Overcoming Fear and Learning To Fly Again
It was one of those days when every second was accounted for. From pick-ups and drop offs, to appointments, practices, and even a game in between, I was nearly out of breath just trying to get to each destination on time. As I headed back out to pick up one of my daughters from soccer training, I realized that I had (for the first time that day) a little extra cushion in my schedule – a whopping 20 extra minutes to get there. I took a deep breath, exhaled my stress, and admired the beautiful, warm colored sky as the sun set before me. I even snapped a quick picture (not my finest photography as I was forced to take it from inside the car) but it was just the reminder I needed at that moment.
Having driven less than a mile, and just minutes from my house, I came to a stop sign just past a nearby overpass that brings you to a T in the road. Stopped in front of me was a car that had appeared to be waiting for the opportunity to turn. With the left blinker illuminated, I knew the car was going in the same direction in which I was headed. I sat there and watched the cars go by, and when a free space presented itself, I naturally expected the car in front of me to go. It didn’t, repeatedly. My tired and hurried reaction was to utter to myself “Come on already…go!” I wanted to honk my horn after a reasonable amount of time had passed, but I didn’t. The left blinker that was once flashing on the car in front of me, had now turned to hazard lights. Squinting, I tried my best to “zoom in” to see if I could pick up on any clues, either in body language, or by observing some telling activity of the driver, i.e. Did the car stall? Run out of gas? Was it a new, or elderly driver? Did the car break down? Etc. However, all I could see was a woman putting her hand on her head. I couldn’t decipher if it was out of frustration or distress.
I made the decision to drive around her. I could have very easily driven passed her, made the left, and been on my way (it was a strong consideration), but as I pulled around her, something told me to stop and put my passenger window down. As I pulled up alongside her at the stop sign and waved to get her attention, she sheepishly put her window down as I asked her if everything was OK? Realizing the woman was probably somewhere around my age, I asked, “Do you need any help?” With eyes that held a combination of fear, anxiousness, and embarrassment, she responded: “This always happens to me at overpasses. I know it’s silly, but I get nervous, and then people start honking at me and rushing me to go, and then I can’t.” I immediately knew what was going on and told her it was OK and that it wasn’t silly. As I attempted to reassure her, I said through my window, “I will help you.” Her eyes and facial features immediately showing a sense of relief, she smiled back and thanked me.
By this time, cars had begun to line up behind her. I knew we had to move quickly. I worried that I might need to get in her car and drive her through the intersection, but then realized that I couldn’t leave my car where it was, so I asked her what I could do to help her get through the intersection. Cars began to beep and I could see she was breaking down. I told her again that it was ok and that I would stay with her and help her make the turn. The next words out of her mouth touched my heart in such a way, yet confused and concerned me at the same time. With a look of trust that reminded me of a toddler learning to walk with just a promise of open arms to catch her, she thanked me and said with a big sigh of relief, “OK. We will turn together.”
Immediately confused and slightly panicked, I knew that if I truly made the turn with her, I would be turning outside of the lane and facing oncoming traffic, while she would be in the right lane. As the cars honked behind us (likely under the impression that we knew each other and were just holding everyone up as we chatted) I made a quick judgement, eyed up the road and traffic flow, and waited until there were no cars coming in either direction. “GO!” I quickly yelled out of my window, and she did. She really did want to make the turn with me, so once we both made the left, I quickly got in front of her.
Phew! Crisis diverted and everyone was safe. Just up ahead, the single lane turned into two lanes and she proceeded to drive up alongside me and asked me what my name was at the stoplight. I told her, and then asked hers. She thanked me profusely and said that I had been a guardian angel to her that day. What normally seems to take forever (a light to turn from red to green) had been just enough time for her to tell me through our windows, that she had gone so far out of her way to avoid overpasses that she felt silly because where she was going would have been so much closer if she had been able to follow a direct path. She told me that she was going to her favorite clothing store in a nearby town and asked me if I knew if she would encounter anymore overpasses before reaching her destination. I knew she would, and now, even more concerned and sympathetic to her real fear and anxiousness, I asked her if she would feel more comfortable if she followed me there. She was so grateful, and kept saying over and over again that she didn’t want me to have to go out of my way, but I simply told her that it was “Not a problem.”
I kept a slow and steady pace, but quickly realized that she preferred to go even slower, so I just kept looking in the rear view mirror to be sure she was OK and still behind me. The thoughts that were going through my head as I watched her through my rear view mirror were overwhelming. I was prepared to make an emergency distress call if necessary. I now felt a sense of obligation to her safety, and the safety of others. She drove very well, just very slow. Instead of feeling impatient and worrying about where I needed to be, I found myself cheering for this stranger while my inner voice went from “Come on already” to “Come on…you can do it. We’re almost there.”
Knowing we were about to approach another unavoidable overpass, I slowed down and moved over to the right lane so that I could be alongside her. I already knew that she felt comfortable doing this “together” so I banked on this strategy. My heart raced as I watched her in my rear view mirror and could see her anxiety was building. I just kept saying to myself (as if somehow I could transfer courage to her with my mind and willpower) “Come on…you can do it” I said. She got through the intersection (Hooray!) but then stopped right before the overpass and proceeded to put her hazards on again as her hand went back to rest on her head. Now positioned ahead of her, I felt helpless. I put my hazards on too, and then put my car in reverse in an attempt to get closer to her. I put my window down, and gave her the thumbs up and waved her to move forward and follow me. I did this for, what felt like an excruciatingly long time, before she very slowly began to inch forward. As she got closer to me, I pulled into the right lane so that she could be in the left lane alongside me again. As I looked behind us, it was uncomfortably clear to me that we were now the unofficial pacesetters of all traffic going over the Rt. 17 overpass at that moment. Cars were building up behind us as she very slowly drove alongside me and casually shared with me through her open window how much she loved me. It’s amazing how natural it was for me to return to this stranger an “I love you, too.”
Relieved that she was now calm and focused on getting over the overpass, behind us though, the other drivers were throwing up their hands and their facial expressions were getting more and more angry and tense. I didn’t want to rush her too much and jeopardize getting stuck on the overpass, but I could see that if she focused on me and my consistent conversational reassurance, that she would make it over, albeit at a frustratingly slow pace to everyone else.
When we finally got across the overpass, I told her that she did a great job and that she should be proud of herself. I then asked her if she knew where she was or if she needed to me to get her closer to the center of town. She was a bit turned around with all of the back roads that I took, so I opted to continue driving/leading her all the way. When we reached the center of town, I pulled over to the side of the road, and again, she pulled up next to me. I asked her if she knew where she was now and she replied, “Yes, this is great. Thank you so much, Shane.” She then said, “I’m going to say a prayer for you tonight” and with that, I was completely overwhelmed and touched. “And I am going to say one for you” I said in response. What she said next, solidified my initial feeling that there was a familiar element and spirit with me. She told me that she had “just gone to Reiki that day to help clear herself of all of this” and that she knows that she has to take small steps to start to try and overcome it. My reason for stopping earlier, and then feeling some strange sort of connection, had now become very clear to me. In her eyes, I saw something very familiar, but as soon as she said Reiki, I said “You know, we were meant to meet today, right?” Shocked with delight, she said “Really?” and I very quickly mentioned something about a very special friend of mine and Reiki (but didn’t elaborate because the cars were beginning to build up behind her again) and with that she said “We HAVE to connect! Please look me up on FB.”
I drove off from this surreal and eye-opening experience with a million questions running through my mind, but also with a huge smile on my face knowing that there are no coincidences. I’ve been trained and have all the credentials to handle an emergency situation like this, but somehow, this one was more personal and it felt more familiar. I had forgotten about time, where I needed to be, or what I had to do next. It was an experience that left me seeing (and feeling) the world as she did. It was this tendency that I have to recognize and be able to take on a transferred view, that made me stop and think about ALL of the people in this world who are just trying to survive. Survive obstacles, trauma, fear, tragedy, circumstances, situations…..
I have no doubt that divine intervention was at work that day, and any part that I played in it served to reinforce to me the need to slow down and keep my eyes open to what my heart has always known – EVERYONE NEEDS SOMEONE. Everyone needs support, reassurance, love, kindness, and understanding. To ALL of us who are in a hurry to get somewhere, perhaps this is a little reminder that it’s not about WHERE we are going, but HOW we get there, and WHO we meet, and choose to help along the way. Their destination may not be the same as ours, but our journeys cross for a reason. I’ve always believed that detours and delays lead us to where we are supposed to be, but this experience truly reinforced it. Delays and detours lead us to the people we are meant to meet, and teaches us lessons we are meant to learn. On that day, I not only made a new friend, but I found within her, a familiar one who reminds me often of the importance and purpose of precious, small moments that leave big marks on our hearts and in our lives.
Recognizing Angels when they appear, is one of the greatest gifts I’ve known. By keeping our hearts open to find love and beauty in all of life’s circumstances, we discover the true purpose and power of connection. It is in these moments that we see glimpses of our loved ones and recognize the presence of Angels who teach us how to help others the way they help us.
For more information on driving phobias and who you can call when in despair, see link below. Many states offer the same service.