Late Friday afternoon, Brian and I were heading home on an eastbound Indiana highway. The sun shined brightly from the pretty blue sky, and our thoughts and small talk were on what to fix for supper, when to go grocery shopping on Saturday -- just regular-life stuff.
Suddenly, after rounding a curve, there it was. A two-vehicle wreck appeared in front of us, spilling out of our lane into the ditch, both cars smoking heavily. Emergency personnel hadn’t yet arrived, but it appeared an off-duty police officer was on the scene, having exited an unmarked car with flashers. A driver in a pickup, the only vehicle in front of us, had pulled over and was also out checking out the scene.
We waited in our car, watching for signs of life in the wreckage, for someone to emerge. Meanwhile, the vehicles were stacking in lines on both sides of the highway. It felt like forever, but wasn’t, before the welcome sound of sirens flooded the air, officers, firefighters and EMTs arriving to fill every inch in and around us.
Suddenly, hectic movement from those hovering around the vehicles, and the female front-seat passenger in the eastbound wrecked car was removed to the ground. Frantic CPR took place before our eyes.
I silently prayed for the woman and the unknown people inside the vehicles. Sitting there with this incredibly odd perspective of a front-row seat to sudden tragedy, so many things filled my mind.
I thought of the difference three minutes makes. When we stood to leave our friend’s home earlier, Brian made the uncharacteristic announcement that he wasn’t sure if he should visit the bathroom or if he could “make it” home first. I said, “Why don’t you just go now to be sure?”
Did that three minutes mean it wasn’t us in the accident? That instead of the front-seat passenger on the ground in that moment, it would be me since I was in her place in our car?
It is the oddest mix of feelings: guilt that it was her and not me, thankfulness for my own life, the somber evidence in front of us of how life can change or be gone in a split second, that there are no guarantees about our number of days, or the way they will end. Someone can live a hundred years or be gone in an instant decades earlier.
We saw a news report that the woman didn’t survive. Neither did the driver of the other car. The news reported that he had had crossed into the eastbound lane, our lane, and hit the couple’s vehicle head on. The husband of the woman was hospitalized.
My thoughts and prayers continue with the two devastated families. I’m left to apply the lesson in the only way I know how:
Be ready and right with God and people.
Be grateful for His grace and mercy right this minute.
Treasure life. It is fleeting.
Job 14:5: You have decided the length of our lives. You know how many months we will live, and we are not given a minute longer. (New Living Translation)