The air hung heavy overhead like a cloud enveloping my mind. As I left work, I knew that I was but a whispered breath away from passing out from exhaustion, but this was my Friday, the last night’s work for the week so I would celebrate with a hot breakfast for the ride home. I had stayed longer at work that morning than was expected due to the strange feeling I had of needing to hang around and talk. When I left the building to go to my car, rain was falling in a thick mist adding to the chill of the gray morning air; sleep would come easily, but I first had to make it home safely.
By the time I had left the drive-thru with my warm breakfast in hand, the rain had subsided, but the overcast sky was dull and foreboding. To visit my favorite drive-thru meant taking the two lane road home; a dangerous option, but one that I took with the understanding my senses had to stay alert. There on the windy two-lane highway of 751 that threaded its way from one major highway to the next past farms and Jordan Lake, the scenery itself was enough to help keep your mind awake if not provide for a reminder of the seasonal world in which we live. I had just turned onto 751 when a log truck pulled out in front of me stabbing my waning energy with the likelihood of being stuck behind a slow moving vehicle. To someone who was well into the throes of sleep deprivation, getting stuck behind a slow moving object is like putting an anchor on your back and running a marathon. However, today was my lucky day, or so I thought for the truck quickly accelerated and I soon found myself losing ground to the heavy footed driver; for that I was thankful. I regained focus on the warm meal and melded with the music that was thumping along as the fields and forests passed by.
I was suddenly and quickly awakened from my trance by the red lights of the logging truck just ahead that had slowed. Not giving it much thought, I figured he or the car just ahead of him was taking a left and we’d soon be on our way; but we didn’t.
We came to a complete stop.
The rain had picked back up, and my windows were slightly fogged as was my mind. I could see the images ahead but like something unexpected when you emerge from a deep sleep, their juxtaposition and shapes don’t make sense, so they don’t register. I sat for a moment taking in the scene before me looking at dark shapes, objects blocking the road where there should be open lanes. Pools of liquid oozed from one pile of metal as fumes escaped. Nearby, the large dark object was still not making any sense. A man walked out, snapped a picture on his phone and returned from wherever he had come. It then dawned on me, the large dark object had wheels, and I was actually looking at the underneath side of a large transfer truck. Then like the slow dawn of a morning sunrise, the gravity of the situation hit me. I felt a pit in my stomach. There before me was a horrific car wreck, and from what I could see ahead of the logging truck in front of me, there was little chance the person that had been in the heap of metal still lying in the middle of the had survived. Something was odd about it all, for I didn’t see anyone walking around other than the lone photographer. I sat unthinking, feeling as sullen as the skies above. The rain pelted my window. I turned the wipers back on to see cars beginning to turn around; we weren’t going home this way anytime soon. I felt the tug of exhaustion mixed with another feeling I couldn’t describe. I knew I had to turn around and take another route if I were going to make it home this day.
As I drove off, the farther the distance between me and the accident grew, so did the realization of what I had just witnessed. Emergency vehicles began to pass me going the opposite direction on their way to the scene. Totally unaware at the time, I soon realized, I had been one of the first people to arrive. There hadn’t been anyone walking around because it had just happened. That feeling I couldn’t recall earlier returned and a sensation of crushing despair flooded my soul.
My mind flashed back to the fateful night in New Harmony when a woman drove past the DOT barricades blocking the road that was a dead end which stopped on the banks of the Wabash river overlooking a small cliff. At that time, as a kid, we looked at it like the woman was just lost and had panicked; thus, flying off the end of the road and landing in the swollen river, where she and her car load of children drowned. It wasn’t until a recent reflection upon the event that I was profoundly struck with the realization that it was more than a possibility that she meant to do what she did. This would be years before another woman in South Carolina would do the same thing and attract national attention, when she climbed to safety from the sunken car leaving her own children behind to drown.
However, like the epiphany of the past in New Harmony where the truth pierces through the fog of time, so did the conclusion I could’ve possibly helped. Yet, I was in no shape with myself being on the verge of passing out at any moment. Then another burst of realization hit me, “Had I not stayed at work as long as I did, that pile of smoldering metal could have been me.” Once again, God had placed his hand upon my life, directing me, guiding my pathway for my journey was not yet complete. I said a prayer for the person or people who might have passed, for something inside told me a soul had departed from us back there on that rainy roadway.
The grayness of the day had now become one with the emotional landscape through which I drove. My mind floated from one past event to the next knowing a moment in time can make the difference between living and dying. God gave us free will, yet when we give our lives to him, we allow his presence to define who we are and how we live. I can’t help to believe that with this faith, we also allow his heavenly hand to reach down and direct our daily paths.
That night I had a dream.
I had found a small country church, empty and abandoned. It was nothing fancy on the inside with an interior of pine paneling for walls and the typical red carpet underneath the modest wooden pews. I sat near a window and waited. Soon, as if I had expected them, there came a crowd of people dressed in what first appeared to be robes. As they drew nearer, I could see that they all had extremely pale complexions and snow white hair. Each of them wore suits of fine white linen. All but one were young men; the other being a stunningly beautiful young woman wearing a flowing white gown.. As they filed passed, I inquired to one of them as to where they were going. They told me they were going to a funeral, but they would return for me when they were finished. Something I don’t remember happened when they returned because I tried to speak in my dream, which caused me to shout out in my sleep, waking my wife who would have thrown me out of the bed if she were physically capable. I don’t remember any more of the dream past that point.
The next morning I was still somewhat bothered by not only the accident but the dream as well. So, I decided that maybe it would help my catharsis if I sketched down what I could recall; the scene in my mind that would not go away.
As I began to draw the accident from the day before, another accident scene from my childhood came to mind. I could see the bus over the fiery figure underneath. The high school boy, Scott Knapp was his name, had pulled out on his motorcycle and crashed into the bus, getting trapped underneath. The bus was moved away from the flames, but the boy and his bike remained in the fireball on the road. We all watched from across the road, unaware at the time, there was a kid in that blazing inferno. After what seemed like an eternity, Mr. McKinney came running out of the school with an army blanket and ran to the fire, throwing the blanket on an object and pulling it free; it was the badly burned body Scott. I recall how he survived for a few days but eventually the 3rd degree burns were too much to overcome, and he died. I often wondered after that day if I had known he was still in the fire if I could have or would have done anything different.
I finished the sketch and realized I had drawn the perspective of standing in front of the logging truck that had blocked my view. I figured it was just my imagination, and left it at that. Days later, I spoke to another coworker about that morning, and we found the crash online. Just as I had feared, there had been a fatality. Mr. Harold Sugg of Pittsboro had died at the scene. Then, along with the description of the accident was the photograph. There in the news photo was a picture exactly the same angle and direction from my drawing, the one I had done from memory.
I don’t know what all of this means, I don’t know what God is trying to say, but all I know is that I’m thankful to have had another day to hug my children and breathe a breath of fresh glorious air on this side of the green grass.
May your journey’s be fruitful and your travels safe, God Bless.