When Seconds Count, Political Leanings Don’t
“Look at that!” I pointed from the driver’s seat of the CR-V as we rounded a corner on I-81, just north of Syracuse. It was a cold December day in Central New York, the day after Christmas. My wife and I were heading toward Canton to visit my folks when I spotted something up ahead on the south-bound side of the highway.
“What? What is it?” Emily said as her eyes searched.
I shook my pointing finger at what I was seeing, as if that was going to help. “The car!”
“Oh my God!” Emily shouted, finally seeing it.
An SUV had just flipped over in the middle of the interstate and was still in the process of skidding to a stop, wheels spinning, smoke billowing —
— People trapped inside!
“We have to stop!” Emily shouted. “Pull over!”
I flicked on the turn signal and began slowing down, deeply concerned about the condition of the SUV’s passengers, and fearing the worst for them and their loved ones just one day after Christmas.
It appeared 2016 wasn’t going to let go that easily.
Even if you’re not particularly politically-minded, 2016 was a difficult and divisive year. If you voted, you were branded either a racist xenophobe or a traitorous idiot (or far worse). If you didn’t vote, you were probably taken to task for not doing your civic duty. If you are politically outspoken, you probably got yourself into some very volatile social media (or personal) flame wars. If you keep your political views close to the chest, you probably felt frightened to even imply having an opinion about the election at all.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen it this rough. I observed people “unfriending” those with whom they’d been very close for years. I read terrible, hateful comments, articles and blogs (from both sides) that would make most people want to crawl under a rock for a few weeks (or months). I watched as familial blood turned to stone over opposing views.
Even I was torn asunder for being objective, trying to see both sides, and playing Devil’s advocate in an attempt to heal wounds and bridge divides.
Because in 2016, if your opinion isn’t the same as someone else’s, it’s wrong.
But it’s even more wrong to be fair to other opinions (or, in another way of looking at it, to appear to not have an opinion at all).
Through this prism, things look pretty bleak. Respect, courtesy and decorum have all been thrown out the window. There appears to be no such thing as Compassion, no willingness to understand “the other side”… even when those you love are on it.
If even those we love aren’t worth our time because of their political views, how in the world are we supposed to have any kind of useful and constructive dialogue with people outside of our familial proximity?
The more and more you think about it – the deeper and deeper you go – the more awful it all looks. The more hopeless it all seems.
The entire country is an SUV flipped over on its top, wheels still spinning as if it desperately wants to go somewhere.
And we’re all trapped inside.
Emily was out of the car before I’d even stopped and turned on the hazard lights. As she quickly, but carefully, crossed the highway, several cars on either side of the interstate were stopping, people getting out to help. In moments, the overturned SUV was surrounded by roughly a dozen folks working together to get the passengers out of the vehicle.
With the smoke billowing, it looked like time was of the essence. I hated watching from the CR-V, where I had to stay and keep watch over my two-year old daughter. My own wife’s safety never even really occurred to me – I was more concerned with the people in the SUV.
An empty child seat was spotted in the back but, thankfully, both of the SUV’s passengers – who were responsive – were quick to note that no child was with them that day.
The driver’s side window wouldn’t open, nor would the door, so someone bashed it in. Still, the driver – a woman probably in her thirties – couldn’t get out.
Emily came running back over to our CR-V, nearly in a panic. Her mother kept a seat belt cutter in the vehicle, but we couldn’t find it. We instead found a jack knife, hoping that would do the trick. By the time Emily made it back to the SUV, someone else had managed to cut the driver’s seat belt, and they were already getting her out. With the help of a couple more folks, she stumbled – stunned, but otherwise showing no more than a couple cuts – to the side of the highway, where she sat on the guardrail being comforted by another woman with a blanket.
A male, appearing to be the same age, was pulled out of the passenger side. He was shaken but otherwise unharmed, and he walked unassisted over to the other passenger.
By now, the smoke had dissipated, and the fear of an imminent explosion had gone with it.
Emily called 911 only to find that they had already received several calls about the accident and were dispatching police and an ambulance. Nonetheless, they stayed on the line with my wife until emergency crews arrived (which happened so fast that you would think an ambulance had been hiding in the bushes the whole time).
With the passengers safe – someone taking photos of the accident on one of their phones – and emergency crews arriving to take it from here, Emily came back to the car, got in and took a deep breath.
“Okay,” she said as we observed other impromptu rescuers also returning to their vehicles, “We can go.”
We drove away, our nerves calming down.
Emily wiped tears from her eyes.
And as I drove, something occurred to me. Emily and I even talked about it on the way up to Watertown.
When we (and others) saw the upside-down SUV come skidding to a stop, we immediately jumped out to help. There was no thinking it over – it just happened.
No one stopped to ask anyone else (passengers or otherwise) who voted for whom, or what particular political leanings anyone else had.
No one was concerned with who was a Democrat or Republican, atheist, Christian or Muslim.
No one cared about the passengers’ sexuality or whether or not they were on some form of government assistance.
No one checked to see if the passengers were racists, homophobes, or illegal immigrants.
The only thing that mattered was getting those people out of that car.
As much as 2016 would like us to think otherwise, it’s not as bad as it seems. That overturned SUV is not the real America.
The real America is the people inside, and the people who came rushing to their aid.
America is full of people who just want to help, who just want to do the right thing.
At the end of the day, Americans are people who stop what they’re doing and risk themselves for the benefit of others.
It doesn’t matter what side they are on – this is who America is.
Maybe that’s something we should keep in mind when we talk politics with friends and family, and even those we don’t really (yet) know.
2016 may have shown us the worst of who we can be, but once the smoke cleared, I saw the real America, right there on that interstate. That was the last parting shot that 2016 gave me.
And it showed me we have much to be hopeful for, after all.