Sunday, April 1, 2012

All of Life and Death in two little words

After grabbing dinner with a friend, Abby, one evening, we decided we’d try to make it to a meditation service even though we’d be cutting it close on time. I was the one driving, a little on the fast side, and I was not familiar with the whereabouts of our destination. As we came close to the building, I noticed – a little late – that the entrance sign was tucked into some corner bushes. I stepped on the brakes to make a quick right turn. Brake. Screech. Skid. Swerve. The combination of my speed, turning action, and a slick spot on the road put my car into a half spin. We began sliding through the intersection squarely in the direction of a few cars perpendicular to us. 

In those slow-motions seconds of floating diagonally out of control, I felt Abby’s fingers brush my wrist and I heard her say “It’s OK.” Then I felt my body relax.

I don’t know how Abby really felt – her response was not the one I would’ve assumed anyone in the passenger seat of a swerving car would have. If it were me, I probably would’ve pulled a mom-driving-with-a-teenager move, clutched the dashboard and window simultaneously while blurting out a prayer/curse word.

Somehow, my car regained its balance and we avoided what could’ve been a major collision. I glided into a parking space and let out a sigh. If there were ever a perfect time for a mediation, that was it!
We scuttled inside and took our seats. Eyes closed, breathing deep, I could feel the adrenaline coursing through my body. As I was fully feeling my throbbing heart beat, thoughts flooded my mind. First, they were calm, happy thoughts like “Yes! I’m here!” Then, the thoughts changed to “Wait! Something just almost happened! You could’ve killed someone! You’re supposed to feel bad! Guilty! Or shameful!” I realized that if I did take on guilt or shame, it would come from a desire to express respect for Abby’s life. Owning guilt or shame would be a way to punish myself for nearly inflicting unfathomable harm to her and others. When I followed this line of thinking into the enormity of what could’ve happened, my chest felt too heavy to bear. The truth was, thought, that no death or damage actually happened. It became clear to me that I could make a choice of holding onto what could’ve happened, or I could remain in the present, acknowledging what actually happened. And what actually happened moved me.

I replayed the experience in my mind. Brake. Screech. Skid. Swerve… “It’s OK.”
Those two little words - "It’s OK” - reverberated through me in that instant. They changed me biologically. They put me at ease; they set me free from blame, guilt, shame, or punishment. I was pre-forgiven. All of life opened up for me in that near-death moment. If those were the last two words I ever heard, I would’ve entered the afterlife in a state of peace.

Abby’s words were a great gift to me. As the meditation continued and my eyes were still closed, still feeling my heart beat, I was flooded with gratefulness. I made the choice to accept the gift, revel in how amazing it felt, and practice giving that gift to others.

In the car, I now practice “It’s OK” as much as I remember to. And in the treatment room, when patients come in, clearing the air of all the ugly thoughts symptoms can bring on… “It’s OK.”
Couldn’t we all use a little more “It’s OK” in our lives?

Thank you, Abby.