Day 356: Signs, Full Stop

Like yesterday’s post, this post begins with a mistake — with something I mis-remembered.

When I woke up this morning, I knew I wanted to re-use this photo, which I took last week:


I don’t know if you’ve ever seen one of those signs with Extra Added Stopping Power (flashing lights edition).  I hadn’t, until my trip last week through space and time to sign my will.

After I woke up this morning, I knew I wanted to use that sign, again, in today’s post. And before I trudged downstairs to begin writing, I had many thoughts about what I wanted to tell you, including this:

During 1991, when I was in my late 30’s, and was in the middle of an upsetting law suit (which I had decided to pursue), I ran a stop sign and hit another car. The other car was driven by a mother, who was with her little girl.  

To this day,  I still have a vivid image of the mother, afterwards, standing outside her car, crying, her daughter standing next to her, frozen, and a bag of groceries spilling its  contents into the street.

Today, the image of that accident is still there, in my mind, for me to look at.

Even though nobody was really hurt (physically), I wondered afterwards whether I would ever recover, and let go of my guilt.  My mind kept telling me, “It was your fault.” “Being distracted and upset is NO excuse.” “The red of the tomatoes from the grocery bag could just as easily have been the blood from that little girl.””You are guilty. Period.”

I worked on that experience, in therapy, for a long time.  And I remember also thinking this: if I had actually seriously hurt or killed either of those people, I would never be able to live with myself.

But why such a harsh sentence, for myself?  I mean, my mistake was being distracted, momentarily.  I’m usually a good, observant driver.

And, honestly, I still get distracted, these days, too.  I’m  not a perfect driver. I could still kill somebody, some day. That could definitely happen (to me, or anybody else, no matter how well we drive).

And I still wonder: Would I be able to go on, if something like that happened now?

In my work as a therapist, I talk to people, a lot, who feel guilt about something they’ve done. They often use words like “terrible” to describe the deed. Usually, whatever they did, they didn’t mean to.  It was an accident. They were distracted. They were dealing with difficult emotions. They were, often, doing the best they could, at the time.  But still, something awful happened, and they can ascribe the blame to themselves.

In therapy, we have very interesting conversations about those experiences. Here are  some things I try to communicate, to those people:

You may feel different in profound ways, but you’re still the same person, with all your flawed and beautiful human qualities, as you were before this happened.

If this hadn’t happened, would you feel differently about yourself?   Well, you are still you, only now having made a (terrible) mistake.

Why condemn yourself to a sentence of never-ending guilt, for something that you cannot undo?

I hope they hear — and take in — invitations to forgive themselves, whether they hear them from me, or somebody else.

I hope I take those in, too, because — just by living as long as I have — I have several memories of times when I was imperfect, made mistakes, and hurt somebody else.

So, what’s my unfinished business, for this post, right now?  I told you, at the beginning, that I had made another mistake — related to my memory of that stop sign, above.  You can see evidence of that mistake, in the title of this post.

I had (mis)remembered the part of the sign that says, “all way.”  I thought it said, “full stop.” And I was all ready to say lots of things about the phrase “full stop,” including references to punctuation marks, among other things.

When I first realized that mistake this morning, I entered “full stop” into Google Images, because I wasn’t ready to let go of that (misremembered) phrase. And here’s what came up:



download (7)***



And I liked those images, partly because they reminded me of other posts I’ve written for you (and me) this year. (See here and here for two of those posts.)

But here’s what I want to say about the phrase “full stop,” right now.  I wish I had come to a full stop at that stop sign, so many years ago.  But I didn’t.

Maybe, if a sign like the one I saw last week — with its flashing lights and a stop sign at every corner —  had been at that intersection in 1991, all three of us — that mother, the little girl, and me — would have been okay.  In other words, maybe the accident would not have occurred.

But it did. So the best I can do, in the moment, is hope that all three of us are okay, now.

I am.

Thanks to good-enough therapists, drivers, rememberers, healers, and forgivers, wherever they are. And extra special thanks — with flashing lights — to you, for reading today.


* I found this image here.

** I found this image here.

*** I found this image here.

**** I found this image here.

***** I found this image here.

Categories: inspiration, personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , | 27 Comments

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27 thoughts on “Day 356: Signs, Full Stop

  1. Maybe the lights in the photo registered as ‘full stop’ in your mind – it added an exclamation mark!

    • Good point, Diana! I am doing a good job with stop signs these days (even without the flashing lights). Maybe that’s because there are so many more four-way/all stop signs at intersections, now. Thanks for commenting, as always.

  2. Your daily post always makes me come to a full stop in my Reader. Then I come to a full stop to think about your message(s). Finally, I’m full go to share my comment. I’m glad nobody got hurt by your distracted driving moment back then, and that you recall it so fully when you see the flashing Stop All Way sign. Sometimes we need these reminders so we can be more careful all over again.

    • Thank you for the gift and compliment of your full stops, Mark. I appreciate your response here, as usual. And I agree, whole-heartedly, with your conclusion.

  3. All of us need to learn by our mistakes. Thanks for sharing.

  4. There’s a lot of tenderness in this post, for yourself, for the mother and daughter, for your readers. Maybe mostly for your readers, especially those who struggle with guilt. (Probably all of us.) Where do you think that gentleness in you comes from? You could just have easily have posted about a dog peeing on your snowman, for example, but you didn’t.

    Have you ever read “Half a Life” by Darin Strauss? It’s an exquisite portrait of the complex emotions that followed the author for his entire life after striking and killing a classmate with his car. (Though he was found not responsible for her death.) I don’t mention this because you wrote about a car accident (and I’m very glad that nobody was seriously hurt in your accident) but because this reminded me that when someone is hurt because of our actions, we can carry around a great deal of grief, blame, anger, guilt and fear even if we didn’t really do anything wrong. It’s very hard to unstick from these emotions even if the justice system lets us off the hook. But maybe the thing that makes us feel so bad about a moment of distraction that could have potentially hurt someone but didn’t (in your case) or that did hurt someone (in Strauss’s case and mine), is also the seed of our compassion and empathy. We don’t measure the experience by the ordinariness of the thing we did (fiddling with the music player in Strauss’s case), but we look past that to the people we hurt or might have hurt had things gone wrong, and we ally ourselves with them, we feel through their skin. There’s something beautiful about that, something human.

    But the signage is also important. I’ve never seen a stop sign with lights, but what a great idea. A number of years ago, none of the residential streets in my part of the city had stop signs at all. Everyone was supposed to stop at every corner. However, we live a block from the children’s hospital, and most people from out of town didn’t know that. So, corner fender benders were common even when drivers were paying attention.

    One day I ran outside after hearing a crash, and although there were no serious injuries a distraught young mother was holding a baby and crying. He was to have heart surgery at the hospital that morning. She was at fault, technically, because she’d struck a person entering the intersection from her right, but that didn’t seem to be the important thing at the time. The other driver and I helped her get her baby to the hospital and gave her some lunch as she had driven 12 hours without eating. I don’t know how his surgery went but I think of them often.

    For every collision between two or more people, there are n^10 stories. That’s a law of physics, I think. By colliding, we get to know each other and sometimes, that’s so much more amazing than the damage we’ve done.

    • Thank you for this beautiful, thoughtful comment, as usual. I’m not sure where the gentleness in me comes from, but I believe that people see in others what they value in themselves.

      I have not read that book. It sounds wonderful and I hope to read it (and probably recommend it to others) soon.

      I appreciate, very much, your kindness to the mother and her child, who needed heart surgery. I am projecting that kindness, in another dimension, towards my mother and to me, many years ago.

      And I also want to thank you for the beautiful ending to your comment today. And to let you know that you were on my mind, when I was writing this post today.

  5. So funny !! Thank you Ann ;D

  6. One of the most crippling things I’ve had to deal with is the presence of guilt in my life… Mostly guilt over making terrible decisions (regarding relationships– big shocker there!) Guilt can so quickly move to self-loathing and that’s a long climb to get back out of. I’m glad you were able to work through the experience of that wreck– that’s a super scary situation, but one that could happen to any of us.

  7. This post really got to me because of Ming’s car accident in October. The horror of that night will always haunt me, especially the dreadful half hour in which I didn’t know how bad the injuries were. I remember thinking if any of the kids had been killed I would not be able to go on living. Thank you for your words of wisdom.

  8. I have sometimes been distracted, too. I had an accident on a foggy day, it was my fault. Then, there was an accident that was huge, another guy’s fault. I try not to lay any blame, even while looking at my station wagon rear ended on a “white out” icy day. I told the man, “It was an accident.” Everyone makes them, one way or another. It is just drinking and driving that is wrong, texting and driving that I can place a blame on the person. Distraction is (in my mind) a ‘blameless” cause. Of course, we don’t want to have accidents! That is the main guilt relieving sentence, no one plans to hit another car! (Well, psychos in movies maybe!) Smiling at this post, it makes a lot of sense and is very kind hearted to share this and your feelings. Robin

    • Robin, thank you so much for this kind-hearted and thought-provoking comment. I’m so glad you visited and shared your thoughts and experience.

  9. hilarycustancegreen

    This is a subject that really interests me. We tend to give therapy to victims and forget that many of the ‘perpetrators’ of disastrous events are decent people who hit the wrong button. What happens to them? I tried, in the novel I have just written, to delve into this subject. Inevitably the novel falls short of my intentions, but I remain gripped by how we learn to live with this kind of guilt.

    • It is gripping, isn’t it? How wonderful that you’ve written a novel about this. Thanks for reading and commenting here.

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