Sunday, April 26, 2009

Meant To Be

I'm borrowing this story. Read on and you'll see why.

The setting was the rural deep south, a car winding along a dark road in the hollows of the Appalachian foothills. The driver was a young woman, Sarah, taking her relatives home after a trip to church. Her passengers were Eva, we'll call her, and Eva's son Charlie.

Eva was a widow. She'd been married to Irvine for 60 years when he passed quietly, the way he had lived. She was elderly, her health fading. This was cause for concern. And that concern would be Charlie.

Charlie, himself an old man then, had been born with disabilities. These were people who handled their own problems, for better or worse. Charlie had always lived at home, worked with his father on the farm. They were salt of the earth, sharecroppers. He went to school some, but mainly stayed close to home. People told Eva and Irvine to send him away. They refused. They taught him what they could, how to get by, with their help. Took him to church every time the doors opened. Still, he was dependent.

Now, with Irvine gone, and Eva fading more each day, relatives were increasingly worried. Proud people, working hard at their own jobs and raising families themselves, just getting by, they didn't know what they would do when, well, the worst happened. Charlie was an only child. Eva and Irvine had no siblings left. The family was small and resources were limited. Family members were doing all they could to help.

But Charlie had been nearly inconsolable when Irvine passed. He wouldn't make it when Eva died. It was all too much to even consider.

Sarah had taken Charlie and Eva to a church singing that evening. They were winding home along the hollows. Eva loved singings. Irvine used to take her, driving for miles in the ramshackle pickup. Sarah was happy to help, when she could. She loved the singings too.

The night was unseasonably chilly, but Sarah wasn't worried. She'd grown up in those gentle hills. Although she was not driving her usual route, still, this was her home turf. She had wanted to get them all home earlier, it's true, but her aunt had been in such a good mood, lingering to talk to some of the gospel singers, some in the audience too. People she'd not seen in a while, since Irvine's death two years before sent her into a sad slump.

Eva was happy tonight. So, because of that, Charlie was too. They left the church on a high note.

So they drove, listening to Eva hum old hymns, the car headlights fashioning a path of warm gold for them just ahead through the mists cascading heavily now over the night-blackened hills.

It happened in a blink of an eye.

Sarah didn't understand. They had been moving and now they were stone still. The rush of the wind outside the car was replaced by silence. And then a moan. Eva. She was calling Charlie's name.

Finally the horror surfaced, pulverizing the merciful numbing shock. The car was tilted, almost at a 90-degree angle. It had left the road somehow. They were alive, but hurt. At night, in the cold, in the middle of nowhere, in the days before cell phone nation.

Sarah felt hysteria rise in her throat, frantically fighting the urge scream. Was that gasoline she smelled? Could she get out of her seatbelt and get to Charlie in the back? He wasn't moving, speaking. Eva was still, too, but whimpering.

Suddenly, Charlie started to stir. Then twist and pull, trying to get out of his seatbelt. The car was pushed in and mangled, Sarah sensed any further movement could make the situation worse. She was panicking, yelling now, begging him to calm down. God help us, she cried us, over and over. God please help us.

And then it happened. Sarah heard a voice. Someone else was in the car. The soft, gentle, masculine voice of a man they all three had known and loved all their lives.

It was Irvine. He was in the car, with them.

The fear, shock and pain went away, replaced by calm and relief. The four sat throughout the long, cold night, waiting for the first rays of sun to break through the mountain tops and dense trees.

And finally another car came over the hill and around the curve where the black ice had melted. The ice that earlier had formed in silent treachery over the road surface, sending Sarah's vehicle careening off the blacktop, flipping several times before coming to rest against a tree. On the passenger side, where Eva had been sitting in the front seat. And Charlie behind her.

Rescue workers were summoned. Sarah was hospitalized briefly for observation, with minor injuries only. Eva and Charlie were gone by the time the sun came up. Their injuries were profound, doctors said a quick rescue response would not have saved them. And of course, no one else was found in the car.

At the funeral, Sarah was quiet, sad, but at peace. She had been assured there was nothing she could have done to prevent the accident and what followed. She had cared for her dearly loved aunt as best she could for years. It took several years for her to relay the story of the night in the car to the man who told it to me.

True to her character, Sarah was not effusive or emotional in her description of what followed the accident, the hours in the car.

She said she was beginning to panic and was praying out loud when she heard Irvine's voice. He actually spoke very little, which had always been his way. He talked to them quietly, about simple things, the things that mattered, the life they had spent together, their love for each other.

Irvine had come to comfort his family through the last hours of their life in a car that wrecked on a dark cold night. And then, as though it had always been meant to be, he took them home.

A man who had always claimed he was an atheist told this story to me. But with tears in his eyes and his voice breaking, he admitted he believed every word of it, despite the supernatural elements. Partly because he knew the principals, good country people not prone to fibbing or hyperbole. But mainly because, in the narrative that defied scientific rationalization, he recognized the clear, high struck sound of truth.

1 comment:

  1. I do believe...I do believe. What an act of comfort for Sarah and then the loss. Not all spirit visits need be spooky as some are like angels coming to aid those in need....if I had been in that situation I would have felt much better with what happened than imagining the long night of waiting till help arrived wondering when and if help would come.