Road Trip V, Days 12-14, Cookeville, TN-Asheville, NC: Counting Blessings

I realize that the topic of traffic accidents may be painful to some, so—fair warning. We just walked away from one, and I want to write about it.

For the record, I lost both my uncle and my grandmother in separate auto crashes (the former, before I was born; the latter, when I was fifteen). But I’m willing to bet most families can list one or more members lost that way. There’s a reason so many of us sign off our conversations and emails, “Drive safely!”

The Mate and I were heading east on I-40 in the middle of Tennessee in a blinding rainstorm. We had just stopped for a satisfying bike ride (Mate) and run (me) on a rail-trail along the Cumberland River outside Nashville. (For most folks, Nashville = Grand Ol’ Opry. For the Wings, Nashville–or any other city–= “Where do y’all keep your bike paths?”) We had changed into dry clothes, and were looking forward to an arrival in Knoxville early enough that we might even take in a movie. I was on the iPad, checking dinner options.

Both of us noticed that Red Rover felt a little…squiggly. I tapped on the iPad. The Mate drove.

Suddenly, crossing a bridge over a flooded creek, Red Rover was skidding sideways. Her left rear slammed into the concrete divider, bouncing us back across the freeway with such force that the right-side slam spun us 180 degrees. When the entire slo-mo sequence ended, we sat staring the oncoming traffic in the face from the safety of the shoulder.

Of course it wasn’t safe. I was convinced that the next second would bring another car, or one of those semis, hydroplaning right through our windshield. But Red Rover re-started, and after only a few moments–though it felt endless–the traffic parted enough for The Mate to do a U-turn and rejoin the eastern flow.

~A rest area appeared in the next two miles.
~A nice man inside showed us on a map where we could find a good mechanic in the next town, Cookeville.
~Red Rover showed barely a scratch.
~The Mate and I suffered only shaky knees.
~Cookeville was 20 miles away. We spent that drive marveling at our blessings.

I won’t bore you with the details of what we learned from the mechanic about the probable cause of our skid. Suffice to say we’ll be visiting a Subaru dealer when we get to my hometown, Durham. And our poor ol’ bike rack needs some first aid. But this post is about blessings.

We were able to drive away from an accident that could have killed us in several different ways. We were able to afford new tires, and a night in a motel a little nicer than our usual Super-8 level. (They gave us milk and warm cookies when we checked in.) I posted about our accident on Facebook and received dozens of caring responses. The next day we drove safely out from under Winter Storm Thor and made it to the home of our friends in Asheville, who spoil us rotten.

"Goin' back to Carolina, bless my soul, bless my soul..."

“Goin’ back to Carolina, bless my soul, bless my soul…”

Me & The Mate, happy to be alive in the Blue Ridge.

Me & The Mate, happy to be alive in the Blue Ridge.

At this point, all I can do is borrow from Anne Lamott one of her three favorite prayers: “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”*

(Courtesy Indiebound.org)

(Courtesy Indiebound.org)

(*Lamott’s other two prayers are, “Help me, help me, help me,” and “Oh, wow.” I’ve borrowed those plenty too.)

What else is there to say?

“Hey World, Look How Flawed I Am”: Why I Love Reading Anne Lamott

I need to call our vet this morning, and tell him I may be calling him again in the next few days to put our sweet malamute, Juni, to sleep. She hasn’t eaten since Tuesday morning, and I think she’s telling us she’s done.

We went through this exactly 11 months ago with our other malamute, Molly. But Molly was 15; Juni just turned ten. I thought we’d have a little more time with her, but cancer thought otherwise. I am sad.

So I’m doing what I tend to do in this situation: not thinking about it. I can’t WAIT to get to work, where my brain will be too full of bread and pastry to think about big furry dogs and how much they may or may not be suffering.

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At the same time, I’m ignoring another unpleasant (though in a completely different way) set of thoughts. (Yep–I’m a multi-tasking avoider!) Apparently the Kindle version of The Flying Burgowski is riddled with formatting errors, which I only discovered this week, a month after the Kindle upload, because of the kindness of a friend. Not my own scrupulousness in CHECKING the Kindle version THOROUGHLY, which any normal author would do. I don’t particularly like Kindle, so I managed to avoid doing that too. So now I’m…let’s see: humiliated, aggravated, fearful (of the work I’m going to have to do fixing the formatting, AND of failure, AND of the inevitable buildup of aggravation/desperation/self-loathing that will ensue), and…sad.

This is why I was so comforted by reading myself to sleep last night in Annie Lamott’s book, Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith.

I know, her author name is Anne, but everyone in the book calls her Annie, and that’s how I think of her too: like this crazy, loving girlfriend you can call when you’re feeling sad or down on yourself or both, because, girl, she’s been through way worse than you.

She’ll make you laugh. She’ll say stuff like, “bananas are great, as they are the only known cure for existential dread” or mention emergency errands “for milk and ice cream sundaes.”

She’ll comfort you with advice, all of which comes directly from the people she credits with the strongest guidance in her life, Father Tom Weston and Veronica Goines, the pastor of her church in Marin City, California. If, for example, you’re feeling put upon by the world, or a co-worker, or your partner,

I tried to look at each person kindly, because I believe that we are family. I don’t always feel it, but I know it. My pastor Veronica often quotes whoever said that it’s not what we’re looking at, but what we’re looking with, so each crooked smile could be like a minimal dose that, however small, helps the healing. Just as a doctor can help you relax for a moment during a spasm, and you remember you’re going to be okay at some point.

See? Helpful. Annie is my kind of religious person.

Her greatest gift, though, to a multi-tasking flaw-avoider like me, is in the way she holds out her flaws to the world. She has many, many struggles (some of which can be handled by her friend’s suggestion, “Drink a glass of water and call a friend,” or her father’s most “spiritual” advice, “Don’t be an asshole.”). The most poignant of the essays in this book, I found, are about her struggles as a parent. In “Samwheel,” where she suddenly–and for the first (and last) time ever–slapped her 17 year-old son in the face during an argument, Annie takes us with her on the drive she immediately took, running away from the house and her shame and rage and fear.

I wept at the wheel on a busy boulevard. At first people were looking over at me as they passed in the next lane. I wiped at my face and snorfled…I started calling out to God, “Help me! Help me! I’m calling on you! I hate myself, I hate my son!” I wanted to die. What is the point? What if the old bumper sticker is right and the hokey-pokey is what it’s all about?

Me? I barely have the courage to admit publicly that I don’t properly proofread. I can’t imagine the kind of guts it takes to write about feelings like that. So I went to sleep humbled, and grateful, and woke up ready to think about the things I don’t want to think about. I stroked my dog for awhile. Soon I will call my vet for that first, sad, preliminary conversation. Then I will start working my way through the ultra-polite advice of the Kindle rep and my friend Michelle, who have emailed me instructions to fix my mess.

But I may take a break to re-read another one of Annie’s thoughts on faith, on flaws, on dealing with being human.

How about sharing some of yours? Not flaws, I mean, but strategies for dealing with them. “Drink a glass of water and call a friend”? Go for a walk? Take a nap? Write? Maybe I can steal from you too.