Friday, November 18, 2005

Car Wheels On A Gravel Road

I have always had a strong affinity for road trips, whether with friends, family, or even on my own. A car, the open road, good tunes, meaningful conversations or deep meditations, and sometimes, breathtaking beauty - there is nothing quite like driving up the California coastline for sheer magnificence.

When E-the-Brotha suggested a road trip to Cleveland, however, I was a bit apprehensive, on account of the deer in Indiana. Not all of the deer in Indiana, but a specific, large, dead one on route 80, a multi-lane highway (4 lanes? 5 lanes? not sure) that stretches across the midwest.

Last year around this time, my sister and I took a road trip to Milwaukee to spend Simchat Torah with D and Dr. Dobro. As it was a 16 hour drive each way, we stopped for a night in Cleveland both on the way there and on the way back.

On the return trip in Indiana: I was driving 80 miles an hour on the highway, when the car in front of me quickly swerved into the lane to my left. For a split second, I wondered what had caused him to swerve so wildly. But then immediately there right in front of our car in our lane was a large, dead deer. There was a car to my right, a car to my left, and no chance of making an abrupt stop at our speed.

I had no choice but to go over the deer.

The sound of car on deer was horrible. I felt sick as it was happening. Thank God the deer was already dead or for sure I would have killed it with the car. If that wasn't awful enough, because the deer was so large, going over it lifted our car in the air a bit, and I lost control of the wheel. The car did a complete 360, spun across all the lanes of traffic to our right, and then continued to spin back across the lanes to our left.

As it was happening, it felt surreal, like we were watching a movie. Everything just stopped - all thought, my heart. Both my sister and I remained incredibly calm, and I just kept repeating "it's ok." My sister, in a very calm, even-keeled voice, gave a play by play of what was occurring as it was happening:

"Oh my God, MC, we just went over the dead deer."

And then...

"Oh my God, MC, we're doing a complete 360."

And then...

"Oh my God, MC, cars are coming at us at 80 miles an hour."

And then...

"Oh my God, MC, we're spinning the other way."

Unbelievably, nobody hit us as we spun across all the lanes of the highway (twice!) before coming to a stop on the grass divider. Four other cars also ended on the divider, whether because of the deer or because they were trying to avoid hitting us as we careened out of control, I can't say. Though one of the cars stopped just short of going into the other side of traffic, no one got hurt and none of the cars sustained any damage.

Once we came to a stop, my heart began pounding furiously, and I said a prayer of thanks to God for our lives and for no one getting hurt. We sat there in stunned silence for a few moments, then got out of the car as we saw people running towards us to see if we were alright. I was so amazed by how many people had stopped their cars on the side of the road to check on us.

After making sure that everyone else was ok, we took a good look at our car, at the highway, and at the deer. The car was covered in deer blood and had a putrid smell, the road and the grass had crazy skidmarks, and the deer was still where it had been in the road. By the time the police arrived, everyone else had driven off, but we remained to walk around a bit and absorb the shock.

The officer told us it looked like the deer had been dead for some time, that there wasn't much we could have done, that we were incredibly lucky, and that as we did not kill the deer and no one was hurt in the accident, we could drive off as soon as we felt up to it. I went to shake the officer's hand, but he said it was policy not to, as I might be carrying a concealed weapon!

The drive from Indiana to Cleveland was horrible. We were both still shaken up, I had the sound of the car going over the deer in my head, and though relieved that I did not cause the animal's death, felt awful for the deer. Mostly, I was thankful that my sister and I were alive, and that no one was hurt. It was still a bit surreal, however, and I had not yet processed what happened.


A good night's sleep in Cleveland helped, and in the morning, at shul, I bentched gomel (prayer of thanks for surviving a dangerous situation), and we took the car to a car wash. As we headed back to New York, I couldn't help wondering what it all meant. Was HaShem sending us a message that we (or I, was) were doing something wrong in (my life)our lives? Was He letting us know that He is looking out for us? Was it a reminder to have emunah (belief) or a castigation for not having enough? Maybe both. I am not a big fan of "miracle stories, but in retrospect, it really did seem rather miraculous that we weren't killed.

As we approached the George Washington Bridge, my sister's cell phone rang. It was our mom, telling us that our brother Robro, had just been hit by a car while riding his bike. He had gone over the hood of the car, and landed in the road, and was now in hospital. My sister and I just looked at each other in disbelief. Thankfully, he came away with only scratches and bruises and was released the same day. It was more than a little freaky to have these events happen one day after the other.

When I told my Rav about these incidences, he said we should have a seudat hodayah ( a feast of thanks to God) each year to commemorate the kindnesses HaShem showed our family.

The trip back from the midwest this time was uneventful, thank God. We did not have to drive through Indiana, of course, but it is mating season for deer, and I was especially watchful for any darting - or lying - in the road.

I still wonder sometimes about the why, and what I am to take from these events, but can we ever really know? I think about my trust in God and my level of emunah all the time, and wonder at how I did not think of God or death as we were spinning, but only afterwards. I am still troubled by that. Every now and again, the episode replays in my mind. Mostly, though, I am just thankful that my sister, my brother and I are alive to tell the tale.

22 comments:

torontopearl said...

I attended my first seudat hodayah 2 Motzei Shabboses ago; it was a lovely evening, but I was sad to think that there had ever been a reason for this family to host such a seudah. Yet, I was happy that the outcome was so that they were able to...

Glad that everything in your family turned out well, too.

Shabbat Shalom.

Jack's Shack said...

Wow. That is quite a story.

Stacey said...

Holy cow! (Or should I say "deer")? Thank goodness you were all ok. And your brother in an accident, too? Oh, my. What a harrowing few days for you all.

Incidentally, I went to college in Indiana (Bloomington) and spent years driving back and forth to Cleveland. I had many close calls with deer, but luckily never direct contact (except for the venison the locals would hunt and bring in for all of us at work to eat).

Sweettooth120 said...

I second to what Stacey said...wow. How scary! We have a huge deer population where I live and lots of dark two lane roads. Sometimes you just forget that they are there until they start to dart in front of you.

sistersoul said...

good account of the story shmi, i do remember both of us sounding stupidly calm as it happened. I also remember leaning towards your side of the car so if we crashed on my side of the divider, I wouldn't be melded into the door...Maybe we should turn thanksgiving into a seudat hodaah for this incident? It definitely deserves honorable mention at least...

Karl said...

Amazing story.
Every now and again Gd may send us an incident that throws a spanner in the works, just to see how we react and respond to it. Not always can we understand why, but it gives us something to think about.

MC Aryeh said...

Pearl - Thanks for the good wishes. Just curious - what did they do at their seudah?

Jack - It was a pretty powerful experience which I won't be forgetting anytime soon!

Stacey - I have to ask: You seem so rooted in the midwest - what are you doing in Texas?!? Venison sounds a lot better than deer in the road, even for a not-so-carnivorous-soul like me.

SweetTooth- Thanks for stopping by. Why are so many of the roads where there are deer-crossing signs so poorly lit at night? There is a whole stretch of I-80 where you can barely see in front of your own car...

SisterSoul - I like the idea of co-opting Thanksgiving and making it into our own seudah...

Karl - Definitely got me thinking, and if it was a test of faith, I am not sure I passed....totally unrelated, but where does the term "spanner in the works" come from? I only know it as the title of a (rather bad) Rod Stewart album...

Stacey said...

The last place I ever thought I'd end up is in the Southwest. When I was engaged, my fiance got tranferred here. We thought we'd live here a year and move back to Cleveland, but we ended up being very happy here. One of my sisters eventually followed me here and then my parents retired here when I was pregnant with their first grandchild. And here I've been for 10 years....

I think I could be happy anywhere (as long as there is a Jewish community). I am flexible. Bloom where you are planted.

But in my heart, I will always be a midwesterner.

torontopearl said...

At the family's seudah, the men had their own tish in the dining room and the women were in the kitchen.

Before the actual seudah, there was music playing -- at least for the women -- and they danced in the family room.

During the seudah,the child who'd been ill said a few words (he's only 6 years old), his mother and father gave brief speeches, too, thanking everyone for davening on the child's behalf and helping the family in their time of need.

There were two rabbis who spoke, as well. Unfortunately, the women really couldn't hear much of what was said because of their strategic location in the kitchen!

I think the seudah/Thanksgiving is a lovely gesture and most fitting. To give thanks for you and your sister's lives and your brother's life being intact is a wonderful thing, and to share that with other family members over a Thanksgiving meal is even more special.

Jack's Shack said...

Stacey is going to end up in the west, it is destiny.

MC,

Part of what makes life so interesting to me are the good and the bad events that impact our lives.

You never know what they will be.

'laizer said...

Wow, man.
It's good to have you here, that's for sure.
I think we should all make a thanksgiving meal.

When does it happen?

Soccer Dad said...

My brother and I make a Seudas Hoda'a every year. It was a case of 18 wheeler vs. Nissan Sentra. We escaped without a scratch. You ask yourself what if the timing or direction was just a little different? You can chalk it up to the physics or can credit Hashem.

MC Aryeh said...

Stacey - "Bloom where you are planted" -a good motto for life. Thanks for sharing your personal history. I had been wondering...it is so nice that much of your immediate family has moved close by...

Pearl - Thanks for the Thanksgiving as seudah encouragement, and for sharing the experience at the seudah you attended. I think I always feel a little uncomfortable when the women are in a separate room from the men at these kinds of things....especially when the women can't hear what the speakers are saying!

Jack - You crack me up. Are you sure you and Stacey aren't secretly related? To me what is most interesting is not the events themselves, but how we choose to respond to them....

'laizer - Thanks for the good thoughts. Not sure yet on the exact when...would love if it were when you were here..

David - I would go with the HaShem through physics option. Glad you made it out without a scratch. I wonder if everyone has a story like this...

rabbi neil fleischmann said...

Thank G-d you were all saved. Not sure what else to say - it sometimes feels awkward to compliment good writing when the content is heavy. Still, good writing here.

Karl said...

For those who don't know, "spanner" is the British term for "wrench". To "put a spanner in the works" is the equivalent of tossing a wrench into the gears of a machine, refering to the adverse effects of throwing a spanner into the gears and pistons of an engine. A deliberate way to foul things up.
Origin could be from early days of steam and water power during the industrial revolution in England when men were losing their jobs and took action to damage the cause of that loss.


The fact that you survived could be a good a reason as any to show you passed a test; but also that you were troubled by what thoughts you had and when, show that it at least it affects you.

Stacey said...

Stacey is going to end up in the west, it is destiny.

Stacey doesn't believe in "destiny." Stacey believes we make our own destiny.

Jack's Shack said...

Apparently Stacey thinks that speaking about ourselves in the third person is cool.

Back in cleveland it might be considered normal. In Manhattan it might be appropriate on the subway but in the real world it is just a little....

R.x said...

wow - an amazing story. how did you get back behind the wheel after that? and i love how americans think nothing of driving for ten hours to get from one state to another. we could get half way across europe in that time. amazing. makes me want to visit some time.

Pragmatician said...

I can't imagine how you must've felt. Kol hakavod you stayed calm through it all. I can perfectly understand the apprehension to take this road again.
Driving slower is the message?

MC Aryeh said...

Neil - I think I know what you mean about complimenting heavy writing, but thank you for the compliment....

Karl - An excellent explanation of "spanner in the works". Thank you. Good point about the test.

Stacey - Stacey is a wise woman.

Jack - Can't speak much for Cleveland or the real world, but for Bob Dole and in the Manhattan subway it is pretty normal....

R.X.- I think most people would fly nowadays. It is only the really young and the free-spirited who take road trips lasting more than an hour or two anymore. I sometimes forget how vast the United States is...I got back behind the wheel because there wasn't much choice. We were in the middle of a stretch of highway in Indiana and had to get to Cleveland.

Prag - I am not sure driving 65 (the posted speed) would have been that different than driving 80 in this case. A few less spins, perhaps, but no way to avoid the deer, and likely loss of control of the car. There is a lot of car peer pressure on the road to go the same speed as everyone else. But you are right, driving slower would be a good practical lesson to take away from this...

'laizer said...

All seriousness aside, it's pretty cool that your sister calls you 'MC.'

;)

Soccer Dad said...

MC,
I'm sure others have survived similar accidents. But over the next few months I heard of several truck vs. car accidents. All of them involved the crushing (not the pushing) of the car and at least one death. It put into perspective that what happened to us was not necessarily the most likely outcome.