It was dark out and we’d been in the thick highway traffic for a couple of hours. Mr. Jones was driving, and I as the supportive wife was in charge of entertainment—finding radio stations, coming up with conversation topics and supplying the occasional snack.
The road was mostly straight and flat, with only a few twists and turns and the periodic rise and fall at overpasses. Smooth and easy driving.
Until in an instant, our brains were suddenly processing what was happening faster than we could interpret it. Up ahead, in our far right-hand lane, the car at the top of the short incline we were approaching was suddenly turning sideways, and what looked like a brief burst of flame erupted.
“Car crash. Fire,” I reported in a monotone voice. My mind was attempting to convey information as succinctly as possible.
Another car ahead of us swerved. Mr. Jones slammed on the brakes, then quickly slalomed around the perpendicular car and the rubber that lay on the road. He parked us on the shoulder. I was tasked with locating our cell phone while he ran to see how he could help.
By the time I found the phone, Mr. Jones was on the other side of the turned car. The front end was mangled, the airbag was deployed and the driver’s door was open. Mr. Jones and a man in flip-flops—whom I gathered had also stopped to help—were standing on either side of a slender figure sitting on the shoulder.
As I approached, I could see the figure was a dark-skinned man in perhaps his early twenties, dressed in black track pants and a black sweatshirt. His athletic build and clothing suggested he played sports.
“Are you OK?” I asked.
Athlete nodded. “Ya, I’m OK.” He shifted awkwardly and looked around without focus. He was in shock.
Across the highway was a champagne-coloured SUV. All the doors were open and the bumper was smashed against the guardrail. A man stood outside the passenger door with a cell phone pressed against his ear, presumably calling emergency services.
Athlete suddenly rose to his feet. “I have to go apologize.”
He stumbled toward the SUV and the traffic that was still flowing between the two crashed vehicles.
A dark-skinned man in shock, wearing all black at night and crossing a highway with traffic moving through it was a recipe for yet another disaster.
“Hang on,” I said pulling on Athlete’s sleeve. “The last thing we want is for you to get run over.” I slowed him down, but he wasn’t stopping.
Mr. Jones ran ahead and waved his arms at traffic. A full-sized truck just kept going. But the next car stopped. And as the four of us crossed over (Athlete, Flip Flops, Mr. Jones and me), the driver leaned out her window and asked if we needed help. We thanked her and told her there were already enough helpers.
We could now see through the back passenger door of the SUV. A curly-haired child around three years old was sitting in a car seat. Looking through to the driver’s rear side of the vehicle, a girl of perhaps 11 or 12 was standing against the open door with a woman I assumed was her mother.
The man on the cell phone hung up as we approached. Athlete stood right in front of him and said plainly: “I’m so sorry. I fell asleep. I have insomnia.”
I can’t imagine what those words must have felt like to that man, the father of two children, as he looked into the eyes of the driver who had shattered his night into pieces.
The father calmly held eye contact, expressionless. “That’s my family in the car. Those are my kids.”
Time. Stood. Still.
Reality sets in
The man’s wife came to where we were gathered. Sirens were approaching. The father turned to his wife, shaking his head, “And Angela was trying to take off her seatbelt.”
I imagined the seconds before the crash, the toddler trying to unbuckle herself and the parents sternly ordering her not to. What thoughts must have been going through their minds as they surveyed the damage to their vehicle?
Mr. Jones, Flip-Flops and I focused our attention on Athlete. We had seen his unpredictable
His knees buckled, his face dropped into his hands and he wailed: “I could have killed them! I could have killed that family!”
Two emergency vehicles finally arrived and firefighters took control. They stopped traffic, asked questions and then disappeared to move Athlete’s car out of the way.
And it was then that the realization of what had happened came crashing down on Athlete with all the weight of a 10,000-pound truck. His knees buckled, his face dropped into his hands and he wailed:
“I could have killed them! I could have killed that family!”
The horrendous truth of his words was palpable.
And in that moment of tortured regret, profound remorse and bitter reckoning, the mother of the two children from the crumpled SUV put her hand on Athlete’s shoulder and bent down.
“It’s alright. We’re all alright,” she soothed, leaving her hand on his shoulder.
This was the man who had almost snatched away the lives of the two most precious people in her world. And this was the unfathomable grace with which she was consoling him.
The scene etched itself into somewhere deep inside me.
Left only with Heaven’s grace
One of the firefighters came back and asked us bystanders if we had seen the accident occur. When we said no, he told us they were ready to open up the highway again and we needed to get ourselves and our vehicles out of the way.
I nodded with respect at the family and the three of us left the scene.
As Mr. Jones and I got back into our vehicle, and the rest of the story unfolded without us, I felt my adrenaline start to subside and a prayer of thanks cross my lips.
Thanks for everyone’s safety.
Thanks for the firefighters who came quickly.
And thanks for a reflection of Heaven’s grace at the side of a highway on a cool, starless Florida night.