When I was a little girl, my great-grandmother lived next door. During thunderstorms when we'd lose power, she would come over with her sister, my great-Aunt Carly, and we’d sing songs…..quietly…it was forbidden to sing or even talk loudly during a thunderstorm. So, we’d sit around in the dark with candles and sing this old song. “Til The Storm Passes Over, til the thunder sounds no more, til the clouds roll forever from the sky. Hold me fast, let me stand, in the hollow of Thy hand. Keep me safe..til the storm passes by.”
Nothing bad has ever happened to me in the rain. Until...
It was a typical Saturday afternoon in June. I'd been to visit my son and his fiancee and had planned to stop at the cemetery on the way home to visit my dad. There was something very strange about the clouds on this day. And the wind. A dark and ominous blue they were..so low to the ground...my car wanted to wobble in the wind as I watched branches above me sway with sudden gusts and finger-like spiraling wispy clouds teasing me from above. Tornadoes? Today? Actually, I thought, I should pull over. It was that scary looking. My mind went over all the safety rules for driving in a storm including scoping out the banks to the left and right for ditches to hide in just in case I needed one. Lights on. Pay attention. Very strange weather indeed. One minute it looked like it might pour and then complete calm. I nixed the graveyard visit - Daddy would have agreed - and decided to try and make it home.
It was a bad decision.
I passed an intersection and rounded a curve just as sheets of water and wind fell from the sky - seemingly out of nowhere. Finding wipers, finding wipers......I couldn't see for a few seconds and then the back and forth sway of the wiper blades revealed straight ahead, within spitting distance, a pool of standing water in the left lane where the pavement was broken. There was no time to change lanes.
Before I could say help the car hydroplaned and I lost control. I was blindly spinning in the rain. Steering was not possible. The car had a mind of its own. Sliding and making circles across the right lane and then back again across two lanes. Where are the other cars? I had no clue which direction I was going. Up was down, right was left and the awful inertia tossed me like a rag doll. I felt myself in the air, tumbling, and then unstable grass underneath instead of pavement. I heard metal noises. Bending noises. Newton's Law of Motion says that an object will continue moving at its current velocity until some force causes its speed or direction to change.
I was about to test Newton's theory.
I knew that when that car finally stopped I would be dead. It was going too fast. I closed my eyes and let go, waiting for the impact. "I am going to die. It's going to be a horrible death. God help me. Please don't let me suffer," I said, with no particular drama at all . It felt like a slow motion nightmare without the screaming. Acceptance. Total certainty that when the car found a crashing point I would be dead. I knew.
My life didn't replay in front of me as I've always heard. No walk down memory lane. No emotional regrets or bargains with the Almighty. There was just a sadness that this was the way my life was going to end. No time left. One slip of a wheel in a rainstorm meant all my unfulfilled dreams and plans were over. Just like that. No time to finish my life’s work. And I, in complete mortal fashion sans any royal dignity whatsoever was worried most of all, in those minutes inside my renegade car, about feeling physical pain. That is the truth. I wanted to be anywhere but awake. Fear? More like frozen terror. A few more moments on Earth.
So suddenly thrown from birth’s door in a flash
Of lightning and thunder, wild winds and a crash
What does one think in the face of their death…
“It couldn’t be time, not my time, not yet”
Slam. Metal. Noise. A jolt. My head was hurting. Sideways in the air on two tires.
I hit a bank. Maybe even a tree. Thud..another bounce in the air. I couldn't look.
The worst impact was over.
To my utter surprise the car didn't stop and I was not dead.
But it was not over. Instead of riding on tilt-a-whirl wheels through wet sloping grass, I suddenly realized I was going straight. On the ground. Forward. The car would.not.stop. Something made me open my eyes. Straight was good, my friends, but headed straight back into traffic was not. Somehow that car had to stop. Either I found the brakes or an angel found the brakes. Maybe it was daddy’s big shoe on the top of my foot pressing down as he did many years ago when I was about to hit that pine tree.
I would like to forget - and soon - the fear I felt inside my own personal plane car, for in my dreams I'm still strapped in the seat as it spins and spins out of control.....but there is one thing I do not ever want to forget: the feeling of gratitude and joy when the car finally stopped.
Upright. On four wheels. Windshield intact. Still in my seat belt. Hurt. Hysterical. Enter screaming. Shaking. In shock. Babbling. Praying. Thanking God. Exhilarated to be alive.
Have you ever had church in a car?
Well I did.
One little finger......two little fingers.....three little fingers....four...oh don't mind me. I'm just counting my fingers. And toes. And arms. Even my freckles. Like a newborn.
A man came to my window with a dripping umbrella and a fearful look. He said he’d seen my car fall from the air. "You must have flipped over." He couldn’t believe he was talking to me. Neither could I, nor could I believe I hadn't hit another car and killed someone else. Oh, the horrors. I remember firemen and backboards, rain on my clothes, CT scans, phone calls, mind-numbing drugs, hugging my son, and a man known only as Jose in the emergency room who stopped to put his hand on my arm when I couldn‘t calm down. I could see him mumbling prayers by my side. Thank you, Sir, whoever you are.
Every inch of my body was in pain right down to every toe. I could barely move my arms and it was excruciating to lift my legs. Things were twisted and out of place. And oh, my aching head. But I was so glad to be alive I didn't care what was wrong with me or what had happened to my car. None of that mattered.
I have a feeling a lot of things aren’t going to matter anymore.
Because my head hit the ceiling so many times they were concerned about a neck compression fracture. All clear. No broken bones. No life-threatening injuries. Minor head injury. Bruised ribs. Muscle injuries. Cuts and internal bruises. It will take some time to feel normal again. I will need to take things day by day.
I kept repeating “I can’t believe I’m not dead. I can’t believe I’m not dead. I can't believe I'm not dead." And honestly, as ridiculous as it seems, I think I was afraid to stop talking, afraid to close my eyes and let go for fear I wouldn’t wake up. I didn’t want to start spinning again. By that time I'm sure I was even driving Jose crazy.
The storm passed over and I was safe. In addition to the singing of rainstorm songs, my great-grandmother left another lasting impression on me. It was in the form of this painting which hung on the wall of her tiny house all her life. I must have looked at it a thousand times. It gave me comfort as a child.
She never talked to me about guardian angels but I could see them.
Not really see them. But I knew that she believed. I could see them in her eyes. When I grew up and became a mother myself, I understood why she needed to believe in angels.
It was said by one and then another after the fact that it appeared I'd driven the car to a safe landing. "It looks like you drove that car to a stop, Mimi, all the way through the wreck. Like someone who knew how to drive."
Really? I couldn't see a thing. I had my eyes closed until the very end. Somebody drove it alright...but it wasn't me.