The Car Accident
by Susan Johnstone
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The Car Accident (or How to Throw Thousands of Dollars Down the Drain)
As usual, I was running late. I drove quickly, tearing around the corners and into the dips and bends of the dirt road. I steered around a long curve in the road, noticing a white vehicle coming towards me. I moved over to the left of the road to allow enough room for us to pass each other. This made my wheels on one side of the car sink into a raised strip of loose dirt on the edge. With the momentum of cornering, the back of the car swung off the road. I didn’t worry too much as these things happen on dirt roads and it is not hard to get the car back under control.
The other vehicle had passed and before I knew it, I was somehow careening through a different plane of travel than I was used to. Instead of the dirt road ahead, all I saw was greenery against the windscreen and left window. I realised in a detached thought: “So this is what it’s like to roll the car…” and I heard scraping on the metal work. In the next split second I realised having the wheels off the road is not a safe position in which to drive, and I called out, “Oh, Lord!”
Then the car stopped, right-side up. I looked around and saw the car was filled with dust, coming through a broken window. But I was okay, and so was Jessie, although she looked quite surprised and almost ready to cry. With the wisdom of a three-year old, she could see something was not quite right. “It’s okay, Bubbie,” I said, and I reached back to release her from the harness on the child seat. I gave her a quick cuddle and stepped out of the car.
It was perched on the roadside embankment, its rear towards the paddocks and the nose of the car pointing out into the road, back in the direction I’d come. A smashed headlight, broken window, bent bonnet, dints in the doors and roof – it didn’t look too good. One of the back tyres hissed as air leaked out of a bent valve. I had no intention of seeing if I could drive it, and I also knew I wouldn’t be making it to my appointment that morning.
I tried making a couple of calls from my mobile phone, but no-one answered. Then another vehicle came down the road and the driver offered to take me and Jessie to where Bruce was working back towards home. As we drove out to the worksite, I pondered what had happened. I still couldn’t figure out how I had rolled the car so quickly - it didn’t seem like I was out of control, but the next moment the car had a mind of its own.
Bruce took the news calmly although I knew he had a busy day and having to stop work to clean up the mess his wife made would not have helped his stress levels. We had a chat about what had happened and then he took Jessie and I home. We tried to have a calm day; I cancelled appointments and caught up on some work from home.
In a sense I was on a confident high – I had survived a roll-over… not only survived, but I was able to walk away without a scratch! God was good.
The Replacement Car – Meep-Meep!
As I lay in bed that night I spoke to Bruce about the accident. “I guess I should be upset and moaning about it, but I figure it’s just a hunk of metal, so what’s the point?”
Bruce responded, “Sure, it is just a hunk of metal, but having no car is a big inconvenience and getting a new one is even more hassle.”
I saw his point and wished I would be more sympathetic to the trouble I’d caused Bruce. Still, I had faith that we would find a replacement with too many dramas.
A day or two later we were offered the loan of a little car from our mechanic – a navy blue Barina. Apparently a local bloke had offered it to the mechanic, saying, “Have it to drive around in.”
I could see why he gave it away.
I drove the car home and it seemed the steering was heavy, and the wheels felt like they were going in different directions to each other. Maybe I was overly sensitive to the vehicle’s faults but I mentioned them to Bruce. The next morning, he took the Barina for a drive to the school bus stop. He returned and agreed with my assessment. “Yeah, the steering is a bit heavy, and the wheels do need an alignment, but it’s okay; it’ll just feel like the car is wandering over the road a bit.”
Unfortunately Bruce didn’t realise that wandering over the road was not a feeling I was looking forward to again.
I once heard an Aussie comedian talk about the growing trend for city people to have 4-wheel-drive vehicles, something not needed at all on the city streets. “I asked a mate why he had a 4-wheel drive and he said, Oh, you know, one day I might want to go bush with it.” The comedian laughed. “How ridiculous! Having this big, pretentious vehicle in the city, just in case you might want to go 4-wheel driving! You don’t see a farmer driving around the paddock in a little Barina!” He pretended to beep a horn. “Meep-meep! As if a farmer would say, Oh yeah, I got this little car because one day I might want to go to the city.”
Well, I’ve got news for you… There are farmers out there who have little Barinas to drive around the paddock, and I think I’ve got one of them now.
The car’s floor is covered in dead grass and dirt, and like most old bombs, is deteriorating in all areas. I took the car into town to do my shopping and on the way back it started to rain. I turned on the wipers and they scraped across the windscreen. On the next swing across the windscreen, the right wiper stayed down while the left one lifted up and across. When the right one decided it was ready to lift, the left was in the way and it couldn’t rise. I hoped that when the rain got heavier, the wet surface might encourage the wipers to slide across the windscreen more easily.
I turned them on again. This time the right windscreen wiper went Doinnnngg! and it left the windscreen completely, bouncing in the opposition direction and draping itself over my side mirror. I laughed out loud – this was so ridiculous!
I figured I would have to drive home in the rain, making the best I could out of my obscured vision. I discovered that when I drove faster, the wind pressure forced the water to slide up the windscreen in sheets, thus making the visibility a bit clearer. Over the next 20 kilometres, the road became narrower with each section until I was on the last stretch, the dirt road to my place.
Then I came around the corner to see a cattle truck bearing down on me. My head was just reeling with all the ways I could possibly endanger myself on the trip home. Through the dripping windscreen I could see enough to move across to where I estimated the side of the road was, and all was good.
But wait, there’s more! Not one truck, but two semitrailers passed, their lights sparkling in the grey curtain of rain.
When I got home I showed Bruce the defective wiper and he skilfully made repairs. After a trip like that I felt sure I was somewhat of a ‘golden child’ – particularly blessed and covered in a shroud of divine protection. Whatever misfortune was ahead of me, I was willing to face. Bring it on!
Even when I went to church and people commented on the news of my accident, I shrugged off their concerns with a happy confidence. Yeah, sure, I rolled the car and walked away without a scratch, but it’s clear that God is looking after me!
I laughed with those who had similar car anecdotes to share and marvelled at how close we can come to doing some serious damage to ourselves.
It seems every true Aussie has a funny car story (or ten) and I thought back to my first car. I was 17 and it came with pre-placed dents so that any damage I could incur was minor and inconsequential. I learned to park in undercover car-parks by scraping against the concrete poles or bumping into the wall at the end: Yep, that’s in as far as it can go!
The night I’d bought the car, I took it for a burl along one of the main streets in Darwin. My flat-mate Paul had a little mini Moke so to him, the 6-cylinder HJ panel van was a throbbing beast. He was just as excited as me and he grinned out the window, calling out to other drivers who cared to look, “New car!”
I loved that car. It suffered long under my ownership, frequently running out of fuel and being abandoned in the street until I could return the next day or so with money and a jerry-can top-up. I never had the cash to give it maintenance, let alone a decent service. But still, it endured (because it was a Holden) and its demise was a sad event marred even further by the fact that it was another driver who had committed the homicide.
My friend Johnno and I were heading from Darwin to the Queensland coast, down the Stuart Highway and across to the east on the Barkley Highway. We’d picked up a fellow traveller called Ned and together we planned to share the driving. On the first night of travel we stopped to fuel up and checked under the bonnet, as the car seemed to be overheating. The whole manifold was glowing red-hot. “Johnno!” I exclaimed. “What are you doing?! Don’t drive so fast!”
Although the speedometer didn’t work, it was clear that the car was being driven too fast for the engine to handle. “I can’t help it,” Johnno mumbled. “My foot gets really heavy.”
After a few changes of shift and hundreds of k’s later, the engine seized up. Too hot, not enough oil, stoopid drivers – they all played a part. We stood on the side of the highway outside Charters Towers waiting for a lift.
We finally got the car towed into town and I sold it for the huge sum of $200 to the local wreckers. Ned found another lift to his destination, and Johnno and I finished our journey on the bus.
And so now, about 18 years and five cars later, I had come to the end of another vehicle’s life. What lay ahead, we weren’t sure.
Denouement – all is not what it seems
By Saturday afternoon, Bruce had driven the battered car home from the paddock where it was resting for the week. He also had a chat with a mate about what must have happened. With their knowledge of road conditions, inertia and thrust and all sorts of physics terminology, they compared the physical evidence on the car. Apparently it was a regular CSI and so I was informed on Sunday what the post-mortem declared.
Bruce drew a diagram and showed me what he thought had taken place. As it all happened so quickly in my recollection, I was still unclear myself what the precise movements of the car had been.
Taking into account that I was driving quickly around a bend to the right, and had moved to my left, when the wheels had lost traction in the loose dirt, the back of the car had swung around swiftly. At this point I thought the car had fishtailed but as apparently I had not tried to correct the car, then chances are the back of the car overtook the front and did a 180 degree turn. With my speed, I would have continued travelling along the road in the same direction, just going backwards, and across the road to the other side where it had fallen into the drain. The angle of the drain tilted the car on its side and this caused most of the damage to the car – the scrapes and dents on the roof and doors, the broken back left window, the bonnet that was pushed forward.
When the car finally stopped, perhaps knocked by a tree root or branch, it fell back onto its wheels and there the story ended.
This was a shock. No spectacular mid-air flips and divine intervention. No miraculous redemption because God has ‘a special work for me to do’.
Bruce showed me what trajectory the car would taken, and how I could have avoided the accident by accelerating and driving into the curve of the car to counteract the back swinging around.
I was again silenced. Clearly I could have, and should have prevented the damage to the car. Instead, I drove irresponsibly and endangered the life of my child – the little one strapped in to the left side of the car while that same side scraped along the dirt, rocks and trees. The child who narrowly missed being injured as the window behind her head was shattered.
I had no answer for my actions, and I went downstairs to do the washing in quiet contemplation.
Soon the facts registered in my brain and I filled with regret… and heaps of guilt. And then the self-recriminations.
Stupid girl! I thought. Typical city chick - no sense on a dirt road. Been driving here for 10 years and still haven’t learned a thing! What an idiot…
I thought of the pain and inconvenience I had caused Bruce, who now was the one who had to fork out his hard-earned money to pay for another car, and also had to look around and make the tough decisions on which one to buy.
All the things I should do to try to atone were rejected as soon as I thought of them. I had no assets to sell to help pay for the new car. I could drive at turtle speed to prevent any further loss of control on corners, but then I would never get anywhere on time. I could try to learn defensive driving… but in whose car? We didn’t have any to spare and it wasn’t worth the risk of more damage to whatever vehicles we had.
I thought about the wonderful miracle story I preferred in my head, where God saved my life and gently stopped the car from crashing into the big gum tree. Idiot! I thought. Of course God didn’t perform a miracle for me – who am I to deserve a miracle? There is no special protection over me… just maybe an exasperated look from God as He fixes yet another one of my stupid mistakes.
And to top things off, the little blue car isn’t even a Barina! Bruce pointed out it’s an Astra, and so my wonderful story of the city car from the paddock doesn’t make sense either.
I wallowed and cried, and felt sorry for myself in any way I could.
And as much as I didn’t want to leave my pity party, a voice in my head reminded me that these were all the things that Satan wanted me to think.
And I thought about all the things I could do to pay Bruce back, to ‘buy’ his forgiveness and I realised this was not the way love works. Even in my stupidity and carelessness Bruce is there to make up for my shortfalls; and whatever I do, I cannot stop him from wanting to help.
But greater still is the love of God, and although I wanted a wonderful miracle story, I know He shows me His love in the so-called ‘little’ things He does. Like Naaman who didn’t want to be healed through the menial task of washing in the river Jordan, I preferred a grand miracle to show God’s intervention in my life… but that is not always the way. Whether I was saved from a triple-loop high vault in the car or simply a reverse collision with a tree, I am still grateful. And whether I was in control, out of control, or too confused to know what was going on, I know God still had His hand over me.
Despite my embarrassment and contrition over my reckless driving, God still extends His protection. For that is what grace is all about. I don’t deserve it. I am irresponsible - I leave home too late, I drive too fast for my capabilities sometimes, and yet God still makes up for my deficiencies. Even if I did all the right things and was on my way to donate a thousand dollars to some charity and swerved to avoid a baby bird in the middle of the road, it would still not make me any more, or any less deserving of God’s protection.
And so after a week of pondering my accident, I am less cocky, and at the same time, more assured that God is watching over me… not because of who I am, but because of who He is.
“It was not because of any good deeds that we ourselves had done, but because of his own mercy that he saved us…” Titus 3:5 (The Good News Bible)
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