I was helpless. My mind went blank as efforts to stop the car failed and we slid directly into the side of a truck carrying a propane tank, stuck in the snow banks on either side of the country road. “Get out of the car” came the shout from the truck’s cabin. As he lowered himself from his elevated perch behind the wheel, the driver calmly added “Turn off the motor.” The truck was barely scratched. The front of my car looked like it had gone ten rounds in the ring with a championship boxer, its front hood a crunched mass of metal.
I was numb, my wife trembled and my daughter bravely held back tears of shock and fear. “ It was a propane tank,” she cried out in horror. I realized then that we were spared the grim, unimaginable possibility of being engulfed in an exploding furnace of flames…
It was New Year’s Eve. The bus scheduled to bring my daughter back to New York never arrived. We, together with about ten other shivering souls, stood in front of what used to be a Rexall drugstore in the town of Lee. After a three-quarters of an hour delay, someone left the huddled group to inquire , at a local café where bus tickets were sold, about some clarification. Passengers for Boston were in luck. There was no information for those heading for New York. I waited a few minutes longer then proceeded to investigate myself. While polite and friendly, the café owner was completely uninformed about the bus’s status.
After several failed attempts to reach the offices of the bus company, I was told that bus service from Lee had been cancelled for that day because of snowy conditions. A bus for New York had left earlier from a nearby location .Angry and bewildered, our group of stalwarts decided to wait a little longer. The owner of the café appeared on his way to a nearby bank. I rushed over to him, desperate for information. He finally had been notified that an additional bus was put into service and was expected to arrive shortly. We waited for almost another hour, at which point we all decided to head back that afternoon to the city in our family car.
It was a leisurely, and slow ride back to our log home. We were surrounded by a winter wonderland, a heavy blanket of snow bending branches in a response of submission to the leaden- grey skies. We approached the road on which we lived. Suddenly, a truck loomed in front of us. I thought it was entering our driveway to deliver gas to our home. A second later a new reality cross my mind. It was wedged on either side of the road by banks of snow, stuck in the middle of the road…
What followed was a frantic two hours of telephone calls to AAA, my insurance company, car rental establishments-all of which were either closed for the holiday or without any available cars-my son in the city whom we hoped would be well enough to bring us home( He had been under the weather the day before), and filling out an accident report for a police officer who had been called to the scene.
Finally all required arrangements were completed. We sat in our living room. A silent heaviness hung over the three of us.
“Thank God we were not hurt. It could have been so much worse,” I heard myself saying aloud attempting to not only reassure my wife and daughter, but especially myself. Fleetingly, I was grateful for having been spared the worse of possible scenarios. Yet, my mind could not resist entertaining a series of “whys” and “what ifs!” Why did this have to happen? Why did the propane company have to deliver gas precisely on this day? What if the bus had arrived on time and my wife and I would have returned home an hour earlier? What if I had tried to swerve the car into the embankment, applied the hand brakes, or done anything else to prevent this from happening?
To be honest, the battle between being grateful for my family’s well-being and being spared further hardship, and feelings of resentment couched in terms of what if or what should have been, continued almost unabatedly. Indeed, I felt I was locked in an internal struggle for the hoped for triumph of gratefulness. The struggle goes on; what’s left to be done is to reach out as best I can, in words, thoughts and feelings, to the comforting and strengthening reality of gratefulness in our lives. This continues to be my spiritual journey.
The Grateful Rabbi