We all have events in our life that change us. Change our surroundings. Change our level of responsibility. Change our commitments. They might include graduations, new jobs, marriage, birth of a child, divorce, etc. The longer I live though, the more I realize it is the not so obvious events that define us. They not only change us, they truly alter our thought process.
Sarah's arrival certainly was a life changing moment. Yet, it was the conversation the next morning, when the doctor suggested she had Down syndrome, that altered our thought process. We had two choices, to accept and love her as our daughter, or not. Her open heart surgery at six months of age, was life changing, yet it was the conversation four days later that defined us. When the doctor came in to inform us that her body was not recovering like it should, we had two choices, to turn off the life support or let her fight for recovery. Fortunately, a tiny little quilt that I stitched while sitting in the parent's lounge, helped us make that decision.
Looking back on my years of living thus far, I am more acutely aware that I have been given defining moments at exactly the time I needed them. They seem to be perfectly orchestrated down to the most incredible minutiae.
My husband and I were just having a conversation this week about a wedding we attended in Atlanta, Georgia. We are still years later dumbfounded that we both boarded the same plane, drove a rental car together on highways we had no knowledge of, and left our children in the care of my aging parents. There was a possibility, although some would argue slight, that we would never return. We very rarely do that. Yet, a conversation occurred that Saturday night, that changed both of us. Forever. It was life defining.
On February 10, 2008, at 7:24 p.m. I received a phone call that no parent ever wants to hear. My then, twenty year old son, dialed my cell phone to scream out that he had just been hit by a semi-truck. Then the connection went dead. My body shook and my heart raced at a level it had never reached before.
What happened next, was as life defining as I think possible. A woman who identified herself as Diane began to speak into my ear. She described the scene for me. They were at mile marker 165. My son's car had been hit by a very large truck, likely traveling at a high rate of speed. It was bad. Very bad. His car was mangled. His body was surrounded by broken glass. He appeared to be unconscious. Yet she assured me he was going to be ok. Her voice was soothing. It was so calm and therefore I became calm. She told me what hospital he would be taken to. Her last words to me were this, "I see the ambulance coming, I must go now."
I hung onto her angelic voice the nearly two hours it took me to reach the hospital. The roads were treacherous as a winter storm was blowing in, yet I was not afraid repeating her words over and over again. When I walked into the emergency room I felt confident that I would see my son, alive.
The bed number they had given me, however, was empty. It was then I felt the panic return. Moments later I saw him walking down the corridor, dressed in a hospital gown much too large, with only his socks on his feet. My initial thought was he looked half man, half little boy. But, he was walking! We hugged like I had not seen him in years. He buried his head on my shoulder and whispered in my ear that he had been so scared. He recalled that he saw the truck's lights coming straight at him, yet he could not get the car to move. He told me he thought to himself, "I can't die now, Sarah still needs me."
A defining moment for sure. For him. And for me.
Shortly after, the doctor came in to share with me their disbelief that nothing appeared damaged or broken. They had prepared for the worst when then got word a car had been struck on the highway by a truck traveling at high rates of speed. Yet, the initial observation yielded nothing. They put him through a Cat scan and a MRI just to be sure there were no internal injuries. Again, nothing. The only bruising was on his hip from the seat belt which held him in tight.
TJ had spent that weekend in Wooster with his girlfriend. Her college had an annual sweetheart dance that they attended. My professional training in critical incident debriefing knew that he needed to return to her once we left the hospital. Sure enough, his plea after talking to her on the phone had us heading back that direction. I caught a glimpse of their tightly embraced bodies in the rear view mirror. I knew in my heart of hearts this was a defining moment for them.
It was not until very, very late that evening, actually it was almost dawn, when I sat down to process the details of the occurrence. I started with the phone call. I tiptoed into the room TJ was sleeping in and took his cell phone. I started with his outgoing calls. Then my incoming calls. They did not match up. I wondered how that could be, especially because we shared a network. His phone indicated the call lasted just a few seconds. Long enough for his blood curdling scream, I thought. Mine however, lasted for a few minutes. How could that be?
In my mind, I replayed the call. At the most important time, I simply took her words at face value. It never occurred to me that I was not speaking with a real human being. My faith was not strong enough to imagine otherwise. My self esteem was not strong enough to believe that I was even worthy of something else.
At the time, I was a fact based woman. So I called the Mansfield post of the State Highway Patrol. I identified myself as being the mother of the boy who was hit by a truck on the interstate. The man answering the phone knew immediately who I was. He told me we were very lucky. I told him I needed the name of the woman who first stopped to help my son. I wanted to thank her.
He told me the report was not yet complete. I begged him to just give me her name. I heard him fumble with some paper. Then he told me there was no mention of a woman. The truck driver had completed a written a summery. He wrote how he saw the car spinning in front of him, but knew he had no way of stopping. He described how he immediately called for help the instant he had his truck under control and then jumped out of his cab to check on the driver of the car. He went on to detail how the driver appeared to be alive but unconscious. He felt it was best to not move the injured man until the paramedics arrived. There was no mention of a woman.
I quickly took to my keyboard. I wrote an email to our parents letting them know what happened. It was informative and I'm sure shocking to them, yet at the same time therapeutic for me. I remember questioning as I typed that email in the wee hours of the morning, if I had been touched by an angel. Yet, I still did not really believe it.
Not until about thirty six hours later that is. My son called me from his dorm room. I had stayed with him for a night of observation like the doctors asked, but then he wanted to get back to his normal schedule. I had taken him back to the high rise he lived in and headed back to Cleveland. I was driving through a horrendous snow storm when I took his call. Between sobs, he described two angels in the snow outside his window some twelve flights below. At first I thought he was hallucinating, but pictures proved otherwise.
Why two you ask? Just a few weeks before, Sarah had slumped over in the backseat of my car. Her fragile airway had collapsed and she could not move air. Her lips were blue, her eyeballs gray and she was unresponsive. I quickly called 911 as I performed rescue breathing until the paramedics had gotten to our car. We spent an entire week in the hospital before returning to the hotel room we had been staying in while our house was being repaired from water damage. I was doing the laundry from those two weeks when I got the call from TJ.
Looking back, that chain of events could have destroyed me. The outcome could have been so much different for both of them. Yet, it strengthened me in ways I never knew possible. It began the preparation for a life that was before me. A very different life than I could have ever imagined. My faith grew enormously. My belief in a higher power, in a God who knows all, and cares for each and every one of us deepened.
So when a phone call came into my house the following year, oddly enough or maybe no coincidence at all, from another Dianne, I was somewhat prepared. This time however the voice was gruff. It was hostile and mean. It was threatening. I was hurt deeply. But I recognized that the valley's we are taken through are for our own benefit. For our own growth. I have also been observing that rarely are we lead solo. I felt strongly that this was a life defining moment for me, for my husband, for our family, but also for her. I've not spoken to Dianne since her phone call that one morning in late August. My only wish these past few years is that she found peace. I have. And now I'm working on forgiveness. I've become a believer that's what life's defining moments are for.
Last evening, Sarah and I quickly packed the car after the store closed. We had a few quilts to drop off at a friend's house in Ashland. Then we decided to keep on driving to Columbus to spend the night. It was not until we were almost to Medina that I recognized this was the same weekend. This year the roads were clear, unlike that evening five years ago when they were icy and covered with snow. The temperature this year was slightly warmer, but still in the low teens.
When we reached the same stretch of highway, I carefully inched the car over onto the berm. With my flashers ticking away, I closed my eyes and thanked my Heavenly Father for saving my son's life, for holding him close in a time of need. Most importantly though, I reiterated my gratefulness for everything I have been given, the highest of peaks and the lowest of valleys. I know that I am exactly where I am supposed to be. I am being guided and lead to have purpose. My family would not be at the place that it is without these life defining moments. We are all happy, healthy and productive.
Just as I was about to express my gratitude for giving us our precious Sarah, I felt her place her hand on my shoulder. As I turned to smile at her, I discovered her hands were both tightly wrapped around the ipod she was listening too.
Now the tears fell freely down my checks. I have never in my life felt more alive. More loved. And I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that I am not walking alone.
As I put the finishing touches on this post, Sarah is with her brother and his fiancee, the one he tightly embraced that horrific evening five years ago today, having dinner. Soon TJ and Julie will be married and will begin their own life's journey together. I have no doubt Sarah will always be a part of it. They need each other.