Several years ago, I was in a car accident. I have no memory of leaving the scene—I just remember sitting in my kitchen with a gash in my head and then being driven to the hospital. I couldn't explain where I'd been or how I'd gotten home. Later I learned that head injuries often send your body into protective mode. I had slipped into autopilot. But my injury was the least of my problems.

After I told the police I wasn't certain about the location of the accident, the D.A. spent six weeks deciding if he could prove that I'd meant to flee the scene and would charge me with a felony. All that time, I wandered around feeling sick to my stomach, asking myself, Why is this happening? In the end, I was charged with a misdemeanor, fined, and sentenced to probation and community service.

The charity I chose to serve was Jenesse Center, a shelter in downtown Los Angeles for domestic violence survivors and their children. I felt drawn to the organization because my mother had been a battered wife and because downtown L.A. is a primarily black community. On my first visit to the center—from the moment I walked in—I felt an overwhelming sense of warmth. But even though the place was homey, it could have used a few bucks. Even though the women were wonderful, they could have used someone to talk to. And as I was driving home, I realized that my question had been answered. This wasn't about my doing my time and getting out. These people needed me, and I needed them.

I know what it's like to crave human comfort like your body craves air, to crave it so badly that you'd sacrifice your dignity to get it. In my own struggle to find love, I was lucky to have a mother looking out for me, and a fifth-grade teacher who really cared. Now I understand why they were so happy to see me flourish. And each time I see a woman at Jenesse find the courage to file for divorce, or gain the confidence that comes with landing a job, I feel joy.

I no longer scramble blindly through hardship. I no longer emerge from a bad time feeling relieved just to have survived. Instead of despairing, I try to find the lesson within the experience. Nothing will ever be as frightening as those six weeks after the accident, because I now know that even in the worst times, the universe is leading us toward a higher good.


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