Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Some events are unplanned (and unwelcome)

Sarah and Brian arrived at Fern Forest last weekend in a cute Mini Cooper AWD, which trundled up our snowy driveway without a slip. They’re event planners in Massachusetts and organize corporate conferences and festivals for thousands of people—sometimes as many as a hundred thousand. Imagine arranging venues and hotel reservations, designing registration folders with name tags and itineraries, planning meals, scheduling talks and workshops, solving a myriad of problems and answering a hailstorm of questions. Imagine the rise in blood pressure, the surging anxiety.
Three weeks earlier, they would have driven their SUV, but there had been an accident. Sarah was driving while Brian reclined in the passenger seat, asleep. They were on the highway, returning from a trip, and Sarah had her ear tuned to the voice of the GPS device to guide her home. When the GPS lady told her to turn right, which would take them south, Sarah knew she should be going north. Could there be a glitch in the satellite signal?
            We don’t use GPS devices in our part of Vermont. Some roads that used to be thoroughfares are now horse paths or hiking trails. The steepest, most winding mountain roads are closed in winter, but the GPS doesn’t read signs and will lead a trusting driver straight into a wall of packed snow where the plow stops.
            I once used GPS in a car I rented in Louisville to find my way to a book festival. I don’t know Louisville roads and the device’s voice spoke in what sounded like a Liverpudlian accent. By the time I got close enough to match the street signs with the nasally voice, I was usually in the wrong lane and the woman was “recalculating.” I prefer to sit down with a map the night before a trip and memorize the route. Even so, I often get lost and have to ask some benevolent local for directions, in which case all I’ve lost is a bit of time.
            Concerned that the mechanical voice was heading her into uncharted territory, Sarah took her focus from the road just long enough to look at the animated map on the GPS screen.
            Not two seconds.
            When she looked back at the road, she was careening at seventy miles per hour straight toward the tailgate of a pickup stopped dead ahead. Thankfully, there was no time to swerve because SUVs have been known to overturn at high speed jerks of the wheel. Thankfully, too, her seatbelt was fastened.
            Just before impact, she looked over at Brian, his seatbelt stretched and locked eight inches above his sleeping body.
            When the SUV slammed into the pickup, its airbags inflated, saving Sarah’s pretty face from smashing into the windshield. The seatbelt left a bruise across her chest for weeks afterward. Brian woke up as his body crashed into his seatbelt, fracturing his sternum. The SUV was destroyed. The driver of the pickup was uninjured and the truck had only minor damage.
            An ambulance took Brian to the hospital and after a few days he was released with a fistful of painkillers. He had to train himself to sleep on his back, what little sleep he got.
The visit to Fern Forest was elixir for him. The first night was windy, and the creaking of the treehouse woke him several times. The second night was calm, and he said it was the best sleep he’s had since the accident.
Most days, Brian and Sarah spend their time tending to the edification and enjoyment of other people. I’m glad that for one brief weekend we could provide them an intermission, a chance to look around and breathe in stillness, a chance to feel grateful for being alive.

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