Common Wisdom: The Time of Our Lives

I could have died last night.

Wednesday, March 11, was a bitterly cold Lenten day. Snow squalls showered every hour or so until four o’clock, when snow fell thickly for two hours.

As I drove into Cincinnati, however, intending to spend the day and evening in town, I was in good spirits. At 9:45 I picked up my daughter-in-law Chris and two little grandsons for library story hour. Then there was lunch, babysitting, and late afternoon cappuccino with my daughters Catherine and Margaret. At supper-time I called my husband on his car phone. He was stuck in bad weather and traffic on the Ohio River bridge.

“Be careful driving home tonight,” he said.

Margaret, Chris, and I then hurried to make an evening of reflection and Mass.

Fr. Matthew’s topic was freedom. Throughout the time of our life God gives us each moment as an opportunity to choose him. In making our choices, we constantly renew our freedom, choosing everyday to embrace God freely. Our time is each moment that God gives us to choose him. In our time, then, we try to point our choices toward eternity. If we focus on things that are not eternity, we can be sidetracked and miss the mark. In the end, Fr. Matthew reminded us, eternity is the only thing that matters. Suppose we should crash our car tomorrow and go to our demise; the time of our life would end, and only the choices we made for eternity would count.

Margaret in her black Jeep led the way home. I followed in my Jeep, noting to myself that I would be glad to get home to Turkey Ridge, out of the night and the nasty weather. Though it was no longer snowing, there were icy patches on the bridge, on the interstate, and still more when we pulled onto Hathaway Road, which winds through the hills toward the river. Margaret was going at a considerable clip. I decided not to keep up with her, and the black Jeep went out of sight. Some eight miles from the Rabbit Hash intersection, just before the sign for Camp Michael, I rounded a long curve.

There it was: ICE. I hit it with a shock of panic. Which way do they say to turn the wheels? Vainly I tried to turn in the direction of the skid, but I was already hurling out of control. In horrendous slow motion that was also the fastest blur of speed I have ever known, the Jeep careened to the right, then shot to the left side of the road, spun back to the right, lurched off the road, broke an axle in the ditch, threw off a wheel, and whirled airborne in two furious rotations that tossed it, finally, upside down in somebody’s yard. What was for a few seconds a monstrous bullet of chaos lay suddenly chastened, broken, and silent, its windows shattered, its roof on the passenger side mashed to the level of the hood, and the passenger side caved in. The rear seats had come loose; the head rests had flown out. The jettisoned wheel was 100 feet away.

Yet I was inside, dangling from the seat belt, knowing immediately that I miraculously was all right.

“I can’t believe I’m still here; thank God I’m still here!” I shouted to the Lord and my guardian angel. In the frantic, dizzying, pummeling spin of headlights and noise before the crash, I hardly had time to be scared; I only hope I prayed. Now my heart raced in the fear that I might be trapped. Somehow, though, I opened the seat belt, eased around the steering wheel, and reached up to try the driver’s door. It opened. I climbed up and out, standing utterly intact, in the time of my life, on wonderful soft snow in wonderful, frigid air.

Voices called from ordinary time. “Are you all right?” cried two boys in their late teens as they rushed from the lighted house. “Are you all right?” “Yes,” I said, “I’m fine. My guardian angel, whoever he is, was here. I’m fine.”

“Oh, lady, did you hit my truck?” said the one. No, I didn’t hit his truck.

“Hallelujah, praise the Lord, you didn’t hit my truck! I just got that truck!” He folded his hands together and thrust them toward the sky. “Come in and get some coffee. We’ve called 911.” No coffee, I said. “I’ll just call my husband.”

My angel’s name is Joseph. I named him today. My Jeep is totaled, a pile of crushed steel and glass, testimony to what is not eternity. Yet eternity, thanks to Joseph, is still what I can choose. In the time of my life I am free awhile longer to choose to love Christ.

Joseph, take a bow.


  • Anne Husted Burleigh

    Mrs. Anne Husted Burleigh is a free-lance writer, mother, and grandmother who lives on a farm overlooking the Ohio River in Rabbit Hash, Kentucky, near Cincinnati. She has written two books: John Adams, a Biography, and Journey up the River: a Midwesterner’s Spiritual Pilgrimage. She has contributed to many publications, including Crisis and Catholic Dossier, and now writes for Magnificat.

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