It’s 7:45 in the evening and I had just stopped for a drink for Grace and Rinnah at the QT in the “armpit” of Tulsa. An unattractive, heavily laden industrial area we pass through on our drive home. Trucks stops, fast food, cheap hotels line the road.
I smile at a young man hosing down the concrete, making it temporarily clean from all the traffic. High powered wash cleansing the grime.
The girls thank me for stopping. Drinks refreshing hot selves after long tennis workout in 90 plus degree heat plus humidity.
I signal and turn back onto the highway, we aren’t too far from home. The sun is setting, the light is beginning to dim. A car passes me on my right, he, in greater hurry than I am in.
He swerves over a little towards the concrete median…I imagine the soft vibrations that remind him this isn’t where you are supposed to drive, he gently regains the center of his lane. After a little he does it again…and then a third time.
Grace, my passenger in the front, is wondering what he is doing, she is a beginning driver and very aware of others. I say out loud to her, I will hang back a little, he is well ahead of me and we exit in just a few miles…showing her how I approach the unknown while driving.
Just a few miles to our exit when it happens. So close.
He appears to be merging into our lane, but well ahead, he continues right off the road into the bridge barrier, bounces and turns complete circles spinning back in front of us instead of catapulting off the road.
I hear Grace praying aloud for safety. For him, for us, for those behind us. His car hits the center median and glides to a stop. My voice joining hers in chorus for mercy.
In under five minutes this has all transpired. He going 75 when he collided with that wall. Spinning like a whirling dervish, out of control.
Duty and concern driving the impulse to pull over, I pray. I make sure to get far off the highway, just in case more cars become involved. Off road, I venture into the grass and park. Emergency lights turned on. Still praying. Is he dead?
I tell the girls to stay in the car. I move quickly back, four more cars have pulled over behind me. Directly behind me a nicer vehicle, an older couple get out quickly. A young man standing in front of his truck on his cell. Me, on my cell calling the accident in.
More behind, all with emergency lights flashing…warning those approaching us that something here is not right. Me, praying.
The young man from the truck runs across the highway to the center, checks inside the vehicle. We only see one bleeding, young man sitting in the passenger side, door wide open, traffic not slowing…I count truck man brave to do this.
I call out, “Is he the only one?” Yes, the young man answers. He asks if I have a flashlight to help signal oncoming cars…the old couple draws one out from within the confines of their car.
He tries to signal people to slow. We can see that the engine is smoking and wonder aloud if it will blow. Front of car demolished, tires askew. The bleeding survivor calling someone to let them know what happened. When the traffic breaks we call him over to cross to safety, truck man guiding him.
He comes over, slowly, dazed. I call him little brother and ask him to sit. He becomes more fully aware of us and obeys. He is telling someone on his phone what has happened and that he is okay.
The older couple draw close, surrounding him, waiting for the help we know will come, to arrive. She says she was a pastor in the Stroud area. Blood runs down his face, he wipes at it, rolls his eyes at the mess of it. I ask the older woman if she has any napkins, she does and hands me some. I fold them into a makeshift bandage and ask him to apply it to his cut. We ask if he hurts. He is in shock. But aware.
He says he’d just left the hospital, that his baby girl had just been born. Dazed. We ask her name. He tells us. The middle name the same as my oldest. The pastor woman says she too has a child with that middle name. It means bitter.
We three know a little something about the bitterness of life, its ugliness.
We three know the beauty of little girls sharing the same middle name. How the ugly and beautiful are often comingled.
The older woman gets closer to him she asks if we may pray. He says yes.
Kneeling on the side of the highway, patrol car pulls over. In prayer we agree thanking God for sparing this little brother’s life, thanking for the great mercy He had poured out on all of us. The policeman doesn’t interrupt, he lets us pray.
A sanctified moment. A holy moment. The ugly beautiful.
I ask him his name. He says, “Paul.” This isn’t lost on me.
Paul on the road has an encounter with Jesus.
The older woman and I draw aside to let the policeman examine him, talk to him. She introduces herself, knit together by this moment. We smile understanding. Concerned. Thankful.
After we have given our statement, expressed our gratitude to these two hypo, that “just happened” to be going by, they hadn’t received the call. I walk back towards her on the way to my car. I draw close, I hug her, she hugs me back.
I get back in my car and look at Grace. And I am thankful.
And I sing.