OK, last month, Pocket gave me this story from The Atlantic: "We Should All be More Afraid of Driving."
Summary? Joshua Sharpe works for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Reports on "police scanner news," to put it bluntly.
That includes car wrecks.
Of which he's had two himself.
The first? Hit a woman standing in the middle of I-75. Here's the intro:
I thought I saw something in the road.
Meth addict, as it turns out.
Years later, he makes contact with her. The Accident allegedly scared her straight, but it's unclear whether that lasted or not.
OK, for a while afterward, Sharpe peeled back on ambulance chasing. But eventually, picked it back up again.
Two years later, before contacting this woman, but leading to that decision? Second accident:
I thought I saw a car veering toward me.
It was a bright morning in February 2018. I was driving to work on Clairmont Road when a car suddenly appeared to be merging into my lane from the right, bound to hit me. This time, I did swerve. I wrenched the wheel and turned into oncoming traffic.
Note the parallel in the opening?
That said, as he eventually did after the first accident, he contacts the others involved. The driver of the truck basically half hates him. The passenger fully hates him.
What's missing from the story?
No attempt to contact the Swerving Driver. No attempt to find out who it was, in fact.
So, I DM'ed Sharpe on Twitter after tagging him, then seeing his account was open to messages.
Here's what I asked:
One thing about your Atlantic piece on accidents I just DON'T GET! You said the 2nd accident was caused by a swerving driver, but ... you never talk(ed) to him. Did you never even try? Or was the "thought I saw" not actual, and itself an artifact from PTSD from the first accident? (I've been in one wreck bad enough to have a plate in my left forearm, so I get the background.)
No response yet.
To me, beyond the basic warning of the story, not having this information just leaves it limp to me.
Maybe Sharpe did "hallucinate" a swerving driver? Maybe he's afraid to say that, even though that could be part of his message? Or per highway traffic engineers, there's the lack of mention just how big today's pickups are. Whether the accident was his fault due to a PTSD episode, or an actual swerving driver's fault, it might have been less severe had he not swerved into a monster F-250.
Philosophically speaking, it seems to be a version of Job's "it rains on the just and the unjust." But, Sharpe never really comes close to saying that. Instead, I'm implying that he's inferring that. Here's the denouement:
After five years, I still think that I see Anne on the road. And I still wonder if she was traumatized by the wreck. Is she haunted by what happened to her, like I am?
Anne’s brother suggested I contact their dad, because he was the relative who spoke most with Anne. I texted him to ask if he thought she would be up for talking with me. He said she was still too unwell.
Then he stunned me. He apologized on behalf of his daughter for what she did to me. “Please forgive yourself,” he said. I wasn’t to blame, and neither was Anne.
On the road, neither of us was in control. Her dad sent a picture of Anne from a recent holiday. In it, she sits next to her teenage son, a beaming boy with his beaming mom. Her hair’s fixed nicely, and she wears a white blouse and a cross on a thin gold chain.
I started to cry, unsure why until I realized this: She looked normal, fine. As if none of this had ever happened.
And, that part of the issue is why I've cross-posted the piece here. It is existential that "Anne," the person he hit in his first accident, was barely hurt — less than him in the first accident, even though she was a pedestrian on a freeway, and far less than him in the second accident, as he has a shattered femur that doesn't want to heal, even with a rod in it.
I mean, if you read that whole denouement, other issues, like free will or the lack thereof, also come up. That said, I reject his "on the road, neither of us was in control." Even if her control was diminished by meth addiction, she had still, even with diminished choice, made a decision to be there. Sharpe was in control of his vehicle; it's not that he was out of control, but that, control has its limits. We can only control ourselves, not other people nor external intangibles. So, wrong lesson.
If her brother was correct in Sharpe perceiving a need to forgive himself, rather than lack of control needing to be addressed, that's a further PTSD issue that needs to be addressed.
And, with that, I jump way back up to this:
J. Gayle Beck, a psychology professor at the University of Memphis, is one of a handful of researchers who studies PTSD linked to car wrecks. Being in a serious accident, she told me, “violates our beliefs about how life should be and who we are.” We think we’re in control of what happens on the road. If we’re in control, then we must be responsible.
And, that, deliberately taken later, leaves the denouement more puzzling in one sense.
Beck is giving him a half-wrong answer. The correct answer is not denial of control; it's a recognition of its limits. The old "Serenity Prayer" knows that. Sharpe and Beck apparently do not.