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.