“There’s a fine, fine line between a fairy tale and a rhyme,” goes the witty song in Avenue Q. I have been noticing these fine lines lately — they are appearing on my face around the eyes and mouth, and also in my daily life. The lines are most visible to me at the food pantry, as the distinctions between my life and the clients’ lives become quite blurry.
I was inspired to volunteer at North Fulton Community Charities by my friend Rochelle. She worked a number of shifts there in the fall and found it to be a humbling experience. It is not like the Atlanta Community Food Bank, where you spend several hours in a warehouse sorting and boxing up food to be distributed to food pantries throughoutNorthwest GA.When you volunteer at NFCC, you actually hand the bags of groceries to the clients, sometimes exchanging a few words with them. “Do you need to take the buggy to your car? You can just bring it back in a few minutes.” “There is no Similac, so I gave you Enfamil with iron, okay?” “Azucar? No, lo siento. Quieres Splenda?”
At first I was concerned about this personal contact. In order to be helpful to the clients and efficient as a pantry volunteer, it is necessary to maintain some distance. At the same time, I cannot stop from making eye contact, smiling and offering a few kind words. The first time a client grabbed my arm and said, “Thank you. God bless,” I was sure I would lose it. But I held it together until I got to my car at the end of the shift. God has already blessed me and I am so grateful. I may not have a full-time job right now, but I have a spouse who earns enough to feed our family. And I can walk into the supermarket to buy fresh fruits and vegetables any time I want.
What separates the person filling the grocery bags in the pantry from the person receiving them in the lobby? An unanticipated illness? An insurance hike following a car accident? A salary cut or enforced furlough time at work? Is it just luck or circumstance or fate that I’m the one saying “take care” and hearing “God bless?” There’s a fine, fine line.
I remember when D&D stood for Dungeons & Dragons. My kids believe that it stands for “doom and destruction,” which is how we jokingly refer to the intersection where we had the accident. That was back in November, but I still hold my breath occasionally when I drive through there.
As my doctor checked me thoroughly for neck injuries, I described the accident to her: “It was raining. I heard an ambulance siren. I checked my rear-view mirror but saw no flashing lights. The driver behind me was being cautious—plenty of stopping distance. I tapped the brakes gently. Looking up, I saw the lights approaching, in my lane. I leaned on my brakes. Then I heard a loud ringing in my ears. When the car finally skidded to a stop across the four-lane intersection, I realized that it was the ‘door indicator.’ The sliding door on the passenger side was crushed open, accordion style. There was screaming and crying coming from the back seats of the van. All three children were with me, but my 14 year old is great in a crisis. She calmed her brother and sister down, while I called 911.” My doctor nodded and didn’t say a word.
“It wasn’t the driver behind me,” I continued. “He came right over to help. It was the driver behind him, who didn’t hear the siren, who was in an awful hurry, who didn’t realize why traffic had slowed to a near-stop, who slammed on his brakes when he scooted in between us.” “Oh, I see,” she said nodding again. “And have you driven through there since the accident?” she asked. I checked my watch.10:30 a.m. “Yes, of course. Four times today already,” I replied. “And how do feel about that?” she asked. “I’m still pretty anxious,” I admitted, “but I’ll have to get over it.” “It will take some time,” she cautioned.
It’s been months, and I still feel a bit jittery at that corner, especially when it rains.Is this PTSD? I’ve been in far more stressful situations, including 15 seconds of terror during a major earthquake. No one was seriously injured in the crash, and although my car was totaled, it was easily replaced. So why did I freeze to a stop last week when I heard an ambulance siren as I approached that intersection? Maybe the main difference between easily getting over previous shocks in my 20’s and feeling stalled at the Corner of D&D in my 40’s is that I now possess the cumulative experience of life’s stresses. And it is more difficult to unlearn a reinforced response. Still, I’m doing the best I can and using all my mental resources– especially my sense of humor–to assist in my recovery. As it turns out, dungeons and dragons are not so scary after all.