Getting my car was a huge step forward in my journey as an immigrant and as a human. It provided freedom I never knew I needed. I could go to work without my wife, make those cool videos people do in their cars, save money on uber — my self-esteem got a huge boost by this seemingly simple ability to move around.
I could go anywhere I wanted — if I wanted.
My wife often says everyone totals their first car — which is why that first car has to be cheap enough that when, not if, you get into an accident, you can easily replace it without paying a note on a car that’s already gone.
I thought I was special…until I wasn’t.
When I imagined my first car accident, I never imagined that the predominant thought in my mind at impact would be:
Why didn’t I get a shower this morning?
What happened that Friday morning?
The accident itself — facts, events, analogies.
The movies lied. There was no slow motion, my life didn’t flash before me. I left the scene with little to no sense of enlightenment — only shock, worry, and a lot of shame.
I had just left the hospital for a routine test, I decided to stop by Walmart and get some blinds for my studio. I have been to Walmart at least 20 times in the past 3 months.
It was a nice day — no snow, no sludge. I slowed down to make a left turn and before I could blink, it was the airbag to my chest, something in the front exploding, my glasses flying off.
I just knew that day wasn’t going to end with me making a video as I had scheduled.
Both my knees were bruised. My back hurt, especially when I laughed. And there was a little blood clot on my finger — it seems it would be a permanent reminder of it all.
The couple in the other car had to be taken to the hospital.
I felt so much shame — I had tears in my eyes watching this man try to make sure his wife was okay. He had some bleeding in his arm, and his wife wasn’t able to move out of the car even though the door was open.
There were some eyewitnesses who came to assist and for some reason, even though I didn’t feel any guilt like I caused this — it didn’t matter.
These two people were hurt, and no matter how I looked at it, if I weren’t on that road, that morning, they’d never have been in this position.
My car was totaled, theirs as well. Both had to be towed.
I remember calling 911 with my fingers tingled and the fresh scent of whatever is in airbags reeking on my chest. The punch of the bag hurt all day.
Don’t ask me how or why I didn’t take any pictures or videos. I suppose having your first car accident makes you sit by the side of the road and feel like you have the largest head in the world — even though you almost just died.
Can there be Meaning in this?
In the forward of the recent edition of Man’s Search For Meaning, Harold S. Kushner recollects a piece of insight from Victor Frankl:
“Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you”.
Later that day, while telling my father, I found out my Aunt, my father’s last living direct sibling had died around the same time that I was in the crash.
Did God save me? Did my aunt die to give me life?
I think we decide what meaning there is to our lives — like in The Nova Effect — things can either be good or bad depending on how we look at it. It’s not even about being optimistic or pessimistic.
Before the accident, I had started binge listening to Naval, the Angel Philosopher. Now, I look for every chance to recreate the grooves of his thoughts in mine. A question he’s been asked on multiple stages, including the Joe Rogan Show and The Knowlege Project (Farnam Street) is the following:
What is the meaning of life?
He now has three answers to this question. His third answer, my favorite:
There is no meaning to life except that which we attribute to it.
In the same vein, there is no meaning to my accident, or my aunt’s death, or your birth, except that which we choose to attribute to it.
Your worst day can be someone’s best day. The birth of your child might be the day you experienced God, for another, it could be the day their dreams died.
Right now, this moment, to me, this accident is a miracle.
For the simple reason that it could have been much, much worse.
Yet, here I am sharing this with you today.
What Remains True?
There’s this moment when my wife and I were by ourselves in the house when she hugged me and said: I don’t know what I would have done if you weren’t okay.
My wife is a doctor and the things she’s seen, I’ve learned to not expect typical reactions from her. She has stories for days about the pain and loss that people deal with on a daily basis. So, for her, when I called and was able to tell her what happened, immediately after I’d called 911, it lifted a heavyweight.
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I don’t know what would have happened if someone else had called her instead of me.
I don’t want to imagine.
I started by telling my father I was okay before even saying I was in an accident. In all this, that same time as I was having my accident, my aunt was dying back in Cameroon.
Can there be any meaning to this? Is there something here about death and love, and about how what really matters is the people who will miss us?
What remains true?
A) You Can Never Be Too Prepared.
No matter how many times my wife said I’d total my car or the amount of practice I got or paying for driving school, I still got into an accident.
You simply can never be too prepared for shit hitting the fan.
Which, in essence, means you should always prepare. Forever. Enjoy the ride and always be bracing for impact.
B)There are Advantages to Being in a Developed Nation
I don’t even know how insurance works in Cameroon. Yes, I am quite ignorant. But it doesn’t stop me from wondering how this could have all turned out in a country that doesn’t have efficient systems for handling emergencies.
The police were there under a few minutes, then the ambulance. Roads blocked. Insurance information exchanged and even the day after, while talking with my insurance, I discovered things about coverage that got me really wondering when my birth country could ever get to this point — given that all these tools were equally available in Cameroon.
C) Privileged, I Am
In all this, I can’t even begin to underestimate the privilege I have to be able to afford insurance — hell, a car. How many people are crushed weekly by cars simply because they’re on bikes or how many die of internal bleeding because they couldn’t afford healthcare?
What remains true even as you watch this, is how much power and privilege we all have, at various levels despite how much we try to downplay and compare upwards with others.
D) Those Who Will Miss us Are Those We Should Focus On
I emailed my writing workshop participants about the accident because I was supposed to have a session the next day. I had seen my wife and I spoke with my father. Even my little sister tried to cheer me up and, understandably, fail.
I hardly take naps, but that day, after my car was towed, I turned on The Midnight Gospel on Netflix and zoned out. Between sleep and dream, I saw nearly everyone I cared about. I dreamt of my brother — Steve, I had an argument with my wife, my dog was in that dream, Portrait d'une Leslie, and other people.
I slept for hours, only waking up when my wife came back from work.
No matter how I look at my life now, no matter how passionate I am about storytelling, freedom, and achieving my potential, everything pointed to how much love and strong intimate relationships mattered to me.
That continues as a thread through this all.
Those who will miss us are those we should focus on, and maybe the meaning of life is to be missed when we leave.
I spoke with my insurance and found out the couple was discharged from the hospital the same day.
That was quite a relief, I tell ya.
My back doesn’t hurt as much, and I started exercising daily — so, the pain in my knees is getting better.
I didn’t get any major life insights, I increased my hours at work so we could make more money to save even more as we’ll have to buy a car.
I’m more aware of my privilege and the love in my life — from long time friends, and people I’ve never met.
Especially my wife, Queenie. Without her love, kindness, and advice, there’s a lot that could have gone wrong. Thanks, babe.
And to my buddy Willie, who helped me buy my first car, I will forever be grateful.
I’m still here.
Whatever meaning I choose to derive from this is entirely up to me.
There’s already so much the world is dealing with at this time. Yet, with my Aunt’s death, I’m reminded that sometimes, the big problems are just veneers, that may be the real problems — the real accidents — don’t happen on the left turn.
They happen daily in our lives. The seat belts we have, the airbags to protect us through crash after crash, are the people in our lives.
The people we should simply love.
What if love was the ultimate insurance?
I’ll leave you with a quote from Victor Frankl himself, which sums up the whole idea of the book:
“Life holds a potential meaning under any conditions, even the most miserable ones”.
Everything you did brought you to this particular point in time, whatever you do next, whatever happens, you can choose to consider it happened for you.
The confusion, the betrayal, the pain, the love, the sadness, the hurt — all that happened to build you into who you are today.
I choose to see life this way. The alternative kinda sucks.
After everything I’ve survived, hundreds of car rides, the odds of being born, living to 30 years old, being married for almost two years, multiple surgeries, being “black” in America, the last thing I know to be true is that I am a lot more in control than what the media seems to be selling to me.
And so are you.