The other day, I was in a car accident. Not a super serious one, thank goodness. Was sitting at a red light (a RED LIGHT!) when someone crashed into the driver's side rear end of the car.
The car was still driveable. I was still driveable. But I was pretty shook up.
Luckily the police were there within seconds (we were in a busy college area of Manhattan) and went about doing their police reporting business.
All sounds pretty mundane so far, right?
Well, there I was waiting in my running car (it was a cold night) for the cops to finish doing their thing, when my back started to hurt. And my neck. And my sides. And I felt myself tensing up, thinking "Oh, no, I've hurt something! I could be really hurt!"
I had visions of walking around in one of those big white collars you always see car accident victims wear on TV. I thought about things like disability insurance, and hospitals. My mind started racing. It was not pretty.
So I took out the only weapons I had at the time against the evil forces of anxiety and darkness. My own mind (I did a lot of deep in and out yoga breathing); and more specifically my own imagination. I happened to have Kristin Cashore's Graceling in the car with me, and I opened it up, and in the strange glow of a Manhattan streetlight, began to read.
I read about the brave, two-color eyed Katsa and her fighting skills, her sheer physical will. I read about her love for the Graceling Prince Po (whose name, in a totally unrelated sidenote, means "bottom" in German. Sorry to say, hard for someone married to a German speaker to get over...), her care for the princess Bitterblue. I read about her fights and her love affair, her sword fighting and her emotional growth. In other words, like any devout reader, I became transformed -- transported into a world of fantasy and possibility.
And I started to forget about my own mundane problems. Like why the cops were taking so long. And why that man had hit me in the first place. And how I would match my wardrobe to a ginormous neck collar.
And as my mind relaxed and rejoiced in the novel, my muscles relaxed, and rejoiced in their own luck. I didn't have whiplash, I didn't have anything. I was fine. I was whole. And I was reading.
I'm not saying literature is the cure for all physical ills. But, as my work in Narrative Medicine has shown me, it does have an important role in the training of clinicians and also potentially the healing of the sick.
Katsa didn't save me from evil, but she did, in a very real way, save me from myself. From my own body's tensions and from being more shook up than I had to be.
So my Rx? Drive carefully, people. Put on your seatbelt. Obey traffic rules. Don't talk on the phone or text for goodness sake.
And for those moments you need to escape the madness of life's highway, pull over (safely) and open your favorite fantasy novel.
(Anyone else have stories of novels saving them? :)