Today I was witness to a miracle.
I was driving my car on Knights Hill Road from Bridgton to Lovell in western Maine, thinking about what a good day I’d had. Normally one doesn’t think happy thoughts after spending $250 on car repairs, but our brakes needed replacing and I’d gotten estimates that were $150 higher. I was happy to come back to rural Maine, where I know our mechanic and his family on a first-name basis. I also knew we’d be treated fairly and wouldn’t be overcharged.
Paul is a good, honest man. He is a U.S. military veteran fighting for recognition of his disabilities. He was exposed to very high doses of radiation without adequate protection in the Marshall Islands during military exercises. Many in his unit are dead from cancers related to this exposure, and Paul has already had several cancers. The government is refusing to acknowledge the military’s carelessness, because they don’t want to compensate the affected vets exposed during the testing. We usually discuss his latest lobbying efforts and meetings with senators and other politicos on behalf of his military buddies.
I had also stopped at Renys department store to buy birthday gifts for my grandchildren. Renys is a Maine institution with stores across the state, reminiscent of the old Woolworth’s department stores of the 1950s. Not a huge selection, but they have a little of everything and just enough that you can almost always find what you need. As someone who gets overwhelmed by toy mega-stores, I find that it’s always easy to find just the right gift at Renys at a fair price. I was happy to get this errand out of the way, with great results.
So I was driving home via Knights Hill Road, and I was the only car on the road. Suddenly, from the opposite direction, a minivan traveling at full speed was approaching me – but on the wrong side of the road! My side of the road! He was maybe 50 feet away, and I didn’t know if I could avoid a head-on collision. Before that could happen, the driver lost complete control of the vehicle. He crashed into a telephone pole, severing the pole completely, then proceeded to roll one-and-a-half times on the ground, coming to rest 20 feet in front of my car.
Clutching my cell phone to call 911, I jumped out of my car and ran towards the minivan. I didn’t even know if there would be cell phone reception in this particular stretch of road. Coverage is spotty around here. Thank G-d, my cell phone was able to reach 911.
“Send an ambulance,” I shouted, giving my exact location. “There’s been a terrible accident!”
I was dreading what I would find. I was sure I’d find dead, mangled bodies. But suddenly I heard a child crying hysterically. My first thought was, “Oh, my G-d, there is a child in that car!” and I immediately felt relief, because if the child was crying it meant that it was still alive. In those few milliseconds, I was praying the child wouldn’t have a dead mother and that there were no other kids in the van. Before I could reach the car, a man in the car – clearly the dad – lifted his head out of an opening and was saying, “Don’t worry, I’m going to get you out,” and he lifted the small child, bleeding from her mouth where she had bit her tongue, through the smashed windows to my outstretched arms.
“Is there anyone else in the car?” I yelled. A girl of about 12 or 13 looked pale but intact. She was able to free herself from the debris but was clearly somewhat shocked, with small abrasions on her hands from the broken glass, but otherwise seemingly okay. I was praying there were no other kids who might have been ejected from the car, but the dad assured me that he and his two daughters were the only occupants. I told 911 that there were two children and a dad involved, hoping that at the sound of the word “children” the rescue crews would magically appear faster.
Yes, I know you are not supposed to move an accident victim until the extent of the injuries are known. But I wanted them to move away from the car, since the severed telephone pole was dangling above the van, and I was afraid the minivan was at risk of exploding due to leaking fuel. The dad walked with the teenager, and I carried the little girl to my car. I would have set the little girl down along the shoulder of the road, but the wind picked up and it was quite cold, and I wanted to get her inside my car where it was warm while we awaited the ambulance.
The dad and his two girls were able to communicate. At first, the surge of adrenaline and psychological shock at the enormity of their accident prevented them from feeling any pain; they were quite dazed. As the reality of their complete miracle started to hit them, they became very emotional, and started to feel neck and other pain. Meanwhile, we were still waiting for rescue personnel. I poured a water bottle from my car over the dad’s abrasions on his hands, and tried to brush broken glass, sand, and gravel out of his hair.
The first to arrive was the sheriff, followed shortly thereafter by volunteer firemen in pickup trucks and then two ambulances. This took approximately 20 minutes. In our county, there are a very limited number of sheriff patrol vehicles, and response time can be from two minutes up to two hours, even in an emergency, due to the size of the patrol area. At the fire stations, it can take from two to 15 minutes for rescue volunteers to leave whatever it is they may be doing to run to the station and then up to another 20 to 30 minutes to arrive at the scene of an accident, again due to the large area within their district. This is one of the harsh realities of living in a rural place in the event of an emergency!
I was the only witness to the accident, and gave the police my witness statement. Meanwhile, I and another two women who had driven by seconds later stayed with the kids in my car, comforting them until the ambulances could arrive. The dad was given a field sobriety test, which he passed. He said he didn’t know what happened, but that it may have been due to being distracted by his cell phone. Mysteriously, his cell phone disappeared, although the dad was seen by another passerby with it in his possession immediately following the accident. Was he talking? Texting? Reaching for the phone? Or did he have a medical condition? He was also very reluctant to call the girls’ mom. Was he married? Divorced? Clearly, there was more to the story, whose details I will never know.
Everyone in the minivan was wearing a seat belt, and this definitely saved their lives, but frankly, witnessing the sheer force of the accident as it happened and the devastation to their car, I am in utter shock and amazement that anyone could have survived that accident at all.
I don’t know why G-d put me there at that moment, but clearly that was no accident, even if I don’t understand it. But I will tell you this publicly: I will never again use my phone while driving. Even reaching for a phone could prove fatal. And despite headphones and Bluetooth, almost every one of us “cheats” by using our hands, even momentarily, with our cell phones, even though we know that it’s dangerous.
Today I was witness to a miracle. A father and two young girls, who by all logic should be dead, escaped intact. Had I been going forward five seconds faster, my family would be attending my funeral.
Hodu Lashem ki tov, ki l’olam chasdo. Praise G-d, for He is good; His kindness is infinite.
Galia Berry divides her time between Baltimore and Maine, and hopes to make aliyah in the coming months. To read more about her Maine adventures, go to www.midlifeinmaine.wordpress.com.