I need to write this all down while the details are still vivid in my memory.
And then I need to stop telling the story for a while. I’ve answered so many questions about it this weekend that I’m exhausted and I need to set my mind on other subjects. You’ll understand…
On Friday morning, just after 9 a.m., at the corner beside our house, Anne and I waited in the left-turn lane for the signal to change. It was sunny. Anne was driving. I had an enormous red mug full of Earl Grey tea. We were on our way to Edmonds, Washington, for our typical Friday-morning writing session with our friend Reece Carson.
Across the intersection, a salt-and-pepper-haired jogger waited on the corner. Anne remarked that the runner was remarkably muscular and fit for a woman of that age.
There were no other cars at that intersection, although traffic was approaching behind us.
The signal changed, the left-turn arrow came on.
We pulled into the intersection gradually.
A blur of motion to our left caught my attention. …
I turned and saw a Dodge Caravan rounding the corner and speeding up the hill toward the intersection. I had enough time to notice that the car was moving unusually fast for a car that was approaching a red light. I said to Anne, in a slowly dawning realization, “I don’t think he’s going to stop.”
I’ve never felt a sense of helplessness like I felt in that moment. It was surreal, as if gravity was suddenly going into reverse.
Anne turned to see him coming and flung up her arms in front of her face and cried out. I watched the front of the Caravan just keep coming and slam at about 35-40 mph directly into Anne’s door.
Anne’s head smashed the driver’s side window.
The air filled with noise, showers of shattered glass, and Earl Gray tea.
The car skidded sideways and stopped. The van veered off into a rock embankment in front of the house across the street from our house, where it thudded to a stop.
Anne turned to me, bleary eyed and stunned, disoriented, and said, “Jeff… my head hurts. My head hurts very bad.” Her hands were held up in front of her as if the steering wheel in front of her was white-hot. Her right hand was slashed up and bleeding and already swelling up.
I kicked open my door and saw that we were now surrounded by traffic. I started shouting, “Call for help!”
(Anne doesn’t remember anything from the impact to about this point in the story.)
The jogger was there. I think she was trying to talk to Anne. Anne said that her right eye was flickering; she was seeing strange colors. A woman from the car behind me ran up and gave me her card. “Call me,” she said. “Call me if you need anything.”
“He ran the red,” I said. “You saw him run the red?”
There was glass everywhere. All over us, sticking in our hair, glittering on our arms.
The sun shone in.
A couple of minutes later, sirens filled the air. A fireman rushed up to me and looked in the window. I recognized him. He used to work with me at Seattle Pacific University. “Hi!” he said in surprise. And then he started to ask us questions.
They put a brace around Anne’s head and neck. Unable to open her smashed door, they pried it open and drew her out onto a back board. I ran across the street to our house, realizing that I was — this seemed impossible — unscratched. I went inside to get Anne’s cell phone and the extra cell that I keep for rare occasions when I’m traveling to a conference. I started making calls to ask for prayer as I returned to the car: my coworkers, who prayed; some nearby friends.
I think there were seven emergency vehicles now blocking off the intersection. The policeman who spoke with me was very encouraging, confident, and helpful. So was Doug the fireman.
We learned that the red-light-runner does not have insurance, and that the van he was driving did not belong to him. His airbags had deployed; I think he emerged without major injuries, but I’m not sure. I never did meet him or exchange any words. We would soon pray together that he would recover without lasting injuries, and that the consequences of the wreck would not be too devastating for him.
As I climbed out of our 2007 Toyota Corolla for the last time — this was the car in which I had commuted to and from work for four years, and in which I had written large portions of The Auralia Thread while parked on a bluff over Richmond Beach, looking out at the glory of Puget Sound — I remember seeing my red coffee mug on the floor, a bunch of CDs from the library (Carolina Chocolate Drops’ Leaving Eden, the Chimes of Freedom Bob Dylan tribute, the soundtrack for Anchorman), my sunglasses, my favorite water bottle, and a police radio.
I climbed into the front of the ambulance as they secured Anne in the back of it. They took us to Northwest Hospital.
To make a long story short, they removed glass from Anne’s hand, gave her a tetanus shot and a whooping cough vaccination, and then sewed up her hand with eleven stitches. They took her in for x-rays, and much to our amazement, they found no broken bones.
The friendly policeman reappeared, looking a little embarrassed. “Did you happen to notice if I left my radio in your car?” (As a matter of fact, yes, I said. I did see that as I climbed out.) And so he left for the tow yard in search of his radio.
As I talked with Anne and watched them cleaning her up, I posted a Facebook appeal for prayer. Within a few hours, we had over a hundred assurances that people were praying.
Two hours and dozens of phone calls later, they dismissed us from the hospital.
We are going to be okay. Anne’s head has big bruises and lumps, and she is still occasionally dizzy. She has a wound on her left temple, and her right hand — which I have now seen outside of its bandage — looks like something from a horror movie. She won’t be using garden shears or typing for a long time. We’re both very sore and moving around like we’re suddenly 50 years older. I trust that will pass.
We’ve spent most of our time since then on the couch in our living room, overwhelmed with gratitude, telling the story of God’s protection to many others.
And I’ve spent a lot of time looking at Anne’s face. She is so beautiful. It seems a miracle that we can sit on the couch together, recognize each other, move around the house, enjoy coffee and meals made by the host of friends who have shown up with gifts and shows of affection and care. Our landlords, Vivian and Tommy, have been amazing; they showed up with several grocery bags full of healthy foods and gifts to help Anne get more comfortable during these days of recovery. Marge Manwaring showed up with hot coffee from Zoka. Julie Mullins gave us hugs and chocolate. Cow Shea offered us a car for the time that we’re looking for a replacement for the Corolla. Our pastor Michael Kelly called us while visiting St. Louis. I could go on and on and on.
Because the grace of God goes on and on. I might not have had the chance to sit here and tell you this story. I might have been telling you a very different story, a harder story to tell. I might not have been able to tell you about it at all.
Who can understand why God allowed us to emerge alive, when so many others do not emerge from similar events? Who can understand what is waiting for us today, even if we are following all traffic laws, even if we proceed with caution?
It is difficult to return to simple things like feeding the cats, sorting the mail, deciding which frivolous television show we will watch to set our minds on something easy, something that will give our brains a rest. It is even more difficult to think about the fact that I have a movie review due tomorrow — how will I muster the energy to concentrate on an assignment like that?
But I am grateful for the chance to do these things.
And even if things had turned out differently… even if I had not emerged from that car… I would have no reason to express anything but gratitude to have been blessed with this life, to have known so many of you, to have discussed so many wonders with you, to have shared stories with you, to have sensed God’s love shining through so much beauty, so many acts of kindness, so many works of art, so many embraces.
Love each other today. The company you keep is a gift that you, like me, are likely to take for granted. And proceed with caution. Don’t hurry. It’s a beautiful day.