The leaves are falling, falling as if from far up, as if orchards were dying high in space. Each leaf falls as if it were motioning “no”. And tonight the heavy earth is falling away from all the other stars in the loneliness. – Rainer Maria Rilke
When the truck hit the guardrail, I put my arms up in front of my face, and scenes from a movie I’d seen a long time ago flashed before my eyes. In the movie the man is in the backseat, and he is holding a necklace that he has purchased for his beloved. In the next moment the car skids off the road, and hurdles down a steep slope. He is killed and his sweetheart never gets the necklace… I felt incredulous that this now seemed to be my fate as well.
It was a year after my husband died, and I was on a camping trip by myself with the dogs. The seven year old Jack Russell was my healing dog, and the 10 month old Heeler mix was my motivator. She needed a lot of attention and exercise, and got me out walking and out of myself a bit. For the first six months my daughter came to stay with me, and she mostly took care of the dogs; I didn’t really have the presence that is called for when raising a puppy. She’d packed up her life in two days, left her job, moved her things into storage, filled two duffel bags, and traveled halfway across the world to be with me. I was very grateful to her, although I was too broken to always show it. By the time of my camping trip she had returned to her own life, and it was just me and the dogs.
I’d asked for two months off from work to try to put my life back together, and in the previous weeks hope had begun to stir that I would somehow survive the ordeal. The first three years my husband and I were married we traveled around the country, and the Airstream was our home. I know it sounds like a movie, but it was our life, and it was the happiest of times. We were very present in everything we did, and it added a dimension of connectedness – to each other, to life, to God – that neither one of us had experienced before. Being present in each moment made life truly magical, and those first few years stand out in a special light in my memory, so when a friend, who knew what loss and grief was, encouraged me to do something special for the anniversary of my husband’s passing, I decided to take the truck and trailer on the road again. It was to be my tribute to my husband and our life together. And it felt like if I could do that by myself, then I could live.
The trailer had been sitting for three years, but I had checked everything, had purchased new tires for it, found the sway bars, the extension mirrors, the backing-up help my husband had engineered, and for the anniversary of his death I was parked on the top of a mountain pass with a glorious view. It was a place I had always wanted to stay, and there I was. It wasn’t far from home, but it still felt like an accomplishment to have managed the trip by myself. My husband was traveling with me; his picture and a small portion of his ashes were along for the ride, and I had all his letters and the journals I had filled in our years together.
Despite proper wintering the trailer had a leak in the water system, so I had to take it to the closest place that serviced Airstreams, which was 2 1/2 hours away in Colorado Springs. Although I had limited experience in driving the rig by myself, I wasn’t really afraid of taking it on the road, but I did have some concerns about driving it in city traffic. A 20 foot truck and a 30 foot trailer was quite a bit for me to maneuver around a city, but all went well, and after two trips downtown to the service company, the water system was finally fixed, and I could start enjoying my time camping.
It was August, and rather warm during the days, with frequent thunderstorms in the afternoons. I was up early in the mornings, having coffee at the small, foldable wooden table my husband had made, the dogs were on long tethered lines, and together we watched the sun come up, just like my husband and I used to do. Then I read and journaled for a while, had breakfast, took the dogs for a walk, and I tried to be present in what was now life without My Love. I slept a lot. It gave my overloaded system a chance to rest for a while. Trips to the grocery store were tiring, and I put them off as long as possible, and I didn’t really feel like meeting anyone or doing anything. Sometimes I would feel numb, and I would watch movies like “Finding Neverland” or “What Dreams May Come” to connect to my feelings again. Losing my husband felt like an amputation, and sometimes the pain of it all was overwhelming, while at other times it went into hiding, and left me feeling empty and unable to relate to anything. Listening to music or watching movies that stirred the heart was my way of trying to get back to a feeling place. There wasn’t a pill or a drug that could help me get out of the pain, so temporarily turning everything off was my way of getting a reprieve.
I am not Catholic, but in my time on the road I had bought a beautiful rosary of red aventurine and silver, and on the day of the accident I was wearing it. It was as if a part of me knew what was coming, but like an automaton I continued toward my fate. It was a very windy day, and I had no business being on the road, but I had been back home for a wedding, and was now headed south to a place my husband and I had visited many times. I chose my destinations so that they were familiar, and I would know how to drive to them. I didn’t have a GPS, and traveling alone with a big rig it was helpful to know the route and know which lane on the interstate I was supposed to be in.
This particular section of I-25 was known for gusty winds, and I had felt the wind shift the trailer a few times, but the warnings didn’t register as they should have, and in a mountain pass north of Santa Fe a wind gust caught the trailer, it started fish tailing, and I couldn’t straighten it out… I had time to think a lot in those moments before I hit the guardrail head on, and I couldn’t believe I was going to crash. The last thing I remember is that the trailer was jackknifed on my left, and was pushing the truck into the guard rail separating the road from the embankment below.
When I came to, I was hanging in the seat belt, and the Lion King CD was still playing “It’s Time”. The truck was on its side, and there was no sign of the trailer. I moved my fingers and toes, and checked for any broken bones before releasing the seat belt. Everything was crystal clear, yet I wasn’t quite with it. The dog kennels on the back seat had somehow switched places, and the dogs were looking at me, but were totally quiet. I thought I smelled gasoline, and for a moment a slight feeling of panic arose in me. The front windshield was shattered, but still in place, the driver’s side door was blocked, and I would have to find a way to exit by opening the passenger side door above my head. I didn’t have the strength to push open the door, but help arrived, and I was hoisted out of the wreck. I’d lost my glasses, but even without them I could see the big Tibetan singing bowl friends had given me in memory of my husband; it was sitting in the middle of the interstate, and I could see clothes and letters strewn all over the landscape. I still didn’t see the trailer, and oddly enough didn’t even look for it. A passerby was an EMT and she checked me out, somebody lent me their phone – mine had flown out somewhere in the periphery – so I could call the insurance company, and an ambulance appeared to take me to the ER. Kind, young people took care of the dogs, and so I was whisked off to the nearest hospital. Somebody had brought me the singing bowl, a photo of my husband, and a handful of his letters that they’d picked up, and the case with my spare glasses was found, and so the world appeared a little clearer.
Even now it pains me to admit that I wasn’t happy to be alive… I have two children and although they are adults they still need me, and it feels rather bad to admit I wasn’t happy to have survived. However, at the time there wasn’t anything in me to reach for life… It was as if I had flatlined with my husband the year before. But – at least I had sense enough to be grateful that I didn’t have injuries that would have left me ruined for the rest of my physical existence. The first responders and the officers that talked to me in the ER were all amazed that I was unscathed. There wasn’t even a tear in my clothes or blood on my white pants. It was as if somebody had lifted me out of the truck for the time of the crash, and then put me back when it was all over. I have no memory of the accident after I hit the guard rail, yet I had no injuries that would have explained the blackout. And the only thing intact on the truck was the cabin where the dogs and I were…
In the ER I knew I would need to find a way to live again – exit had been denied. If I had been meant to leave, I would have left in that accident. The trailer had – fortunately – tore itself loose, so when it vaulted down the embankment the truck stayed on the road. Both vehicles were totaled, and the Airstream was flaked open like a sardine can, and looked like the onion blossoms you can order for appetizers at restaurants.
Today, as I think back, I am grateful beyond words that God spared me that day. And not only did He spare me, but in the days and years to come He gave me numerous signs of His presence in my life. A friend and I stopped on the accident site on the way home from the ER, and one of the first things I found lying on the ground was a purple pillow case my goddaughter had painted a Santa on for Christmas one year, and on the other side her mother had spelled out: “Good night, Monica. Sleep tight. God is with you everywhere.” And the next thing was my red, leather-bound Bible in my native Swedish that I had received in Sunday school back in the 60’s; it was unharmed! And when the young people came to deliver the dogs, they asked if they could pray for me, and they all in turn said a prayer. Their minister had told them to look for miracles in everyday life, and I was their real live miracle! Who could ignore so many signs of Divine intervention? And the signs didn’t end there, but that is another story.
If you are alone this Holiday Season, take heart. Whatever you perceive God or the Divine to be, whatever you call this Force that imbues all life, you can lean on it, you can trust it. I see the Divine as living inside me, and inside you, and its still small voice is always there to guide us. If you are hurting, grieving or in pain, listen for that voice. Allow it to guide you, to console you, to ease your heartache. Take one day, one step, one breath at a time. Walk with your pain, let it do its healing work, and ask for help! Ask, even if the only thing you can muster is a faint “Help me!” in your heart.
You are not alone.
In this Season of Thanksgiving, I am so grateful to be alive. I am so very thankful for my children, for my parents, for family and friends. I am grateful for my home, the unconditional affection of the dogs, and all the small and big ways I see God’s hand in my life. I am also grateful for the years with my husband, and for the pain that followed when he died. At the time it was difficult to imagine what life would be like in the years ahead, but the blessing that emerged from it all was a growing Trust. For the first time I can now say that I am grateful for life itself, for the fact that I am alive, and there is a small, babbling brook of joy moving through me that wasn’t there before. If you are grieving, be encouraged. That brook of healing, joy and love will find its way also into your life.
“Prepare to be amazed”, Sonny says in the movie “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”. “This is that very building. I have only offered a vision of the future.” 😉
“It’s Time” – Song by Lebo M. from the CD “Rhythm of the Pride Lands”