But for the grace

I threw my telephone into the change well as I entered the highway.  I had just left a message for someone, and decided not to answer if he returned the call.  I heard my father-in-law’s voice in my head, something he said several years ago.  “Get behind the wheel of your car. Make a call. Drive for ten minutes, talking on the phone.  Then pull over, and try to recall what you’ve seen as you drove.”  I tried it; I could not remember a thing.  I recently remembered that conversation and have taken it to heart.  Often.  Usually.  More and more.

My car had crested a hill and begun the descent when I noticed a billow of smoke rising before me.  I hit the brakes, watching the traffic, wondering if I would hit anyone, hoping I could stop.  I’m not a photographer; I’m not a journalist; so when my eyes found the source of the smoke I did not reach for my cell phone’s camera.  I instinctively crossed myself.  Mother of God.

The smoke flowed from the smashed front of a charred vehicle facing the wrong way.  I  swerved to avoid the debris in the roadway as my eyes raked the scene.  A man lay sprawled on the shoulder, half-cradled by another person, a woman, I thought. He flailed arms clad in a red T-shirt; thin, long legs encased in blue jeans  jerked and writhed.  My weak eyes could not discern the features of his face; he seemed impossibly  young.

I saw no emergency vehicles.  Another car lay half in the ditch.  Four or five more had stopped on the shoulder.  White smoke rose from the smashed car.   I heard an urgent sound, low, then rising, louder, higher, frantic.  I thought sirens heralded the approach of help but then I realized:  The woman had begun to sob, to wail, her cry torn from her, urgent, endless, pleading.  My stomach heaved as I struggled to keep my coffee down and my car on the road.  As I drove by, scanning the side of the highway to be sure I could not help, all I could think was:

There, but for the grace of God, go I.


2 thoughts on “But for the grace

  1. Cindy Cieplik

    Whoa! Bad things happen on the road. Keep your cell phone out of reach, please. If it is an important call, you will really be distracted. Take the pledge. So happy you were not hurt! 🙂


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