord, came to rest, in a field, upside down. I had closed my eyes as the car had started to tilt onto its side and sweep off the tarmac onto the grassy bank. I didn’t want to see what might be coming next if it didn’t look too promising.
When I opened my eyes I saw blood across my arms and hands, smelt petrol as it seeped from the tank, and felt the seat belt cutting into my side as it kept me trapped, suspended upside down. Oceans sounded like they were crashing around inside my skull. Within minutes a kind and gentle face was leaning upside down, in the broken window beside me, reassuring me that help was on its way. As I lay tangled, everything around me began to unravel in slow motion. A group of concerned people arranging for the emergency services seemed to be shouting. It had started to spit with rain, softly, yet it seemed like it was hammering on the underside of the car. Every movement I tried to make to free my trapped legs felt futile and caused me unhelpful anxiety so I stopped doing it. I could hear sirens in the distance, getting louder. As I realised they were for me, it was as if the soundtrack in a film was increasing in volume and intensity. The voices around me weren’t shouting, they were calm and focused. The noise I could hear was the sound of blood pounding in my head.
I looked at the world upside down for around an hour whilst the fire crew and paramedics planned how to cut me free. When the cutting gear started to grind its way through my beloved RAV, I wanted to cry. Not out of any sense of self-pity or fear. I wanted to cry for the 11 years of wonderful memories my trusty 4×4 had given me and mine. For the automated photo album it represented. My late and much missed Mum’s walking stick lay in the foot well beside me. It had lain in the car beside her seat since the day she put it there on the way to hospital for the last time. The stakes and hammer used to hold the leads and ropes for our Newfoundlands when we went water rescue training were scattered about the cabin. I saw CD cases lying everywhere, thrown from the glove box…soundtracks to road trips in summers, winters, springs and autumns. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to the role my RAV had played in the last few years of my life. It might have been battered and bruised, a bit like me, but it was steadfast, reliable, and a link to parts of my past that were no longer present.
When I was finally freed, stretchered into a waiting ambulance, and bouncing towards our local hospital, I began to pay attention to how my senses were shifting focus. Sounds around me became less intense. Feelings took over. I started to play back what had just happened…I recalled the paramedic, Karen, who had stayed squashed uncomfortably inside the upturned car right beside me whilst the fire crew sliced an escape route out….I saw my amazing friends Julie and Adrian, who had stood by the side of the road for the entire time, cold, and probably getting wet in the rain, waiting patiently. I heard myself laughing with Julie about the photos she’d taken of the ‘rescue’ for posterity. Slowly, I began to feel more grounded, more aware of things unfolding in real time again.
I’ve reflected on the events of that day for some time. I felt a need to pay attention to why I had been so very lucky to walk away from the sort of accident that quite often ends very badly. When I look back at my experience I see two films playing out simultaneously. One illustrates the actual events, step by step, in slow motion. The other has a camera focusing on all the faces I saw, the conversations, the emotions that played out. I can see quite clearly in retrospect that when I was focused on ‘now’, on what was physically happening to me and around me, I was wholly present. Being present allowed me to see, hear and feel things I may not have done, had I not been able to wholly immerse myself in the moment. I’ve realised something quite intriguing about the concept of being ‘present’. When you consider its two definitions, I think there is a valuable clue to the gift of being present.
And the clue….
I received so many ‘gifts’ during and after the horrendous experience of the car crash. Whilst I wouldn’t call it a special occasion in the dictionary definition sense of the phrase, it was a special occasion. It afforded me an invaluable and timely reminder that the people around me, closest to me, matter deeply to me. And I matter to them. We shouldn’t let our humility prevent us from seeing how truly valued and valuable we all are. My family, friends and neighbours’ love and concern, the overwhelmingly generous wishes for speedy recovery, good health, confidence to get back on the road and so forth. Terms of endearment masked as funny, outrageous, inappropriate, sharp, blunt, but always hilarious quips. Flowers filled every vase in the house, twice over. Cards covered the mantelpiece and sprung up around the house…little notes reminded me of how important relationships, family, friends, all loved ones are. Because when it really matters….really, really matters…when now is all you have…it’s the people around you that make now a moment worth keeping as a memory. It’s the human connection that brings life to every moment of ‘now’ and makes it a gift.