The gift of Interruption

"The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one's 'own,' or 'real' life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one's real life -- the life God is sending one day by day." - C.S. Lewis


I can’t recall what song was playing, but I remember singing along with the radio when I saw her body being flung like a rag doll into the air bag. My sing-a-long was interrupted by the sound of glass shattering, followed by my own gasp.

Our light turned green and we coasted around the accident to the side of the street, where my first instinct was—uncharacteristically, I should say—to jump out of the car. I wasn’t the only one. A small group of people quickly flooded the four-way intersection. All around me cars were left running in park with the doors thrown open.

I ran to see if the lady who had been hit was okay. Before I reached the car, someone yelled, “Call the police!” and my fingers began dialing 911. I answered a dozen questions, quick to note the sketchy characters stumbling out of the other car, a truck, which was parked across the street. No visible injuries to that party; they were too busy removing what looked like beer cans from the inside of their vehicle, tossing them into the bed of their truck.

The victim, an elderly woman named Dolores, appeared to be okay, and a few of us remained in the street for a minute hovering around her damaged car. One lady wearing teal scrubs asked Dolores a few questions. “She’ll be fine!” she said to me before returning to her vehicle.

Another young woman gave me her phone number, insisting she caught the whole accident on her dash cam. “I can’t stay, but you can give the police my phone number!” she said as she ran off.

I stuck my head in the car and asked Dolores if she was okay. Her hands were shaking. She didn’t look fine to me. The group of helpers scattered as quickly as they appeared and in a matter of minutes I was the only one left standing in the middle of the intersection, next to a puddle of glass, trying to comfort someone else’s grandma.

“Are the police coming?” she asked, her voice just as shaky as her hands.

“Yep, I called them myself,” I said with a smile. “They’re on their way, and I’ll stay with you until they get here, okay?”

She told me she didn’t want to be a bother, and asked if I was sure. I told her she wasn’t a bother, and that I was. I took her cell phone and offered to call a family member. She asked me to call her daughter Tara. I left a voicemail.

Traffic started building up around us, and a man finally got out of his car and shouted, “Hey! Can she get out of the car?”

Her door was jammed, and although I have no medical training or knowledge whatsoever, I’ve seen enough episodes of Grey’s Anatomy to know that regular citizens are not supposed to move the injured after an accident like this.

“I don’t think we should move her!” I yelled back.

Dolores had mentioned having a lot of pain in her legs, and I didn’t want to risk doing further damage to possible injuries. My husband Brett, who had been keeping an eye on the guilty truck, ran over from across the street to assess the situation.

“We need to get her car out of the middle of the intersection,” the man told Brett.

We asked Dolores if she could steer, and she nodded. Brett suggested I get in the car with her, so I climbed in while they pushed us to the side of the road.

“That’s it,” I directed, “A little more to the right …”

Once we settled next to the curb, Dolores asked for her glasses.

“Where are they?” I asked.

“I was wearing them when I got hit … I think … I think they were hit off my face. I don’t know where they are,” she stammered.

A minute later I found them tucked underneath my seat. I held them up in victory.

“Oh thank you, dear,” she said, putting the frames back on her face, looking at me clearly for probably the first time.

She started asking questions: where I live, what I saw, where I was going that night. I told her we were on our way to dinner. I did not tell her my mother-in-law was home with our kids, or that she had been there all day and was doing us a favor by staying late. I did not tell her we were starting Whole30 in the morning and that I had been dreaming of my last meal (chicken tacos) for the past three hours.

Over and over again she thanked me for staying with her, telling me I was kind. Over and over again I reassured her I had nowhere important to be. It was the truth.

The fire trucks arrived thirty minutes later, and a police officer twenty minutes after that. When I watched the firefighters pull Delores from the car onto a stretcher and she shrieked in pain, I was thankful we hadn’t attempted to move her ourselves.

It wasn’t until a week later when I spoke to her daughter that I’d learn she had fractured her pelvis.

I also learned she was 88.

-----

I open Voxer and find a new voicemail from a friend, the fourth one this week. She is crying, confiding in me that her son has been biting other kids. She tells me how hard and exhausting it is, how she’s read 100 articles about what to do. She describes all the methods they’ve tried, the discipline strategies they’re implementing. She is worried this is all people see when they look at her son: a biter. She tells me about all of the other wonderful qualities her son possesses—his friendly and outgoing personality, his adaptability and spunk. I hear a mixture of guilt and sadness and frustration in her voice. I feel helpless. I want to reach through the phone and hug her.

A tear rolls down my face while I listen.

And then she says, “I’m sorry I keep calling you and crying. I don’t mean to burden you with this.”

-----

I sent Dolores a get well card a week after the car accident. A few days later, we spoke by phone. And a week after that, a card turned up in my mailbox.

Dear Ashlee and Brett,

It is seldom I am at a loss for words, but at this time, I am. My everlasting gratitude for the attention and care you showed me at the scene of my auto accident. What a beautiful world this would be if there were more of you.

In sincere appreciation,
Dolores

A $100 gift card was tucked inside to a restaurant Brett and I had been wanting to try. I felt guilty accepting something so extravagant for such a small deed. We were an hour late to dinner, who cares?

But to her, I realized, that hour was everything.

-----

I’m sitting at the head of a long white table, jotting down one more note in my journal. The air conditioner is blasting cold air on my shoulders, and the little hairs on my arms prick up as 20 women wander in, chatting and giggling, to take their seats. I’m leading them in a 7-week bible study on the topic of friendship.

Today we’re talking about showing up and the willingness to be interrupted.

Prior to this study, I’d never really noticed that quality in Jesus before. I mean, I’ve read the bible; I know the miracles. But I never paid much attention to the fact that almost every miracle Jesus performed was completed on the way to somewhere else. His whole life on earth was, essentially, a series of interruptions.

For example, one day while he was sitting with his disciples, a man burst through the doors begging Jesus to raise his daughter from the dead. On the way to that house, a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years reached out and touched his cloak. She was healed, as was the man’s daughter, and when Jesus went on from there, he encountered two blind men and a demon-possessed mute. He healed all three.

Four miracles back to back, each one an interruption.

Right before this happened, scripture says Jesus had been “reclining” at the table. That’s my favorite part. How many times have we mothers sat down to recline for a minute when someone suddenly needs a snack, a puzzle, more batteries for their toy, a new diaper?

Jesus feels us, I joke.

We spend the rest of the morning talking about interruptions as it pertains to friendship. One woman, Sherri, tells us about a friend of hers who always says, “It’s never a good time. So just call me anyway!”

It’s never a good time.
Call me anyway.

I love that.

I think about how rarely I call people on the phone. I text, I vox, I e-mail. All communication from me is sent in a leisurely, get-back-to-me-when-it’s-convenient-for-you fashion. And to be honest, that’s how I prefer to receive communication back. I don’t want you to interrupt my day. And I don’t want to interrupt yours.

It’s 2017. This is what people do.

We get in car accidents and feel terrible for interrupting a couple on their way to dinner. We cry on the phone and immediately apologize for interrupting someone else’s pleasant day.

I’ll be honest here. I try to avoid interruptions as much as possible. I drive past car accidents all the time. I often ignore homeless people on the street, either because I don’t have money—or, most likely—because I don’t “have time.” I do not ever answer my phone if I don’t know the number (sometimes I don’t answer even if I do know the number because if it’s important I assume they’ll leave a message and I can call back later). At the heart of it, this is selfishness. I value my time and energy, and I want to remain in control of how I spend those things. 

But Jesus was never annoyed by interruptions; he welcomed them with open arms. He stopped every single time. Jesus was always on the go heading to a new city, but no matter where he was going, the most pressing mission always became the one right in front of his face. Every interruption was a gift; an opportunity to love someone, to offer hope, to provide a miracle on the way to dinner.

There are 24 hours in a day. Think of everything we might be missing by making ourselves unavailable.

It’s never a good time.
Let’s call anyway.