The Agricultural Theory of Car Crashes



Every holiday season, I find myself grasping at a level of presence that suddenly seems unattainable. Usually, that takes the form of zoning out while my extended family gathers around an old pinball machine that my dad keeps in the office or wandering the alleys of Alexandria with my cousins the week after Christmas while our parents enjoy hot drinks and conversation around the fire. The epitome of such a feeling occurs when my eyes blur in and out of Hanukkah candles while we sing prayers in Hebrew and sway. I always find myself asking if these should be transcendent moments rather than familiar motions. Shouldn’t the holidays be all about the way that the sensation of togetherness interacts with tradition? And how will I ever know the meaning of such an intersection if I can’t even hold my focus through our family’s yearly “what I’m thankful for” circle on Thanksgiving day? 

While working at Dayspring Farm this summer, I heard a seemingly unrelated story. One day, during our potluck lunch, my mentor and boss Charlie Maloney opened up about an accident. He described a head-on collision, a face-and-fender-busting explosion on a two-lane, two-way road near Duke University at 9pm some night in the early 70s. Charlie’s head was covered in blood, but his wounds were mostly superficial. His partener, Miriam had broken her back. They’d been driving home from a church gathering. They’d gotten married only months before. Now some idiot in a Ford Pinto had turned into their lane and changed them. After years and years of hard work in school and on their families’ respective farms, after trudging through life to find each other, know each other, and love each other, metal moving at high speed in two directions – one furious second – canceled everything. Charlie was the first person in his family to go to college. He graduated with honors. Miriam was an English major, a healer, a lover of life. None of it mattered now; would it ever matter again? Ignorant of the severity of Miriam’s fractured spine, the medical professionals at the scene had her walk to the ambulance. Charlie was also taken to the hospital but not admitted. They said they were too full to deal with a bloody face. 

But the next morning they took him in. The gash above his eyebrow yawned after a sleepless night, and he needed stitches. But what he really needed was to see Miriam. She was resting, fully immobilized in a hulking brace, like Frida Kahlo. 

“I’d been thrown against the windshield, and Miriam was bent over the seat. The first thing I remember thinking after snapping out of the semi-conscious shock of the accident was: is she alive?” Charlie’s looking right at me, almost through me. I realize that I’m 21, only a little younger than he was when it happened. I break eye contact for a moment to glance at Miriam across the way. She’s drinking the ginger kombucha that she likes to make by the gallon. The buckwheat patch by one of our picnic tables is abuzz with pollinators, and its rhubarb-colored woody stems bend in a rare August wind. I must look hollow. Charlie sees and smiles. 

“But we were okay. Miriam was in that brace for six months. Bedridden for six months. Initially, the doctors weren’t sure what that accident would mean for her ability to walk, but we were blessed. She walks fine and has all her life. My eyes were inches away from flying shards of glass, but it’s my 70 birthday on Monday, and I can still see just as clear as when I was your age. I took care of Miriam and that is when we really bonded. I thought we couldn’t get any closer than when I’d finished walking down the aisle. Miriam shone. I was wrong. It’s funny how maturing is really just all about finding out how wrong you were in prior years and learning from the realization. And now we’ve made this life.” 

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