By: Dan Anderson
Back in 1982, I was a typical 17 year-old, high school senior-to-be. I felt I was 10' tall and bulletproof. Nothing could touch me, and the whole world was right in front of me. I had just gotten the license to drive our farm trucks and was hauling our wheat harvest to the elevator. I was finally moving into a more important role on the farm and was proud to be seen driving the truck.
6:00 P.M. July 26, 1982 changed all of those euphoric feelings. I changed into being a scared, lonely, introverted kid who wanted to run away and hide and never come back. Here is the story.
I had taken a load of wheat to town just before a rainstorm and had waited in town for the storm to passed. As I headed home, the roads were a muddy mess. A mile and a half from home, I topped a hill to find our neighbor had pulled his stuck pickup out the field with his combine and was standing in the middle of the slick, muddy road. I thought I would be able to stop my truck, and he had jumped to the north side of the road out of the way anyway. I was not able to stop completely, and unfortunately, he crawled back under the pickup to finish unhooking it from the combine. I struck the back of the pickup with the front corner of my truck. As I jumped out, I saw him lying under the pickup. I knew immediately that the impact had killed him.
That instant shaped my life. Our neighbor's wife came running to me on the side of the road, put her arm around me, and said "Frank is dead. Let's go get help". We drove away in the only option we had, the combine. I will never forget watching blood run down the muddy, rain-soaked road.
It took me years for me to process all that happened over a period of time after the accident. Family and friends were there for me. I spent quite a bit of time talking with the minister at the Methodist Church. All of the people in my life helped me see what what happened was truly an "accident". For a long time, I had terrible feelings that all eyes in a small community were on me. I had to relive all that happened not only during the wreck but for the days, weeks, months and years that followed.
It made me stronger in some ways and weaker in others. Our neighbor's wife actually made me sit with her and her son at the funeral. My parents and I had shown up late on purpose at my urging. She stopped the funeral and brought me forward. I realized years later that she did that for a reason. She did not blame me for what had happened and made sure that the entire crowd knew that by her actions. She did not want a young life to be ruined because of it. I have so much gratitude and respect for her.
Over the years I have tried to describe all of the feelings, and I don't know if it is possible. I do know these things, though:
- I believe God forgave me from the start, but I had to learn to forgive myself. I believe that forgiving ourselves takes time and is one of the hardest things we ever do. I still at times blame myself for what happened years ago.
- I believe that we need to let the people in our lives know that they are important to us and in our lives because they matter. Hug your spouse, make sure you spend the extra minutes with your kids, talk to your aging parents and drink in their wisdom, spend time with friends and always take time to smell the roses. Work will always be there, but life is humbling and can change in the blink of an eye. It was hard to learn that I wasn't "10 feet tall and bulletproof".
If anyone has had similiar experiences or would like to know more of what happened in my life, I am willing to share. It is not easy, but the minister always told me to let people know what happened because I may have answers to the questions that they may have.