Blessed Fragility

November 15, 2010

It’s always good to find new things to be grateful for. Today, the thing I’m most grateful for is that Ana is here with me in Massachusetts for a few days … and that she is alive.

I should explain.

We’ve been living down in Florida for months, helping take of her mom, Sylvia. I have a December 1 deadline to finish the manuscript for a book, and it wasn’t getting written down there — so Ana banished me to The Tower (being our home in Massachusetts) for a few weeks so I could focus on the book.

So I’ve been here all November, writing.

Yesterday, the plan was, she would fly up and visit for a few days. (Even The Tower allows conjugal visits.)

So it was that yesterday morning found my wife, in her mom’s Dodge minivan, driving along rural Route 301 south of Zephyrhills, en route to the airport. She putted along at about 60 mph, with some guy in a revved-up Camaro behind her, tailgating ferociously, as is the obnoxiously common custom on that stretch of road.

At about 7:51 a.m., Ana suddenly noticed a few deer headed toward the highway. She decelerated.

And Camaro Guy, completely oblivious, slammed into her at 60 mph.

Which totaled the rear portion of the minivan — and also shot Ana like a bullet out of a high-speed minivan rifle, spinning across the highway into the opposing lane …

And into the path of an oncoming tractor-trailer truck.

Unlike Camaro Guy, the driver of the truck was paying attention.

Remember that thing about “things to be grateful for”? It starts here.

Good thing the truck driver was alert, because if he weren’t, he would have broadsided Ana and the minivan with his semi. And I would be writing a very different blog post.

But alert he was. In fact, he had already been slowing for the same deer. As a result the semi wasn’t where it would have been had he still been plowing along at full speed, and consequently Ana missed him by about ten feet as she careened across the highway and clear off the shoulder on the other side, where she flew between two very big trees and smashed head-on into a third, smaller tree.

Perhaps the freakiest thing about this whole sequence of events, at least for me, was that I heard it all.

We were on the phone when it happened. Her bluetooth was knocked to the minivan floor upon impact, but I heard it all — the cry of “Deer!” and the crash, the squealing metal, the kablam, and the silence that followed.

The woman several cars behind Ana pulled over, jumped out of her car and rushed to the scene as Ana staggered out of the smashed wreckage of minivan. “Ohmigod, are you all right?!” she said. And, so help me, you know what Ana’s first words were? I kid you not:

“I have to get to the airport.”

The woman who stopped turned out to be a nurse named Susan, who was just getting off her shift. Susan stayed around for an hour while tow trucks and paramedics came, gave her eyewitness report to the sheriff, then bundled Ana into her car and drove her, no, not to the Emergency Room, but to, of course, the airport.

Evidently, my wife is one hard person to stop. When she has a plan, she’s getting there. And she did, in fact, get to the airport, and boarded the 10:30 Southwest Airlines flight to New England, right on schedule.

She was mighty sore, and badly shaken up, but pretty much okay … and is now here with me.

The driver of the tractor-trailer truck, when he saw Ana walking around, came up to her and said, “Little lady, you got angels on your shoulder today.” With him, I have no argument.

The miracle, in a way, is not simply that Ana survived unscathed, but that we survive every day. We are such fragile creatures; such an unlikely blessing it is that the elements cradle us so considerately. We go on, day after day, breathing in and out the gasses of the atmosphere, pumping blood at roughly 98.6, hugged to the earth’s crust by gravity rather than flown off by centrifugal force, and are not struck by comets, meteors, or tractor-trailer trucks.

Lao Tzu pointed out that the greatest leader is the one who, “when he governs, the people are barely aware that he exists.”

When his work is done, the people say, “Amazing — look, we did it all by ourselves!”

I think the Taomeister had it right. (Do we really think it’s by our own cleverness that we get through each day?)

A friend of ours, John Ineson (who is an Episcopal priest), wrote this when I told him what happened:

I’ve always gotten a kick of the designation, “Life on the edge!” As in, “Man, he/she really lives life on the edge!” or, “For once I realized I was on the edge of something important.”

Listen, all of life is on the edge. On the edge of a new moment, on the edge of failure, on the edge of success, on the edge of living, on the edge of dying, on the edge of breezing along Rte 60, on the edge of tragic accident. There really isn’t any other place to be.

Even in the face of the deep truth of the Buddhist understanding of pure contingency, it’s comforting to at least get the feeling that there’s a plan (even one with someone overseeing it).

Deep gratitude that, whether by pure contingency or plan, Ana’s in one piece.

My deeply theological advice as an experienced spiritual director is: take it easy!

P.T.L., Deo Gratia, Halleluiah, jeez that was close—and love to you both.



  1. Robin

    John, I am grateful that both Ana and you (after all, being that you heard it all I can only imagine what you must have been going through as well and not being able to get to Ana must have been agonizing) are well; safe and sound; together . . .

    It is said there are no accidents . . . what you’ve written above proves that. If the truck driver had not been paying attention or if the nurse hadn’t been a witness to the accident; well, I don’t even want to think about the possibilities.

    You are together and Ana is unhurt; THAT is what is important, as well as living our days in faith and gratitude for those we hold dear; including ourselves . . .

    Blessings to you and Ana, John . . .

  2. Josephine Gross

    “Wow” is all I can say. We are surrounded by miracles every day and we aren’t even aware of most of them. In quantum physical terms, 96% of the forces at play in the universe are beyond our sensory perception, and that’s probably great news. We are protected, guided and infinitely loved by our Source. It’s good to be reminded of the truth. Celebrate and rejoice! Warmest wishes to you both, J

  3. Gilles Arbour

    Glad to read she is OK. Glad to know you are both OK! Guylaine is leaving in few minutes to drive to a friend’s house. I’ll go tell her how much I absolutely love her. Right now.

    Have a glorious day!


    • jdmann

      What a wonderful response — and what an excellent idea! And when she returns, please relay my love and fond regards. It’s been many years, but at least in that dimension, time doesn’t really exist.

  4. Bob Burg

    I’m reading this and both stunned and grateful. Even more grateful than stunned. And, I’m very stunned. Baruch Hashem (Thank G-d) she is okay. And, I agree both that she had angels watching over her and that she is one very hard person to stop.

    Thank G-d!


  5. Cindy Tysinger

    I know that we all are surrounded by angels and I am forever grateful that Ana was in their loving arms that day. She is an amazing woman whom I admire and I know she must have been feeling all she needed was to get to you for comfort and security. Knowing that you would blanket her with your undying love. You both are two incredible people who I am blessed to call friends. Please give Ana my love.

    Blessings to you both,

  6. Amy Wells

    PTL for Anas safe return to you. As I read, I asked “What had Gods deer prevented from happening down that road? Had Camero boys life been spared from a larger accident? Was the trucker slowing down for Anas life or his own?” I like what your friend wrote about the “edge.” Do we really see all that God protects us from?

  7. Dondi Scumaci


    This one took my breath. Grateful to know Ana is safe. I have no doubt that God himself reached into that moment and I am so glad He did. Thank you for sharing this extraordinary story.


  8. Michelle @ Following Your Joy

    Wow, John – I was riveted as I read this precious account of Ana’s experience. And I kept thinking that nothing (no, nothing) is going to keep Ana from you. All my love to you two as you cherish this time of blessed Thanksgiving. Peace.

    • jdmann

      Hello, my dear Michelle — You are so right: nothing, not fire, flood, or famine!

  9. Dr. Mollie Marti

    Sharing in your gratitude for Ana to be here with you.

    Your writing about the every day miracle of living took my breath away. Life is so very fragile and precious. Thanks for helping us savor it even more.


  10. Adrian


    Thanks for sharing this amazing story. Ana–“Wow, and I say again, Wow!” (with a shake of the head ala your father-in-law) is about all I can manage!

    How true are John Ineson’s observations–and how much more relevant to us with each passing day. How many miracles contained in each earth-turn, many gone unnoticed. Perhaps that’s why we’ll need an eternity to finally notice them all! God bless you both and enjoy this Christmas present that didn’t need wrapping!

  11. jdmann

    Thanks, all! (Hey Adrian ~ cool to see you here on my blog!) To answer inquiries we’ve received:

    A month later, Ana is fine — still shook up, and dealing with some neck/spine stuff, but all in all good and in one piece.

    The van is totalled. Would not even make an effective doorstop.

    And no — no deer were hurt in the making of this blog post (or its topic)!

  12. Art Jonak


    Wow. Back-logged on my email, got to your New Years Eve newsletter… and THIS!

    I can’t imagine listening to the entire incident over the phone. It’s like a scene from a movie, but movies for the most part aren’t real. Simply.. amazing. So glad to hear Ana is doing well. Angels, truly.


    Art Jonak



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