So I’m waiting in the restaurant area of a Flying J trucker’s stop. The buzzing noise from the harsh fluorescent lighting competes with the sickly sweet ballads of love songs playing on the radio, the floor alternates sticky patches of spilled soda, brown slushy ice, and yellow “Slippery When Wet” signs to mark the areas that have been freshly mopped, while the smells of stale donuts, slowly roasting hot dogs, and burning french fries wrestle for dominance in my nostrils. This is not the most beautiful place I have sat, yet the presence of God is here.
There is a beauty in colors and murals painted on the wall, the lyrics to the sappy love songs contain glimpses of transcendence, and the veil of the mundane that shields the faces of the cashiers working behind the register slips, showing glimpses of their true nature as the beloved daughters and sons of the King who created them in his image and loves them. Beauty and glory are around, and gratitude and awe pour from my every pore.
I am so thankful for life – to be alive – to move, breathe, taste cool water on my lips, feel the soft warmth from my jacket, marvel at the chemical processes and electrical impulses that move my fingers on the keyboard, and seeing each and every moment as the precious gift that it is. I am so thankful that words just don’t seem enough.
The police officer who stopped on the side of the road and asked me what happened, shook his head, and told me I should buy a lottery ticket, because today was my lucky day. Two hours ago, I was driving from Grand Rapids back to Rockford – my car full of practically every possession I own on this earth as I completed the move from Philadelphia back to Northern Illinois (for those of you whom this portion of the story catches you by surprise, just roll with it – I’ll explain more about that transition next time).
As I came around the corner on the highway going about 70 miles an hour, my phone rang – my eyes darted to see who it was, and when I glanced back up I saw the car ahead of me slam on the brakes. I’m not sure what they were trying to avoid – I never saw it in any case. I was able to swerve and miss hitting them, but as I cleared their car my tires hit a patch of ice and the car started fishtailing. I was controlling the slide when the ice stopped, and my tires all of a sudden had traction again. Unfortunately, they were no long pointing down the west bound lanes, but were at about a 45 degree angle to the road. This managed to propel me across the lane of traffic to my left into the snow covered median, where I and my car were suddenly airborne and spinning.
I’m still not sure how many times we flipped as we bounced over the median: it could have only been once, or it could have been up to three or four. Regardless, I managed to roll my way across the median, landed the car right-side up, then slid across three lanes of oncoming (eastbound) traffic before lightly coming to a stop on the guardrail at the far side of the highway.
I got out, shaken but otherwise completely unhurt, pulled my car completely onto the shoulder (it still runs, even though it is completely missing the back windshield – lost somewhere in the flipping and bouncing), and was greeted by an off-duty police officer who called it in. Within a few minutes, I had three officers there who all expressed amazement that I was unscathed (from the aforementioned “lottery ticket” comment to another officer exclaiming that my car should be in a Honda commercial for protecting me that well and coming out of it still running.)
The rest of the story is strangely anticlimactic – tow trucks, figuring out the logistics of getting the car looked at and deciding if it’s drivable, Abby driving down from Grand Rapids (over an hour) to pick me up, along with her mom (which made me tear up with gratitude when I heard it), to sitting in truck stop writing this. My family is currently in Korea (except for Jon, who hasn’t picked up his phone yet), and the adrenaline is wearing off. And above all, I needed to get it down and process my gratitude once more. As he drove away, the police officer called me over and said, “Seriously, if I were you, I would buy a lottery ticket. You are one lucky man. I’m surprised that you’re still alive. I’ve seen people MUCH worse off from much less serious accidents. Count your blessings.”
So this is my attempt to stop and express my thanks. Thanks to God for protection. I am ok. Thanks to people for picking up and driving 90 minutes each way to be with me. Thanks, thanks, and more thanks. Gratitude overflows. Grace abounds. And if you’re reading this, you too are alive.
Know I’m thankful for each of you – the family, the friends, those whose lives have touched mine and who have been touched by me. So humbled. And so, so, so thankful.
A Post-Script – So I am under the impression that my car (Eustace) has been trying to kill me. On Monday night, en route from Philadelphia to Upland, I spun out on a slushy, snow-covered highway in Ohio going 50 and did at least one full rotation (it might have been two – I’m a little hazy and all I really remember is spinning) before stopping on the side of the road, facing the direction I was originally headed. A few days later, after clearing off almost an inch of ice frozen to the car, I was driving from Indiana up to Michigan when the last of the ice melted. My hood flew open as I pulled onto the highway from a rest stop, cracking the windshield, bending the hood in a few places, and generally scaring me half to death. I was able to pull off the highway, bend the hood back down, and keep driving the rest of the way. And then today, this happened. Seriously Eustace, what is your problem with me, and why is it that you’ve decided I should no longer be among the living? I think I may preemptively get rid of you in order to avoid any further attempts on my life…
A Post-Post-Script – I hesitate to admit this on a public forum such as the internet, but I will confess to you that as I walked, watched, and waited by the side of the road for the tow-truck to come, the song that kept running through my head was Amy Grant’s “Angels watching over me…” Check it out. It is amazing.