Reconciling with Reality
I recently watched a video on TED Talks by Joshua Prager who expressed so powerfully how he searched out a stranger who had changed his life twenty-one years ago. He traveled a world away to a city outside of Jerusalem to search for this man, Abed, who had been driving recklessly and struck the mini-bus Joshua and others were riding in -- as a result, one person died, he and another person had broken necks and another had a brain injury. After being thrown around the bus, Joshua was a quadriplegic but after many surgeries and physical therapy, he ended up a hemiplegic. Twenty-one years was a lifetime ago but Joshua needed to hear, “I’m sorry” from Abed, so he searched him out and found him. They met and talked about the day of the accident, Joshua wasn’t looking to recap the details, he was hoping to hear words of remorse and an apology, but all he got was a twisted story Abed had re-written, whether it was for his peace of mind or for the ability to live an unchanged life, never having to take responsibility for his years of recklessness, but Abed had completely washed his hands from the catastrophic choice he made that morning he disregarded human lives. Abed blamed the crash on the bus driver on the left lane who didn’t let him pass. If that had any truth to it, would someone not letting him pass on the left lane wipe away his empathy toward humankind? The fact that he was speeding and driving recklessly that morning should give him some sort of remorse, but Abed apparently didn’t have any. It was shocking to hear.
As the video played on, I was in utter disbelief that Abed talked about how his life was changed and how he lost his teeth in the accident, lost his drivers license and served six month in jail. He didn’t seem to care how his reckless behavior changed the lives of innocent bystanders. Abed’s previous record of 27 severe driving infractions, and the deadly and life changing accident didn’t appeal to his sense of humanity. I was angry for Joshua and the other victims! How could he sit in the couch with Abed and not let him have it? How could Joshua listen to this man without asking for an apology? Then, a part in the video shook me straight! Joshua said, “it was then I understood that Abed would never apologize. But it was hard for me to relate to one who had so completely washed his hands of his own calamitous doing.” Joshua went on to say, “I wished to tell him that what makes most of us who we are most of all is not our minds and not our bodies and not what happens to us, but how we respond to what happens to us. [This,] wrote the psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl, is the last of the human freedoms: to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances. I wished to tell him that not only paralyzers and paralyzees must evolve, reconcile to reality, but we all must – the aging and the anxious and the divorced and the balding and the bankrupt and everyone. I wished to tell him that one does not have to say that a bad thing is good, that a crash is from God and so a crash is good, a broken neck is good. One can say that a bad thing sucks, but that this natural world still has many glories. I wished to tell him that, in the end, our mandate is clear: we have to rise above bad fortune. We have to be in the good and enjoy the good, study and work and adventure and friendship – oh, friendship – and community and love. But most of all, I wished to tell him what Herman Melville wrote, that [truly to enjoy bodily warmth, some small part of you must be cold, for there is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast.] Yes, contrast. If you are mindful of what you do not have, you may be truly mindful of what you do have, and if the gods are kind, you may truly enjoy what you have. That is the one singular gift you may receive if you suffer in any existential way. You know death, and so many wake each morning pulsing with ready life. Some part of you is cold, and so another part may truly enjoy what it is to be warm, or even to be cold. When one morning, year after the crash, I stepped onto stone and the underside of my left foot felt the flash of cold, nerves at last awake. It was exhilarating, a gust of snow. But I didn’t say these things to Abed. I told him only that he had killed one man, not two. I told him the name of that man. And then I said, “Goodbye.”
Abed had never reconciled with the utter destruction of lives he was responsible for, so there was no reason to apologize for something he later thought of as an act of God that was meant to happen because he had lived an unholy life before the crash – and after the crash, he became a religious man, and so according to him God was pleased, and everything according to him was all good. It was so maddening to hear that he didn’t think anyone else had suffered more than he did because as a result of the crash, he lost his livelihood during his six-month prison sentence and his teeth. Could it be that Abed’s reconciliation with the crash was that people had been collateral damage of an act of God to turn Abed’s life around? And if that was Abed’s belief, why couldn’t he apologize for that? For me, it was clear that Abed, among millions of people in this world, would rather live an unauthentic life with a delusional version of reality, instead of ever apologizing to someone they’ve hurt. I wish Joshua, the other victims, and their families an evolved and happy life, but most importantly, may they untether from the terrible tragedy and the injustices of Abed’s un-evolved and limited sense of humanity -- and empathy toward others. Namaste.