I almost killed someone in my car today. The headline would have read: “Woman, 57, killed by girl in a hurry to get coffee before yoga.”
As a cyclist, I’ve used the angry or sad emojis more than once to show my sympathy or anger toward a cyclist being killed or injured on the road. I’ve even had a near miss myself, about two years ago, when a car reversed into me while I was stationary on my bike and then drove away.
But today, someone nearly became a statistic because of me… and I suddenly realised I am – we all are – capable of being the person on the other side of the headlines.
It was 8.40am. I was ready for yoga at 9.15, my partner had a conference call at 9 and asked if I would nip out and get us both a coffee before I went to my class.
I jumped in the car and drove toward one of the local coffee shops. A hundred metres away from my house, I remember thinking “Damn. I left my glasses on the bench. I really should have grabbed them. Oh well, it’s just down the road. I’ll be back home in no time.”
I stopped at the only intersection between me and the coffee shop to turn left. As I waited for a gap in traffic, I noticed a pedestrian, a woman, on the footpath opposite me also looking for a gap in the traffic to cross. It was not a designated crossing point, but it was a quiet street and probably something the majority of people would do, including me, to walk down our street.
While waiting to turn left, I looked further up the road and noticed the roadworks up ahead. I thought to myself, “Ugh. That looks like it’s going to take me forever to get home. I know. If I turn right instead of left there’s another cafe down this way.”
So, in the blink of an eye, I switched my indicator, spotted a gap in traffic and, looking once more out to the left to make sure there were no cars coming, sped out to the right.
And that’s when I saw her. She hadn’t seen me change my indicator from left to right. She had decided to make a break for it in the same gap in traffic that I was. She had no way of knowing I would change my mind. As our eyes locked, she seemed to reach out to me as the bull bar on the front of my ute ploughing straight toward her. For a brief moment, time stood still. Then everything came into focus.
Me, slamming on the brakes and swerving, unable to react fast enough. Her, using her arms to push herself off the car and move out of the way.
It was like a nightmare, or a scene from a movie. Both of us now forever connected in this single instant. Bonded by a moment that could have left her dead and me responsible.
I pulled over and, shaking, ran toward her. I’m not sure what she thought. Maybe that I was coming to yell and shout at her. But all I wanted to do was reach out and squeeze her. I needed to touch her to know she was alive and uninjured.
Sobbing, shaking, I told her over and over: “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry. I didn’t see you. Are you ok?”
For minutes, we stood embracing. We talked about how blessed we both were to get the chance to go home to our families unscathed when so many don’t.
It’s a hard thing to write, but it has also helped me process it. I guess the moral of the story is that carelessness happens, even if you don’t think you’re careless. Mistakes happen, even if you think you’re in control.
And whether you are out for the same walk you’ve done 4 times a week for 30 years, out for a bike ride with friends, on your way to work or “nipping out for a coffee”, your life can change in an instant.
I could have taken someone’s life, changed mine forever and devastated everyone who has ever known me.
We’re all in it together. Your coffee or your yoga class or even your job is not more important than someone getting to go home to their family.
Take the time to be grateful for what you have, because you never know what’s around the corner.