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Two Stories Converge in a Parking Lot

In this week’s episode of “It All Started with…A Broken Pelvis” I talk to Namita Agravat (Kukreja), a.k.a. “The girl who called 911” on the day of my accident, Nov 1, 1994. Until a few months ago, I was not aware of this part of the story. I never knew who called 911 that day. I was not aware that she received letters of commendation for her quick action (pictured here). Nor was I aware that this incident played a small role in her decision to go into public health. She now works for the CDC in pandemic response. She is a mother, wife, daughter, sister, community member, and so many other amazing things.

I have thought a lot over the past few months about the ways in which our stories are connected to the stories of people we may know very little about. We cannot disentangle ourselves from one another. No matter how badly we may want to at times. Namita was brave that day, sure footed, and calm. She deserved the recognition and praise she received for her action. Our lives are forever connected by a moment. That day provided us each with an opportunity to learn what we are made of in very different ways.

There is no doubt a bit of shame that my irresponsible choice and arrogance on that day was the catalyst for this connection. I have worked hard to forgive myself for that and I would be lying if I said it was all completely healed. With every step I have more questions. I take responsibility for my actions. I hid for so many years because of that.

There’s another side here too though, and that is how we show compassion to people who have made bad decisions and experienced the consequences of those decisions. You see, while Namita received this much deserved praise and recognition, not one person from the school ever reached out to me or my family to see if I was ok or if we needed anything. I am becoming aware of the implications of only acknowledging ideal behavior - which is the world Namita and I grew-up in. Things have changed to some degree and yet not enough. How often do we blame people for their misfortune and in turn withhold compassion and support from them?

AND while Namita received praise for her response neither she nor any of the MANY other students who bore witness that day were ever provided an opportunity to process, or asked if they were ok. They were given no updates about how I was. One classmate recently said to me in response to this episode, “we didn’t know if we had just watched someone die.” They immediately left the scene and went to a show choir performance.

The conversation I keep having is “it was a different time, things are different now.” Yes, they are different. They are better. That doesn’t mean they are as they should be. That also doesn’t mean that the way things were didn’t cause harm from which we are all now having to heal, to understand. Look at the moment we are living in. Look how difficult it continues to be for people to feel the discomfort of another person’s pain or loneliness. We still have a long way to go.

For the first time I am looking at it all. Not as a snapshot but with surgical precision. I am realizing so much about myself, my memories, my world, and my perception that has been clouded by fear, shame, silence, and trauma. I needed to finally feel safe enough to explore this fully and to give myself permission to really be seen - to really see myself (thank you Kim Flournoy DiJoseph).

It is through the courage and kindness of Namita and others who are walking this path with me that I am continuing the process of healing. To sit with someone in their pain, uncertainty, and the search for understanding is truly the greatest gift one can bestow upon another. It is uncomfortable to allow another person’s pain when you know there is no way to fix it or change it. This is what I do. I do this because I didn’t get it when I most needed it in my life and I never want anyone to feel that alone. I didn’t ask for or expect it for many years because it had been so painful to feel so unseen for so long. I am realizing that I could have asked much sooner but I was too afraid. (Also, don’t wait for people to ask.) I feel so privileged to have people now who are here to sit with me in my healing and in the process experience some of their own. We can be that for one another.

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