May 12, 2019

On a Tuesday in September, the six of us stood in Central Park, NYC, soaked to the bone while the rain beat down on us. It was…unpleasant…and my kids may have described the situation as calamitous, if any of them had thought to use such a big word.

None of them did, but their countenances made it clear that this was how they felt. It was their first time in the Big Apple, and the day we’d designated for sightseeing was absolutely foul, at least in terms of weather. It rained nonstop almost from the time we set foot outside our hotel until the time we arrived back that evening. As a matter of fact, the skies unloaded their watery burden for almost exactly the same amount of time that we were out and about, finally stopping within minutes of us returning to our hotel room. 

Was this irritating? Sure. Less than ideal? Certainly. But it was not a true calamity. A calamity is “an event causing great and often sudden damage or distress; a disaster.” And while my children may have said that the rain was a disaster that caused them distress, it was really only an inconvenience.

We took a boat ride around the Statue of Liberty while rain soaked our heads and we had to blink and shield our eyes against the onslaught of water just to get a glimpse of that beautiful monument. We took the boys to Central Park in hopes they could experience its magnificent charm, but all they saw were puddles and mud and rain in every direction. We wanted to go to a restaurant I loved last time I was there but we were too soggy to go inside any kind of reputable dining establishment, so instead we bought random food from random food trucks and huddled under an awning, eating the overpriced food while we got drenched to the bone.

The kids informed us that they were not having fun, and we informed them that we were making memories. “No one talks about the time they went out sightseeing and everything went exactly as planned!” we told them. “People talk about the times everything went wrong!” We told them that they will always remember the time they spent an absurdly wet day traipsing all over Manhattan. “It’s fun!” we said. “And funny!” we said. And the boys stared glumly into the rain. (You can read my NYC post here.)

At the top of the Rocky steps a few hours before the accident, blissfully and ignorantly defying calamity. (We definitely look like a family that could beat some people up.)

A couple days later we spent a gorgeous, enjoyable afternoon sightseeing in Philadelphia. The weather was perfect, the tour went smoothly, we ate delicious food, and all was well. We chatted happily about the wonderful day we’d had as we drove our minivan out of town towards Lancaster County, where we planned to spend the night. And right in the middle of our happy chatter, another vehicle ran a stop sign and slammed into the side of our van.

The sound of the crash combined with the sound of all the driver’s side airbags deploying, which combined with the startled yells of all of us, which combined with the strange smoky smell of popped tires and opened airbags–well, all of it was alarming and disorienting. The scariest sound of all was Will, our three-year old (at the time), screaming and screaming, and there was that awful moment before Todd and I turned around, that moment of wondering how bad the crash was.

As it turned out, everyone was just fine. The airbags did their job. Will got a bunch of rug-burn type scratches on one of his arms from the airbag, and there was plenty of soreness to go around, but we were all just fine.

As we re-grouped on the sidewalk, and as Foss paced back and forth crying and Kiefer tried to calm Will and I called 911 and the other driver came running over and Todd got all the important papers out of the car to start the long annoying process of dealing with such an accident, I realized: this was a calamity. Not rain around the Statue of Liberty. Not puddles in Central Park. This.

As we stood on the side of the road in the dark that evening, just trying to deal with it all, I remembered all the things we’d told the boys during that rainy day in New York City. Over and over I had encouraged them to shift their attitudes, to see the difficulties as memories in the making, and to see the good even in the bad. And I looked at our smashed-up van, and our hungry, scared, needing-to-pee kids, and my frustrated husband, and the anxious woman who had hit us, and the kind police officer who joined us at the scene, and I prayed that I would be able to take my own advice.

As it turned out, that wasn’t so hard to do. A man who lived a few houses away from the accident came out to see if we were alright, and because the kids had to use the bathroom, he welcomed us into his home. He and his wife (whose names are Orwell and Nikisha) have four sons, similar in ages to our boys, and they were incredibly sweet and kind kids. Nikisha is a pediatric nurse, and she checked out Will’s hurt arm (he kept saying that the “pillow” hurt him, which was sad and adorable), while Orwell handed out snacks to our boys. I owe a world of gratitude to these kind strangers, who I think were maybe actually angels.

Our sweet friends Tim and Alicia, whose home in New Jersey we had stayed at (and where we had left our RV for this jaunt into Pennsylvania), learned of our accident, and Tim immediately drove out to pick us up. He arrived in high spirits (which cheered up the boys and me), and he provided great moral support (which cheered up Todd).

Foss’s greatest dream in life is to become a police officer, and so even though the circumstances that occasioned this police officer’s presence in our lives that evening was a slightly traumatic one, Foss was nevertheless delighted to be in the presence of a bonifide lawman. Foss plied him with a steady stream of questions, which the officer patiently answered. At one point the officer leaned over and said “You know what the most important thing is if you want to be a police officer?” “To be brave?” suggested Foss. “To work hard,” replied the officer, and I’m thankful that Foss got to hear that advice that evening.

I should mention also that the woman who hit us was extremely kind. She was apologetic, she wasn’t defensive, and she was concerned about everyone’s well-being. The police officer remarked that it was the most civil, polite accident scene he’d been to, and the woman said she had expected us to get out of our car screaming at her. (Funny comments from two residents of the City of Brotherly Love…)

Anyway, the accident was scary. It was inconvenient. It was time-consuming and frustrating. Todd spent a great deal of time on the phone with insurance, towing companies, etc. etc. We left our van somewhere in Pennsylvania not knowing what would become of it, but praying that it would be totaled so we wouldn’t have to deal with getting it back. And because we left the van somewhere in Pennsylvania, that meant it wasn’t with us for the rest of the trip, which meant we lost a lot of transportational freedom.

But once again, we gained things in those losses. We made memories in Ubers and on various forms of public transportation, and we received kindness from friends along the way who let us borrow their vehicles. 

Calamities stink, and I’m not a fan of “sudden damage and distress.” I would much rather have things go smoothly than calamitously. But I’m thankful for rain-soaked memories in NYC and kindness-soaked memories in Philadelphia and beyond, and we wouldn’t have those memories without varying degrees of calamity along the way — calamity that became a means of blessing.

P.S. The van was totaled, to the relief of all except Will, who still — seven months later — says he misses our “broken car.”

RV’s and Calamity

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