Sunday, November 30, 2014

Fire and ice (Or: "Thankful for life")

I wasn't going to come back so soon, but it isn't every day that one has a legitimately significant subject to write about.

Airfares being sky-high, we decided against trying to have everyone fly home for both Thanksgiving and Christmas.  We decided to try something new this year.  We decided to meet in Ohio, at Laura and Matthew's apartment, for a "central" Thanksgiving.  It would be a seven hour journey for Shawn, Jon and me.  David had eight hours to drive, and Shannon ten and change.  Everyone was game.

The plan was to drive on Thanksgiving Day, for a number of reasons.  For one thing, nobody had Wednesday off for travel.  Also, we could avoid the crazy Wednesday traffic.  Additionally, Laura and Matthew could still celebrate Thanksgiving with Matthew's family, on Thanksgiving.  It seemed a good plan.

A big storm on Wednesday reconfirmed our decision to celebrate a day late.  Thursday morning, we set out from our various locations at various times.  Traffic was light, and the weather was pretty good.  We kept in touch at intervals along the way.

East of Columbus, Shawn pulled over and switched driving duty with Jon. The sun had set and, in the darkness, we looked forward to the end of the trip.  At about 6:00 p.m. Shawn's phone rang Shannon's ring tone.  I still get a surge of adrenaline thinking about it.

She had crashed somewhere in the dark, snowy wasteland of post-Nor'easter southwestern New York.  She was off the road.  Her car would not respond.  She didn't know where she was; she couldn't even see where the road was.  Her headlights didn't exist anymore.

This I gleaned from the one side of the conversation that I could hear.  "She called us herself, on her own phone," I told myself.  "She's alive.  Nothing else matters.  Nothing else matters."

Immediately, we worked out arrangements to go to New York and retrieve her.  David had arrived in Ohio earlier, so he and Matthew and Laura met us at our hotel.  Shawn, David and Jon set out for the Chautauqua, NY region, and I went home with Laura and Matthew.

By this time it was snowing again.  What should have been a five or six hour round trip turned into eight and a half.  In the snowstorm, of course Shawn insisted on doing all the driving himself.

Back in Ohio, Laura fed me some soup and some tea, and we killed time for awhile as the hours drifted on.  Finally it got late and we tried to sleep.  I lay on Laura's sofa in my clothes, under some cozy covers, in the dark except for streetlights shining snow-filtered through her sheer curtains.   I prayed and prayed--begging for the snow to stop, for Shawn to have strength, for no more accidents--and by the mercy of God I think I even slept for an hour or two.  Piper huddled at my feet and Schubert shivered on my chest, but eventually the blessedness of unconsciousness descended.

I awoke at one point, and immediately grabbed my phone to check for news.  A text had come in five minutes earlier, Jon saying that they were nearly back.  At about 3:30 a.m., they arrived.  I hugged the miracle that was Shannon, still living and breathing and all in one piece.  We cried a little, embraced, whispered and kept the dogs quiet.  Matthew was up, showing Shannon and Jon the beds prepared for them.  Shawn, David and I (and the dogs) piled into the van and drove back to the hotel.

We got to bed at about 4 a.m.  It felt so good to be in a bed, next to my husband's solid, living, breathing body.  Shawn said, "I can't believe I had the strength I had.  I wouldn't have thought I could be alert for eight more hours after the drive from Illinois.  Were you praying for me?"  God is good.  God is so very good.  Even though the family was divided into two locations, we were all present and accounted for, and relatively very close to one another.

Our Thanksgiving was more somber than usual, punctuated by teary eyes, full hearts and spontaneous hugs . . . also a few spontaneous naps.  Shannon had brought all kinds of things to share, including some sourdough bread starter that she had cultured herself.  Something I'll always remember from Thanksgiving 2014 is kneading Shannon's roll dough.  I don't know why she let me do the kneading, but she did.  There on Laura's countertop, I kneaded the tender, tangy-smelling dough, adding a little more flour and then a little more, until it was smooth and elastic, and then I placed it in the oiled bowl and turned it, swirled it around, oiling all sides.

I will always remember that dough in my hands, and the pretty green cotton cable knit sweater that Shannon wore, that I kept pressing my face into when I hugged her.  I will remember Shawn, exhausted, passed out in the big red recliner, and Laura laying out her new Fiestaware plates, one of every color in the warm tones for Thanksgiving.  There was a surreal quality to it all, almost as though it were not really happening.  But it was.  It was really happening, and we were all together, and nobody was dead, or even hospitalized, and everything was going to be okay.

Shannon had been driving along, doing so well, her dear little car all packed up with special things for our special meal.  Then the sun set, and the temperature dropped, and there was black ice, a curvy road by a New York lake, and a mishap.  No more car.  No more car, but still a Shannon, a Shannon whom we love so very, very much.  When the state trooper arrived and helped her climb out of her battered car, he let her sit in his warm car until the tow truck came.  When the tow truck pulled Shannon's car out of the ditch, she was able to retrieve her things: the sourdough bread starter, her little coffee maker, fresh herbs for the turkey, decaffeinated chai tea, a large can of Libby's pumpkin, a pretty glass pie plate, her pillow, her clothes, her laptop.  It was all there.  Her hairclip, on the handle of her purse, had a broken tooth, but most things were intact.

How would she get home again?  The train schedule didn't look good, nor the bus schedule.  In the end, we decided to have her drive back to North Carolina with David and catch a flight to Boston from there; that was our most economical option.  We made these arrangements on Friday, before or after the turkey, and each time we figured something out, a little more peace and comfort descended.  Laura and Matthew will ship the things she couldn't take on a plane.

On Saturday morning, David took his car to a garage to have the breaks fixed.  An accident can spur us to take reasonable precautions, reminding us that it is good to be careful rather than careless.

Shawn, Jon and I headed back to Illinois on Saturday shortly before noon.  I drove first, and then Jon.  We wanted to spell Shawn after his marathon day of driving on Thursday.  We drove and drove, and even driving west, we couldn't keep up with the setting sun.  Somewhere west of Indianapolis, Jon was driving, and through the dark night, I saw what looked like lights up ahead.

It didn't look like a police car.  No, there were no blue and red lights, more like yellow.  "What...?" I asked, pointing out the windshield.  As we drew nearer, I saw that it was yellowish orange, blazing, a burning car.  "Jon!  Can you get in the other lane?  Get in the other lane if you can!" I urged, gesturing to the left.  On the right shoulder, a car sat flat on the ground, tires melted, fully engulfed in flames, and I can't remember if the windows were simply illuminated by fire, or if flames were shooting out of them, like a glowing horned beast.  A few cars had pulled off on the shoulder ahead of the burning car, to help I suppose.

As we flew past, my stomach felt sick again.  I hoped that the people had been able to get out of the car.  I didn't want to imagine what would have happened to a person inside that car.

Travel can be hazardous.  The world is a dark and dangerous place.  It is hard to be separated from the people you love most in all the world, hard always to be forced to travel if you ever want to be together.

I have a hope that someday we will not all be so far apart.  Someday we will live such that we can spend days together and still sleep in our own beds at night.  Someday the paths of our lives will intersect once more.  Someday.

Until then, I will trust God, because if not God, whom would I trust?

God is good.


Hope T. said...

I'm so glad everyone is okay! What a terrifying experience. I'm sure the rare time you all had together was all the more precious. I hope everything works out as well as can be expected in the aftermath. I wish there was an easier way to travel. My son swears by flying but that has problems of its own.....

ruth said...

Thank you for your kind sentiments. Shannon rode to Durham, NC with her brother and flew to Boston from Raleigh-Durham through LaGuardia. LaGuardia wasn't her favorite, but even that worked out in the end. We'd purchased a ticket with a 2.5 hour layover to try to minimize stress over delays (she was delayed in Raleigh-Durham) and getting from gate to gate at LaGuardia (the tram driver went the wrong way, but he rectified it in the end). She's safe in Boston now, or as relatively safe as one can be in a big American city in the winter.

When my kids were little and I missed home so very much, I used to try to bend my mind around all the possible modes of travel, stretching my imagination to come up with a way to get from here to there with four very small children and relatively no distress. The only thing I could think of that would be a comfortable mode of travel was a very large RV, with a chauffeur so that we would have two, rather than one, parents to juggle the offspring. I suppose that in real life, you would have to wear seat belts even in that situation, but in my fantasy, we would have sprawled on sofas and beds, playing games and watching Sesame Street, dozing in comfortable positions, eating food from a small refrigerator, and even using our own private bathroom whenever we needed to, along the way.