One of the events I always fear most while on tour just happened to us here in South Dakota en route to the final three dates of our national concert tour (that were to be in Jackson, WY, Sun Valley, ID, and Boise, ID).
In brief, we hit a deer shortly after dusk yesterday on a remote road in northwestern South Dakota going about 65 miles an hour. I was sleeping as Heather drove, and was awakened by the impact, which wrenched the hood of our car open and sprayed coolant all over the front of the vehicle (obscuring the windshield), destroyed our grille, front bumper, radiator and … well, we don’t know what else yet. Fortunately, there was a small sliver of visibility through my side of the windshield (to the right of the crumpled remains of the hood) and, between Heather’s narrow view of the road’s center line and my glimpse of the shoulder, we were able to slowly make our way to the right shoulder of the road.
It broke our hearts to find, shortly after the accident, that we had killed the deer – probably instantly.
And, suffice it to say, with over 230,000 miles on our van, it is probably a total loss.
That’s the bad news.
The good news: All of us in the van (Heather, Barkley, and I) were completely unscathed. None of our instruments, gear, CDs or other personal belongings were damaged at all. In addition, our insurance company may still repair our beloved 2004 Nissan Quest even though the cost of repairs could exceed the Blue Book value of the van.
Perhaps the best news of all is the way that we were treated by the people we encountered as a result of the accident.
First of all, the South Dakota Highway Patrol officer John Deuter was incredibly friendly, engaging and helpful, inviting us to stay in the warmth of his office (aka the patrol car) as we waited for the wrecker to drive the 100+ miles from the nearest town with a towing service. He shared quite a bit about himself, unraveling many of my stereotypes about the cold, unreachable figure behind mirrored sunglasses that many of us associate with state troopers. He told us with a broad smile and twinkling eyes about his expansive experiences traveling in Japan while he served in the Army, and we continued to pass the time very amicably discussing our world travels, our backgrounds, even the unique landscapes inherent in each of our respective lines of work. In short, it was an honor to meet him, and I was reminded in very tangible ways about the blessings that come about when someone chooses to embark on a life of service, which Officer Deuter clearly has done.
It’s easy to take the presence of such people for granted in our lives, and one of the unexpected upsides of our experience was being reminded that, even when we don’t think about it, there are great souls who have chosen a life of service that surround us. I’m immensely grateful, and in this time of Thanksgiving, I want to acknowledge these great hearts with the loving gratitude they so richly deserve.
Our next encounter with this greatness came in the form of the wrecker driver Mike, who was incredibly personable and upbeat – not such an easy thing to achieve when you consider that his work is among the most dangerous professions anywhere, and he must always come into his interactions with those he serves knowing that they would MUCH rather not need his services. He has cheerfully chosen a job that, especially during the winter months in one of the most brutal climates in the lower 48 states, requires him to be on call 24/7 two weeks each month, and a job that involves a degree of death and destruction that most of us, if we’re honest with ourselves, try to pretend isn’t part of life. Once we arrived at our hotel in Sturgis, having just driven over 200 miles round trip to come to our aid, he helped us unload all of our gear into the lobby of the hotel.
Then there was Stacey, the clerk who greeted us at the front desk of the hotel. Treating us like longtime friends instead of the frazzled road-weary strangers that we were, she put us instantly at ease.
Stacey went out of her way to find us an unused room (at no charge) for the storage of the considerable amount of gear in our car in addition to the room where we would stay until all of this is sorted out.
She happily took care of Barkley as we went back and forth to our van and to the two rooms that contained our belongings.
She steered us to an excellent local Asian food restaurant (we hadn’t eaten in a LONG time) and loved Barkley up almost as if he were her own beloved dog. The power of her kindness, warmth and friendliness provided us with a welcome soft landing in very adverse circumstances.
So, at this point, what will we do next?
Among other things, we may have a very long unplanned stay here in South Dakota when we want nothing more than to share our Kirtan practice with enthusiastic hearts in Wyoming and Idaho, and to make our way back home after 9 weeks of continuous travel.
But what I have received is a powerful object lesson in a great teaching I first heard from the great author and teacher Catherine Ingram: “Peace is being with what is.”
And this is the challenge I face as we look at financial loss, our remorse at the impact of the modern Western traveling lifestyle on wildlife, and having to cancel events with communities we love that we’ve been looking forward to for our entire tour.
But even more importantly, I believe I have been invited to challenge the usual nonchalance with which I treat the day-to-day presence of the greatness that lives in the hearts of “ordinary” people – people like John, Mike and Stacey who so beautifully embody the heart of Hanuman.
It has been said that “Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want.”
In this case, my experience makes me want to commit to honoring such people even when I am not suddenly and unpredictably in need of their help. It instills in my heart a prayer that I may walk this world with an ongoing awareness of (and gratitude for) the presence of these beings in all of our lives.
It is my hope that this tale may inspire each of us to do the same. Happy Thanksgiving.
In the time that has passed since I originally posted this, many things have happened.
First of all, Heather and I both have been moved beyond words by the loving energy people from all over have been showering on us… we are SO blessed by our community!
Heather also added a beautifully written post (see the Comments section below) that very powerfully reflects her experience of our accident. Both of us have found ourselves shaking as we write about this experience, and more and more saddened as we think about the deer; it was, as Heather says, so beautiful, wild and sweet.
Yesterday, our vehicle was declared a total loss by the insurance company, so we had to let go of the hopeful dreams we had of restoring our van – it has felt like our home away from home for nearly eight years, and a trusted friend as we traveled nearly a quarter of a million miles in those years together. As the snow began to fall and darkness descended, we said a final goodbye as we unpacked the van for the last time.
Finally, we have put together plans to leave South Dakota and head for home tomorrow with all of our luggage, instruments and sound gear in a rented Budget truck. Today we’re waiting out the snowstorm here in Sturgis, breathing, singing, meditating, writing …