The highway has always frightened me so it was somewhat fitting that one of the most terrifying moments of my life occurred there. At least it wasn't completely surprising in that regard. When I was a child, I dreamed about dying there often enough so... why not? But I'm an adult now and thankfully so, because It seems that all of my life experience prepared me for that moment on the highway. Thanks be to God! Because I needed all the adult in me that I could muster - and the very little bit of bravery that I have managed to gather in my time.
Maturity is a funny thing; you think you have it yet it's never fully developed. But there does come a time when one can say: By golly, I know some things now that I used to think I knew but certainly did not. I'm not old by the standard definition but I'm not 16 anymore either (thank the good Lord!) At 38, I've had at least a little time to mature. I've been a daughter, sister, wife, mother, artist, writer, bathtub scrubber, and athlete. I know how it feels to give everything and hit empty... and then give a little more. Anyone who has run the 400 meters knows that feeling of having nothing left to give and still having to force the body to move down that last 100. Rigor mortis stretch, my coach used to call it. When my body started to shut down, my pride pushed me to get it done, regardless of how ugly it felt and looked. In my youthful ignorance, I had no idea if I would die or not but I ran anyway. As a grown woman, I know that I won't usually die when things hurt that badly... but that it'll still take a heck of a toll.
That's how it was on the highway that day - careening at 70 mph in heavy two-lane traffic, no berm and seven beautiful souls as cargo - when inexplicably, my body decided to quit. It froze up. Shut down. And suddenly, I was on rigor mortis stretch, commanding my limbs to function just long enough to finish.
At 20 years of age, I would probably have crashed that vehicle. I would have had neither the experience nor the confidence to know that I could make it and I would have thought too long about how afraid I was or how uncomfortable I was. At almost 40 years however, I entered into the moment the way I had trained for it over the last 20 years or so; to handle discomfort with resignation and disappointment with a fair amount of equilibrium. Add some experienced mama bear, a tremendous amount of grace and answered prayers, and what could have been a disaster ended up a simply a frightening inconvenience.
There was that moment when I knew we were in trouble. I saw my hands and didn't recognize them. I raised an arm to turn on my hazards and it required an effort that startled me. Instead of pressing the button, I forcibly dropped my unresponsive wrist on it, and then shifted my focus to escape.
There was no berm. There was no open exit. And as my body continued to deny me the ability to fully manipulate my limbs, I begged heaven to send me a way out.
It all worked out in the end. I forced my frozen wrists to squeeze the wheel to safety and my hip to lift and place my foot on the brake pedal. The help I prayed for ended up looking like a closed exit with a safe space surrounded by orange barrels. As I tumbled out of our 2000 lb diesel van, I knew I had been spared. I leaned against the concrete bridge wall and could feel the ground shake as the semis flew past. This is crazy, I thought. I'm not dead. Sometimes answered prayers look a lot like closed exits and dirt roads. And the angels I hoped for looked a lot like construction workers willing to pull out into highway traffic to keep us safe and a passenger (my own son) with a driver's license and steady nerves.
I don't know what happened to me and I don't know why it happened but I thank God for miracles and the wisdom and experience of age. I've driven many miles, broken down in many vehicles, experienced many illnesses, known a good deal of pain, and had to think through a few crisis situations. This was one of the worst. Never again would I want to relive that terrifying moment... but I know that God equipped me for it.
After our adventure had played out fully and I was resting in my own home, I fell victim to an alarming grief. The loss of control I had experienced on the highway was a reminder of the losses to come in life and the passage of time which compromises the body. It was sobering and more than a little frightening to think that my body, at any moment, could just... shut down.
I know chronic illness, injury, and pain. The suffering that comes alongside those long term maladies is real and the most difficult part is the inability to live fully the life I think I ought to be living; the loss of freedom and control. These infirmities have always been the enemy and the robber of joy for me and I have unfortunately allowed it. They have been my silent partner as I strive toward personal excellence... not as a friend but as a great and terrible burden. I have named them FAILURE. And they have brought me very low.
In recent years, I have overcome some of those physical limitations and yet they cling like a needy companion, never quite gone. That moment on the highway reminded me... it's not over. It's never over this side of heaven. And I felt crushed and sad.
I employ a mental exercise with myself sometimes when I feel burdened by this body. On days when the limitations seem stifling, I lay down at bedtime and remember...
I remember what it feels like to run fast and jump high. I visualize doing handstands and concentrate hard on what I know that feels like... the pressure on the hands and shoulders... and the feet balanced high. I clear hurdles and play volleyball (beach doubles, of course) and feel the strength in my arm as I sent a deliberate floater down the line...
And then I visualize doing things I've never done but know I could have under the right circumstances. I am a ballerina on pointe feeling the pressure on the toes and the strength and control of the body. I am a strong swimmer. I am a skiing down a mountain. I am running the last meters of a marathon...
My body remembers strength and agility and my mind relaxes into a place of relief. Like taking a big breath of fresh air that has been withheld for so long. I think of heaven and know that it will be more than all of this. All that we need shall be returned according to God's will. But first...
I know I have to lose everything.
It's the burden of age and the gift of age that we are more prepared to stand empty before the Lord. There will be no one else to stand in my place when I go before Him. I will have neither my strength nor my skill, my intelligence nor my treasures. I will stand stripped of any glory I thought I had and Truth will burn and refine until all that is left, is what is of God. And then (I cannot help but hope it is so) He will let me dance and run again.
My body seems to have recovered well from the highway incident and so far, the doctors don't have a name for what happened to me. My fear is fading with the passage of time and I am delighted to have the freedom to drive and live in good health. But I have not forgotten the lesson of control and that someday I will be asked to let go forever. May it please God that I should be brave enough to give my fiat now and for eternity.