Hope for My Drunk Driver

A journey from anger to grace

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By Stacy Hawkins Adams

Last weekend I had a headache that wouldn’t abate, and it led my thoughts back to Melissa – a woman I’ve never met whose choices on a summer evening long ago forever changed mine.

Melissa, you see, is the drunk driver who slammed into the car in which I was a passenger 25 years ago.

That night in Albuquerque, N.M. left me with an injury that to this day prevents me from sleeping with pillows. Which brings to me to reason I was thinking of her this past weekend.

I did a simple thing: dozed off on a few fluffy pillows as I propped myself up in bed to watch TV. When I awoke the next morning, my consequence was a throbbing pain above my left temple and behind my left eye.

I don’t get migraines often, but I recognize them when they arrive, and I could tell immediately that this one was connected to the pain radiating down the left side of my neck and to the knot of muscles that had formed just below.

Ah, the pillow. How could I forget?

Ah, Melissa. How could you drink and drive?

The summer that Melissa’s car rammed into the one in which I was a passenger, I was a rising college senior in the middle of a newspaper internship in Albuquerque, simultaneously honing my journalism and independence skills.

I had two awesome roommates, including one who was (and is) a professional singer. When an opportunity arose to serve as one of her backup “artists” in a karaoke performance (the only way I’d be asked to do this, mind you), how could I say no?

A group of us had just pulled into the Air Force base where our dining spot debut would take place. As our driver paused to check in at the security gate, Melissa’s vehicle plowed into the back of us.

Thankfully, I and my fellow passengers survived the crash, which, in Albuquerque at that time was no small feat.

According to prevalent news reports that year (1992), more alcohol-related traffic deaths per capita occurred in New Mexico than in any other state. Thank you, God.

Melissa’s actions knocked the car in which we were riding several hundred feet from its resting position and left it totaled.

I was the most severely injured – receiving a fractured nose from having the driver’s seat break loose on impact and slam into my face and being tossed around like a ragamuffin. I left the hospital with two black eyes and a severely sprained neck that I would protect with a brace off and on for years to come.

I was angry at Melissa, long before I knew her name. All I knew then was what her actions had cost me: My journalism internship ended abruptly. I spent the rest of my summer alternating between pain-filled periods of rest and physical therapy for the cervical sprain. I returned to my senior year of college still in physical therapy, which continued well into the fall, with lingering pain and forced rest cutting short outings with friends and opportunities to celebrate life before full-fledged adulthood.

I was still angry at Melissa a few years later, when a minor fender bender caused the neck sprain to flare at just the wrong time – days before a friend’s wedding. Ensconced in a new neck brace with my name on it, I spent her special day in bed with muscle relaxers instead of enjoying celebratory fun.

The anger lessened to frustration over the years as I participated in exercise classes and repeatedly sat out on sit-up routines that put too much strain on my neck, because my core wasn’t quite strong enough to lift me.

And as I matured and considered some of my own missteps and mistakes along the way, I thought about Melissa with fewer and fewer waves of judgment.

I was 21 when the accident occurred and so was she.

I had been in a car with new friends that evening, heading to a fun outing. When emergency medical personnel pulled her from her vehicle, they reportedly discovered that countless beer cans had been her companions.

With the expansion of heart that accompanied my becoming a first-time mother at age 27, the judgment ceased. Unconditional love for another will do that to you.

And as my work as a journalist gave me opportunity after opportunity to meet all kinds of people from all walks of life and tell their stories of tragedy, challenge, triumph and resilience, I embraced the reality that life doesn’t always happen for us – sometimes it happens to us.

That truth ushered in sympathy. I began to wonder what had become of Melissa.

At the time of our accident, drunk driving laws in New Mexico were fairly lax, and I don’t recall her serving any jail time. While she was forced to cover my and my friends’ medical and related expenses, she likely didn’t suffer other consequences.

I wondered, however, did her conscience bother her? Did she treat that serious accident as a wake-up call?  Did she give herself a second chance?

I began to hope that just as I had changed and grown and sought to embrace my best self over the years, that she, too, had managed some measure of metamorphosis.

Today, as I lay here writing this reflection, with a heating pad on my neck and shoulder and pain meds nearby, I hope and pray so.

Like me, I hope she has gone on to have a full and meaningful life – one in which she shares the story of that night as a lesson learned, as a place from which she transformed.

I hope that the recurring pain I still experience every so often isn’t for naught, and that she is still alive and well somewhere, advising others to never drive while under the influence, because it can lead to real suffering for real people, other than oneself.

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If I had the chance to encounter Melissa again and officially meet her, I’d tell her that while I hate the flare ups and radiating pain I sometimes experience and I hate her long-ago choices, I don’t hate her. Doing so would require too much energy and too much heart space.

Instead, I’m thankful to have been one of the ones who survived when so many victims of drunk drivers didn’t. My hope is that wherever Melissa is and whoever she has become, she feels that same humble gratitude – for my life and for her own.

Remembering 9/11: Beauty for Ashes

By Stacy Hawkins Adams
Today I’m remembering 9/11/01 and honoring the lives lost and the heroes who stepped forward in the aftermath of that tragic day. Where were you on that day 16 years ago?
It was my first day back in the Richmond Times-Dispatch newsroom after giving birth to my son. He was 12 weeks old and in the care of his loving sitter, “Nana.” I had scheduled an interview with the leader of a local Muslim worship center for an inspirational column I wrote at that time. (Talk about “coincidence.”)
After the planes hit the towers that morning, we reporters leapt into action. The Muslim worship center (mosque), which was filled with children attending classes, went on lockdown as fearful parents showed up to claim their students; but the Imam trusted me and still allowed me to come and enter. He shared how heartbroken he and many others were over this tragedy.
As we remember the devastation of that day, let’s also remember the humanity that was birthed from the ashes. May we continue to seek and serve the humanity in others, trusting that love really is the antidote to all hate.

Officer to My Son: “Let’s Both Get Home Safe.”

By Stacy Hawkins Adams

I took my teen son to an empty school parking lot on Sunday afternoon to practice driving and a police officer pulled him over.

I was in the passenger seat, and the officer asked my permission to chat with Mini-Me #2.

Sgt. Hugate (who gave me permission to use his name) had watched my son practice signaling and turning and parking for about half an hour before motioning for him to stop, with a smile and a welcoming gesture.

With my consent, he spent about 10 minutes sharing his perspective as a member of law enforcement about how Mini-Me #2, as a teen driver, could stay safe if/when pulled over.

Before he launched into the advice, he led with his heart, telling Mini-Me #2:

– He spent the day before driving around a similar school parking lot teaching his own son how to drive, so he knew how meaningful and memorable the task at hand was.

– Everyday when he goes to work, he wants to be sure to make it home to his family; so the advice he was prepared to share was designed to keep both my son and him safe.

Then he walked through how an officer typically approaches a vehicle and explained that an alert officer is always on guard because he never knows who or what he may encounter when making a routine traffic stop – regardless of race, gender, age, etc.

Next, he told Mini-me #2 a few things that most parents of color often share already with their adolescent sons and daughters, during what we call “The Talk:”

– Keep your hands visible at all times. (He demonstrated where to position them on the steering wheel and suggested that placing them on driver’s side windowsill would be another option.)

– Over-communicate about every single move you make, from shifting to reach for your license to reaching to open your door.

– Stay calm and respectful and respond to all questions when asked. (Most people actually talk themselves INTO getting tickets, he said, because they can’t manage to stay calm.)

– If the situation permits, before placing your hands on the steering wheel or outside the window, call a parent and put him/her on speakerphone, so that there is a “third party witness to keep both of us safe.”

My son appreciated the feedback, which reinforced messages he has already heard from me and his dad and others in our “village.”

Sgt. Hugate, who is Caucasian, looked Mini-Me squarely in the eyes while informing him that yes – there are indeed some cops who shouldn’t be wearing badges or in the law enforcement field, because they don’t do what is right or good; but he is not one of them.

We didn’t discuss Charlottesville, Trayvon Martin, or any of the senseless violence that has occurred in many instances in between. In those few minutes in that high school parking lot, the olive branch he extended was an aha moment that even some officers are willing to be real and honest about the realities of what it takes to stay safe in this day and time.

Everyone wants to make it home alive.

Note: This post first appeared on Stacy’s Facebook page, on August 13, 2017. Due to the tremendous response it has received, she is posting it here and also on her Huffington Post blog.

Make Your Own Sunshine

TGIF! Make this a “just because” kinda day.
Do a random act of kindness “just because.”
Hold your tongue “just because.”
Smile “just because.”
Give thanks “just because.”
Forgive “just because.”
Have fun “just because.”
Be happy “just because.”
All because life is a gift worth cherishing – your own as well as others.
#LifeUntapped

Why You Are A Gift to Others

By Stacy Hawkins Adams

Bring your best self to life today by reminding yourself that you’re a gift.
Only you can grace us with that smile, that laugh, that funny story, sweet song or moving prayer.
Only you can lead that tribe or love those lost ones or help others find their joy.
Only you can live the purpose that is tucked inside of you, and often straining to be birthed.
No one else sings with your tone, writes with your voice, walks with your style, hugs with your heartiness or lights up a room in your uniquely perfect way.
So just be you today, and be grateful for others around you who are being their authentic selves, too.

Her Story: A Caregiver’s Heart

By Guest Blogger Cassandra Savage

Recently I assumed a role I thought no longer fit me, since my two sons are old enough to feed and nurture themselves: I became a caregiver.

According to Family Caregiver Alliance, I am not alone. Approximately 43.5 million people have provided unpaid care to an adult or child in the last 12 months, and about 34.2 million Americans have provided unpaid care to an adult age 50 or older during that same period.

A caregiver, also known as informal caregiver, is a spouse, partner, family member, friend or neighboer involved in assisting others with activities of daily living and/or medical tasks. Formal caregivers are paid care providers offering care in one’s home or in a care setting (i.e., daycare, residential facility, or long-term care facility).

I have become my 93-year old mother’s informal caregiver, and I can honestly say, this was never a role I thought I would have to play. I was too busy – I have my job, a teenager at home, my business, my blog, my church responsibilities and my social life.  I was even studying for my securities license.  So how could I fit the role of caregiver into my schedule?

Well, in this season of my life, God had another plan. He spoke to my heart and instructed me to take on this role, and I answered His call. Trust me, when God calls you to do something, He has already laid out the path and equipped you with everything you will need to accomplish it. I am thankful and grateful for my mother’s formal caregiver, Maria, who has supported me tremendously during this transition. She has been my rock.

When God calls you to serve another, it is not about the pain, the hurt feelings or disappointments you may have experienced with this person – it is about Him asking you to put aside all differences to serve Him and do what He has called you to do. As I repeatedly answer the same questions over and over again, due to my mother’s dementia or when she tells me I’m not doing something right, I remind myself that I am doing what God has requested of me.

I want to thank those who have been so supportive during this season of my life. I’m also thankful for God’s reminder in Hebrew’s 6:10: “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.” (NIV)

As my mother and I begin to settle into our new normal, I have to remember that this is stressful for her as well, due to her having to leave her hometown, where she lived for more than nine decades. Watching her as she enjoys talking to my sons, feeding the dog an excessive amount of dog treats, appreciating my grandson’s visits and eating shortbread Girl Scout cookies, I know I have made the right decision.

Cassandra Savage recently celebrated 33 years of federal government service and holds a master’s degree in Organizational Management. Along with her extensive government career, she possesses a profound passion for serving others. She has struggled with her identity, experienced divorce and balanced a full-time job while single parenting, yet has never allowed these experiences to define her. Her resilience has inspired her to share her life’s journey with others, and two years ago, she founded New Wine Consulting, through which she provides personal development and leadership coaching. Learn more at New Wine Consulting, where a different version of this blog post originally appeared, in February 2017.

When Understanding Matters More Than Knowing

By Stacy Hawkins Adams

Experience is a great teacher, but so is empathy. Today, rather than criticize, ridicule or dismiss the people with whom you share space in the world, consider viewing life from their perspective.
Or, if their experiences are so far removed from your own that it’s hard to relate, at the very least practice the Golden Rule – Do unto others as you would have done unto you. mutual_respect_and_understanding
When we’re willing to see past differences into another’s heart, and give others the benefit of doubt rather than assume the worst, we begin to really “see.” That’s what renders understanding versus simply knowing, fosters hope and healing, and enables humanity to rise.