Traffic jams and grace

I’m reprinting something that happened in the comments on my post, The Best Seat in the House

Cherry Woodburn, of, wrote:

Thank you for this post Amy.

And thanks to Fiona and the other commentors. I feel more balanced about America’s reaction to the way Bin Laden died.

I drove home from DC today and was about 15 minutes from home and, oh so excited about getting there when traffic stopped.

That 15 minutes became an hour, which wasn’t thrilling, but I am grateful that I was not in the accident that caused that delay. Sometimes things like that are easy to forget, especially if I/we don’t see the “wrecked vehicle”.

I was moved by Cherry’s comment. It made me think about how often we pass other people’s “wrecked vehicles” – and how we must integrate the experience of witnessing their suffering, their wrecked lives, shattered marriages, devastating diagnoses into our own experience.

Sometimes, I wonder what to do – when I am feeling drawn in and yet unable or unwilling to help; and of course, I probably shouldn’t help – what I mean is, we can’t ALL help everyone all the time. We can only do what we can, what we are moved to do.

So what do we do when we ARE moved – when our heart is touched, when we pass a ‘wrecked vehicle’?

Cherry’s comment reminded me of a story I once heard Caroline Myss tell, when I was a student at her CMED Institute (I believe it’s from her book, Invisible Acts of Power in which she tells some of the stories that streamed in when she elicited and received hundreds of personal accounts of Grace.

It changed Caroline’s life – transformed her. As a longtime student of hers, I could actually see the shift in her energy – the light streaming from her face; the softening of her heart. And of course, I have lived that experience every day for the past six years, reading thousands and thousands of letters about the same thing.

It can’t help but break you open. Just as, passing a wrecked vehicle – or, witnessing a community struggling to salvage homes and lives after a flood, a fire, a tornado – we can’t help but be moved.

When we are moved, our heart opens and we long to reach out. What can we do?

This is a story from Caroline’s book. And then I will tell you what you can do. (Note: these are my words and I’m retelling it from memory. If you want the original, I’m sure it’s available in the book.)

There is a car accident on a highway, a serious accident, which stops traffic.

A woman, delayed by the accident, sits in her car.  She cannot see the victims, but her heart goes out to them, and she begins to pray. She doesn’t know if they are seriously injured, or even, dead. But she is flooded with compassion and pours it into her prayers.

After a while, the accident is cleared and she goes home. She never finds out what happens and the moment is forgotten until a few months later, when there is a knock at her door.

Opening it, she finds a woman standing on her doorstep. The woman then tells her, “I was in the car accident that you witnessed. And at one point, I left my body and rose above, watching the commotion.

“That’s when I saw, pouring out of one of the cars behind me, the most beautiful white light. That was your prayer. (I believe she said that the prayer called the angels to the scene. Whether she said it or not, I know that it did.)

“So I came here to tell you that your prayer reached me – it helped me – I saw it and I wanted to thank you”

“But how did you find me?”  the woman asked.

“I memorized your license plate while I was hovering above the scene,” the woman explained. “I forgot about it as I healed in the hospital. But after a while, I remembered.”

Given that incredible story, what can we do when we witness suffering, when our heart longs to reach out, to help?

We can reach out in the only way that we can from across the world – we can prayknowing that somehow, even though we don’t understand it, our prayers are heard and answered.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Cherry Woodburn

I’m glad, Amy, that my comment inspired you to write this post. It’s beautiful. love, Cherry



I found this fascinating from a different perspective. I live in Ghana, West Africa. It is hard to not go through a day in the city, without being approached by beggars or people asking for something. I don’t give money to beggars for many reasons (for many, including children, beg in traffic, and I am not going to condone an act that is likely to get them run over!). However, I am constantly struck by the feeling that there should be something I can give. This is a good start.



I feel this way myself when I walk in NYC and encounter homeless people. I want to help – and sometimes I do, handing someone a dollar or buying them a sandwich. When I was younger, I even volunteered, driving a food truck that delivered paper bag meals to homeless people behind Grand Central Station. But it never felt like ‘enough.’ I can’t help them all – and I can’t help even one of them enough to make a real difference. So I pray. I imagine the person finding his or her way to a better life; mostly I imagine them smiling, sitting in a place where they feel safe – talking to someone who makes them feel listened to.



Beautiful Amy. I often wonder how I can “help them all.” And one night I awoke from a dream that insisted that I help others see their own special talents, gifts and what I call Super Powers.

Because what I saw was totally like those old Joe Namath commercials — “tell two friends, and they tell two friends.” It really was that “simple.” let everyone find their strength and share it with the world and bit by bit the healing begins…with each of us playing our strength, instead of stretching too thin.

On another level your piece reminds me the power of prayer. Although I’ve long meditated, I stepped away from “prayer” around the time I stepped away from organized denominations. Yet I find that in my most fearful moments prayers that I memorized before I reached first grade come to me — usually a “Hail Mary” and I am comforted.

Now I’m consciously bringing prayer into my spiritual practice and I realize that as much as I want to know HOW it works, or even, as happened to Caroline Myss, PROOF that it works, I’m willing to suspend my skepticism and simply let it be.

Always, thank you.


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