Some of you may know from reading my blog that my niece recently got married. She loves the song A Thousand Years by Christina Perri so she chose to walk down the aisle to the instrumental version of it. Although it’s been over three weeks since the ceremony I still have this tune pop into my head from time to time as I relive this precious moment.
Here is one of my favorite pictures that I captured of that moment. She is such a beautiful girl inside and out.
And here is one of the newlyweds. I may be a little biased but I think they’re more beautiful than the couple in the video 🙂
No, this is not a lesson on grammatical errors. No misplaced modifiers or dangling participles here. If only those were the most difficult lessons I had to learn. If only.
I have actually uttered those words. Yes, in a sentence, in that order during the early morning hours of Father’s Day on June 19, 1988.
I was certain my teeth had been knocked out, could easily be retrieved from the car, temporarily placed in a glass of milk, and then put back in my head. “Easy peasy, lemon squeezy,” as my daughter would say. But as I spoke those words I came to realize that was not the case.
The words didn’t come out as I had intended, in fact, they were barely intelligible to me. My mouth and chin moved unnaturally and felt as if they were going to slide off my skull. Why couldn’t I speak properly? My hand flew to my mouth, probing, trying to understand. My teeth were certainly missing and as I explored the area I realized the bones of my upper jaw had been fractured. I felt the bones move and rub against each other. It sounded like the rough edges of a broken piece of china as you tried to piece it back together, only it was going to take a lot more than glue to fix. Instant, white-hot, intense pain racked my entire body. My hand was quickly pulled away by the young man, probably a college student, I had spoken to.
“Don’t do that!”
He winced and looked away. He placed a cloth over my face, only leaving my eyes exposed. Why did he do that? Did I look that grotesque? Apparently, I did.
I knew I’d been in a car accident. I remembered that I was asleep when it happened. I’d been dreaming. It had been a nice dream and as is typical of most dreams I moved from scene to scene as if magically teleported. I don’t remember exactly what I was doing in my dream the moment before I was catapulted into a roller coaster, but it was something relaxing like walking on the beach. The roller coaster seemed to pick up speed instantly. I was tossed from side to side and wondered what kind of wild ride I had the misfortune to land in. I struggled to hang on. Had it come off the tracks? Then…black.
When I opened my eyes, I was hanging upside down, my seatbelt keeping me restrained. To my horror, I realized it had not been a dream. My right arm was unnaturally twisted within the seatbelt strap and trapped behind my head. I looked to my left and saw my boyfriend’s body hanging lifelessly from his seat belt. Oh my God! Is he dead? Am I dead? I’m dead! I’m dead! I heard voices, urgent voices. Could the car blow up? What? Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God! Who was that screaming? Was it me? My heart was racing. I’d never felt it beat so fast. Oh my God, it was going to break out of my chest! Calm down! Calm down! Calm down! You’re alive. Calm down…just calm down or you’ll go into shock. You don’t want to go into shock do you? Remember what you learned about shock in school? You’re alive now just… calm…down. That’s it. Breathe. Stay alive.
I saw legs moving outside my door. The car began to rock and then flipped over. The sudden movement caused shooting pain in my shoulder. I didn’t know it at the time but my right collar-bone had just snapped. I winced in pain and the gesture caused severe pain in my mouth. I probed the area with my tongue and the pain grew more intense. I glanced down at the rest of my body. My legs were resting upon the dashboard but I could move them. They didn’t appear broken. Everything hurt, hurt beyond belief. It was the most unbearable pain I had ever felt. Please just let me pass out, please, I begged. No! What if you don’t wake up? I fought to suppress the extreme need to close my eyes and just let go. Stay awake. Stay alive.
Do I dare look to my left toward the driver’s seat? I braced myself for what my eyes might see.
The driver’s seat had been fully reclined when they turned the car upright. My boyfriend was sprawled out on the seat, still strapped into his seatbelt, with his eyes closed. There were no visible marks on his body. He looked asleep, possibly even dead. I spoke his name. It sounded garbled. Had something happened to my hearing? He didn’t respond so I spoke louder and still louder. Nothing. Did I detect a slight movement? Someone opened the door and pulled me out. I screamed in pain. I yelled his name again but they pulled me away and set me on the shoulder of the highway. Then I heard his voice and knew that he was alive. Thank God. He was angry and confused, disoriented, but okay. He wanted to go home. He kept saying he just wanted to go home.
I had a vague recollection of my face colliding with something. Yes, my face must have hit the dashboard. The dashboard! My teeth must be in the dashboard.
“Will you please go get my teeth out of the dashboard?”
Then came the warning, the wince, and the cloth over my face; leaving only my eyes exposed.
My teeth weren’t in the dashboard. I was told later that two had been completely pulverized and another two had been lodged somewhere in the mess of fractured bone that was my maxilla. My chin had almost been sliced clear off. It seems I had blocked out the initial impact. It took several years before I was able to glimpse a sliver of it and allow the gravity of the situation to register in my brain.
I literally came within an inch of losing my life, less than an inch, millimeters probably. That is the distance between the scar along the lower edge of my chin and most likely…decapitation. The force it took to pulverize two teeth, shove the other two into my maxilla and fracture it so horribly it took hours for a surgeon to repair leads me to this one conclusion. Some would say I’m lucky to be alive. Some would say it’s a miracle, some have.
A week later the insurance agent said, “We aren’t contesting this claim. You’ll be paid the full benefits of the policy. I’ve seen the pictures. It’s a miracle you survived.”
From what I was told, my boyfriend’s small car flipped front-end over back-end multiple times, covering a space longer than a football field. That is what happens when you lose control of a car that is traveling at a speed of over eighty-five miles per hour. I imagine it looked like a stunt from a movie scene gone terribly wrong. The area along the side of the interstate where the car crashed was uncommonly flat and bare, unlike any other stretch of land in close proximity; no gas stations, no side roads, no buildings, no overpasses, and no culverts. I think we took out a couple of road signs but there was only a simple barb-wired fence and grassland beyond. If the wreck had started seconds earlier or later we would have met with the concrete pillars of an overpass and certain death. When I travel that length of the interstate today the fact that it is dotted with buildings and other stationary structures does not escape me. It was like the perfect storm of time and space, or rather the eye of the perfect storm – that calm place surrounded by chaos – where a miracle happened.
I’d been taking a philosophy course the summer of the accident and had a conversation with my professor a week after it occurred. The most recent class discussion had focused, ironically, on the meaning of life. After hearing of my near death experience he wanted to know what insight I had to share. No doubt he was expecting some profound wisdom to spring forth from my lips but my response probably left him disappointed. I was barely over the initial shock of the experience. I wasn’t yet able to process it, let alone express it in words. I think I said something about having a renewed reverence for life but the words fell flat to me. They were nowhere close to capturing what I felt. I’m still not sure I can ever do it justice. How do you describe the feeling of getting a second chance to live? I really don’t know if there are words for it. I will give it a try at some point, but not today.
Today, I want to wish my father a Happy Father’s Day. Yes, I know the official day has passed and initially I’d wanted to post this on Sunday but for obvious reasons this day seemed appropriate. Somewhere around 2:30 in the morning on this day twenty-five years ago, my parents got the call that all parents dread. They were told to get to the hospital as quickly as they could.
My father immediately blamed himself. He later told me that every time he’d allowed himself to drink “one beer too many” while relaxing at home some sort of accident had befallen one of his five children. Up until that point they had been relatively minor accidents but he stopped drinking altogether after mine.
Now, just so you don’t get the wrong impression, my father would never be considered an alcoholic. He was a social drinker, who occasionally had a beer or two while watching his favorite sports on TV at home. Pretty tame stuff. I attribute this guilt to his religious upbringing where alcohol was deemed to be evil and drinking it was akin to cavorting with the devil. He would later describe the hour and half drive to the hospital as one of the longest in his life. During that drive, he repeatedly pleaded with God to make a deal. I will never drink another beer if you will spare my daughter. I will never drink another beer if you will spare my daughter.
Immediately following my release from the hospital the beer was removed from the refrigerator. My Dad was no longer enjoying his favorite beer while watching sports. It had been replaced with the non-alcoholic beer, O’Doul’s. Now, when I visit my parents, open the fridge, and see the O’douls on the shelf, I smile. It’s been twenty-five years and he’s still keeping his promise.
That is devotion. That is a father’s love. Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I love you too.
I’ve heard it said that the greatest compliment you can pay someone is to trust them with your heart. I suppose that is true because the things that matter most reside there.
“Where your treasure is there your heart will be also.”
That trust level goes so much deeper when you have children. They occupy such a big piece of your heart that, at times, it seems as if it is so full it will burst. So when and if you choose a partner in life, choose wisely. There are many types of fathers (and mothers) in this world. Unfortunately, there are:
those who never wanted to be fathers so they shirked the responsibility,
those who are present financially but absent emotionally,
those who never spend time with their child,
those who are abusive physically or mentally or both,
those who are self-absorbed and put their wants first, and
those who believe the job ends when their child reaches adulthood.
Then there is the type of father that my children have:
the one who talked about his children long before they were born,
the one who prayed for them during many years of unsuccessful infertility treatments,
the one who read and sang to them while they were still in the womb,
the one who fought back tears as he held them for the first time,
the one who stayed up late to rock them and sing to them when they were infants,
the one who patiently put their socks on for the fifteenth time because, “they’re just not right, Daddy”
the one who read books to them until they fell asleep (he was usually the first to go),
the one who checked and double checked the room for monsters,
the one who played endless games of Candyland, Chutes and Ladders, and Go Fish when his favorite team was playing on TV,
the one who sat through hours of dance recitals to watch his daughter dance for two minutes and then gave her roses afterward,
the one who trimmed his daughter’s bangs because they were too long (that task was stripped from him immediately afterwards),
the one who drags them out of bed in the morning with a tickle and a hug,
the one who occasionally goes in late to work because he wants to take them to school,
the one who attends all of their sporting events and cheers so loud I banish him to the outfield,
the one who takes his daughter to the annual daddy/daughter dance and makes her feel like the most important little girl in the world,
the one who taught them how to swing a bat, catch a ball, throw a pass and shoot a basket,
the one who takes the time to appreciate the beauty of a sunset with them,
the one who spends hours putting toys together on Christmas Eve, cursing late into the night and early the next morning, determined that it be functional by the time they awake,
the one who coaches their teams and participates in fundraisers,
the one who taught them how to ride a bike and tie their shoes,
the one who reminds them to say the blessing before a meal (even in a restaurant),
the one who religiously saves for their college tuition,
the one who is sometimes hard on them because he wants them to do their best,
the one who insists on them saying “sir” and “ma’am,”
the one who teaches them to be a good person by example,
the one who loves them beyond measure,
the one who would give his life for them.
That is the man I married. I hope all the fathers had a wonderful Father’s Day.
I read a poem titled Dreaming by Barbara Crowe on a blog I discovered today. I had to share because it reminded me of the hope my husband and I felt as we were planning our little family. We would talk late into the night about the children we would have someday. What would we name them? What would they look like? What traits would they have? It was our favorite topic of conversation.
We were so full of hope only to be continually let down. After a year of trying on our own we sought help. We went through dozens of unsuccessful fertility treatments and were finally left with the diagnosis of “unexplained infertility.” There was no medical reason we could not have children. We were heartbroken.
There were so many people in this world that didn’t want to be parents and yet had no difficulty conceiving. There were also many who didn’t deserve to be parents, neglecting, abusing, or even worse, killing the sweet little life that was entrusted to them. We wanted children. We would be loving parents. We would never harm them. We would give them a wonderful life. Why couldn’t God see that?
Despondent, we gave up and resigned ourselves to a life without children. Six months later I became pregnant without the assistance of fertility medicine. We had a little boy and I will never forget the moment they placed him on my chest. His lips were so red they appeared to be stained with lipstick. A milky white substance covered his body and his dark hair was matted against his head. He was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
“If only I had a child as white as snow, as red as blood, and as black as the wood in this frame.”
He was a fairy tale come true. He was, and still is, my perfect little boy.
The words written on a card from a friend summed up my feelings perfectly. I believe it’s a Japanese proverb and the words have stayed with me since:
“Hope deferred makes the heart grow sick, but a longing fulfilled is the tree of life.”
A year later, we wanted to give him a sibling but suffered the same agonizing process as we had before. Years of fertility treatments with no results. Presented with the option of more aggressive treatments, we opted instead to be thankful for the blessing of the one child we had. Nine months later my daughter was born.
She wasn’t the little “Snow White” I expected. She was a bluish-grey and my heart hammered in my chest as I said, “Something’s wrong with her!”
I held my breath and prayed for her life as they whisked her to a table and cleared her lungs. When she was able to breathe on her own I finally exhaled.
The extended family in the waiting room was anxious to hear the gender of the baby, but my husband just shook his head and brought my son in the room instead. He was four and a half years old at the time. We had talked about giving him a baby brother or sister since he was old enough to understand the words. It hit me then, that he’d waited most of his life for this moment. He had spent the last nine months watching my belly grow with amazement, talking to it, singing to it, and rubbing it affectionately. He had wanted a baby brother…until just two weeks before. He changed his mind. He wanted a baby sister instead.
He stood next to her bed and my husband said, “Meet your baby sister.” He looked up at my husband and grinned. Then he hesitantly put his hand toward her to touch her. In that instant she reached up and grabbed his little finger. Newborn babies aren’t supposed to be able to do that are they? It was a sign that this moment was extraordinary. My son caught his breath, turned to look at me and said, “Oh Mama, I love our little baby so much!”
I was overwhelmed with emotion, as I am now, retelling this story. I was a witness as my son experienced love at first sight and I said, “I know exactly how you feel, Buddy.”
Both times my husband and I tried to take matters into our own hands, to control the creation of life, only to be thwarted again and again and again. It turns out that some things cannot be planned or rushed. They happen in their own time and only with hindsight will you understand why. It took over three years of trying for both of my children to be born and it turns out that God needed all that time just to make them. They are that special. They love to hear that, by the way 🙂