Thursday, August 07, 2008

A Lesson in Listening

An administrative law judge once said to me that defendants can handle any verdict so long as they feel that they've been heard. The same thing is true of the human heart.

I say this to comfort myself. Riding back to Connecticut from the city on Tuesday, I witnessed a horrific accident. My son Ev was driving down the Henry Hudson Parkway in the far left lane. I was riding shotgun. In the right lane a white car slowed down and started to exit, but at the last minute, it pulled back onto the roadway.

Traveling at a good clip behind the white car was an older model silver coupe, which subsequently slammed on its brakes. The sound of squealing tires and smell of burning rubber filled the air. I could almost feel the driver bracing himself against the steering wheel, brake pedal to the floor.

Seconds later, the silver car slammed into the white one, bounced off a concrete barrier, and flipped several times. The windshield shattered as pieces of metal flew everywhere. The silver car and ours were only yards away from each other. If it had rolled to the left instead of the right, we would have been hit as well.

I doubt the driver survived. But if he did, and if he had dreams yet to fulfill, I only hope--and this is where the story of the judge and the driver connect--that at some point in his life, he at least made an attempt to listen to them.

Note: My son wanted to stop and help, but I encouraged him to keep driving, not wanting to cause a second accident by crossing two lanes of traffic to get to an almost non-existent shoulder. My friend Penny Pearlman, who was sitting in the back seat, immediately called 911. We're all wondering what happened to the driver; but despite repeated Internet searches, I've have been unable to find out whether the driver lived or died. Just a few hours before the accident, Janet Luongo took the above picture from the bedroom window of the apartment where we were staying. When I got up that morning and looked out at the Hudson, I had no thought that this might be my last day on earth. My guess is that the driver had no idea either.


  1. Anonymous10:01 PM

    Hi Prill - It is very hard to write well even for those who have the talent for depicting with words. The main matter is the subject matter. Every day events can comprise a compendium of every day events, nothing more. A friend of mine wrote a book that was a collection of his essays as a journalist. The material had the required length for a book but it lacked a theme, a reason for being created. Previously I have commented on the need to step outside of yourself and your experiences in order to write with requisite insight and freshness, literally creating meaning with spontaneity and risk. If it is hard to understand my comment, it will be easy to dismiss as unwarranted criticism. The character that you conjure as your protagonist has to have an edge, a purpose, a reason for living and dying. By not stopping at the accident, you avoided the carnage and exposing your son to what he will eventually witness for himself if he has not already. Getting involved is messy. It is not enough to call 911. Someone has to step forward to see if lives can be saved. What if there were children in the back seat that you couldn't see? I am being harsh on you, it's true. And I am also being true to the theme of trying to get you to step outside your comfort zone. Dressing in blue hair wigs and sporting a fake snake tattoo is not being bold. Being bold is much more difficult. You have to do research to be vital, Prill. Otherwise you remain a witness to the boldness of others. With Deep Respect and Hope and Still "Anonymous", which is my own cowardice:

  2. Prill - I had something similar happen to me the other day. When exiting left off the interstate, an SUV in front of me (fortunately with a bit of distance in between) crashed sideways into the Jersey barrier. I don't know if the driver misjudged, got distracted, or what. But the car bounced off several times with smoke and sparks flying.

    What I did know was that I had my two young children in the backseat along with a friend's child -- and I instinctively did what any good parent would do. I slowed down and moved to the next lane in order to avoid hitting the SUV and to avoid getting hit by the cars behind me. I could not stop -- I would have endangered the children. But I did call 911 - and I felt confident trained professionals would be on the scene in moments.

    I wondered how many people had called 911 too -- or how many continued on to wherever they were headed, thinking somebody else would dial the cell phone or not wanting to interrupt the call they were already on.


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  4. Anne,

    Thanks! Always good to hear from you. Can't wait to see some of the photos from your trip.


    (I'm curious why you're so shy about giving your name.)

    Ev, Penny and I discussed yesterday the pros and cons of stopping. All of us felt in retrospect that we did the right thing. (That's not to say we did, just that we felt we did.) There were three lanes of traffic. The accident was in the right lane; we were in the left. It was a chaotic scene. All of the other cars near us were doing everything they could not to get hit. By the time we could have safely pulled over, we would have been at least a 1/4 mile up the road. Keep in mind also that the Henry Hudson doesn't have a great break-down lane in which to pull over. In other words, at the risk of sounding defensive, I honestly don't believe I was trying to avoid "the messiness" and/or protect my son. (I myself was involved in a very serious auto accident when I was 21. If someone hadn't stopped to help me, I'm not sure I would be alive today.) I encouraged Ev to keep going to prevent even more people from getting hurt. Even my husband, who almost always stops to help when he sees a need, said he wouldn’t have in this case.

    In terms of your comment about my self-described boldness, fair enough.

    And, finally, regarding your suggestions for my writing, I'm confused as to whether you're referring to my novel, my blog, or both.

  5. Anonymous11:36 AM

    It is time...The last paragraph of "A Lesson in Listening",before the "FYI" is an admonition to yourself, Prill: Perhaps I was wrong about stopping at the scene of the accident. If you were a Dr.,you would have stopped. Stopping at the Toll Booth might have expedited the emergency response. The blog like your Book, "Defying Gravity" are reportorial. Reporting is second hand information. If you want to create literature, you must step away from consensus. It is as simple and as difficult as that. By my frankness and anonymity I engender defensiveness in you. That is not the response that I had hoped for. I leave it to you to figure out what you want to mean. "Defying Gravity" is more than a Double Entendre.

  6. Anonymous--

    Point well taken about the phone booth. I didn't realize how defensive I sounded until I re-read my response. That's why I deleted, edited & re-posted my comment. In between the original and edited versions, I asked my husband Mike what he would have done and added that as well.

    Anyway, you can see that this is a touchy subject for me. I'm still off-balance from the experience.

    In terms of my writing, you give much food for thought. I'm trying to parse your words and understand/absorb your advice. I would love you to e-mail me: . I don't know if you can do this and still maintain your anonymity, but that would be a more appropriate place to continue our discussion.