Sitting together on a bench, two strangers crossed paths at just the right moment.
- Posted on Aug 8, 2017
I gripped the steering wheel, focusing on the highway that seemed to stretch out endlessly ahead. I had been travelling for so long that the final stretch of my journey—a drive from Chattanooga to Memphis—simply felt like more than I could handle. But then everything had felt like more than I could handle, ever since four o’clock in the morning when I’d been woken in my Amsterdam hotel room by my cell phone.
My ex-wife, Robbin, was calling from Memphis, where she lived with our son. “There’s been an accident,” she said. “Chaz’s car is totaled. I’m at the scene now with the EMTs. They’re taking him to the hospital.”
Robbin barely had any more information. Chaz was alive, but how injured was he?
“I’ll be there as soon as I can.” I was in the Netherlands on a business trip and booked the first flight back to the US, one I’d have to race like an Olympian to catch. In the taxi on the way to the airport, I studied the pictures of the accident Robbin sent to my phone. I didn’t even recognize the brand-new Jeep Cherokee I’d bought Chaz as a present for his high school senior year.
Moments after I stepped on the plane, the flight attendant closed the cabin door behind me. I’d made it. Now there was nothing to do but worry. I reminded myself that Chaz was in good hands at the hospital, but how could I know anything for sure with my phone on airplane mode?
I prayed every minute of that nine-hour flight to Atlanta. I couldn’t read, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat. When we touched down I turned on my phone. Robbin happened to be calling just as it powered on.
“I’ve been trying to reach you,” she said, her voice shaky. “Chaz is going to be fine. Just some bad bruises and lacerations.” Why didn’t I feel any relief?
Numb, I stared out the window on my connecting flight to Knoxville, where a friend had driven my car from my home in Chattanooga to the Knoxville airport, and left it waiting for me in a parking garage. I had to swing by my apartment before heading to Memphis, but I couldn’t get a flight into Chattanooga. It didn’t matter how much driving I had to do. I just wanted to see Chaz with my own eyes.
I made the drive from Knoxville to Chattanooga in record time and ran inside for a change of clothes. A shower could wait. I had to get back on the road.
Finally I was on the last leg of my journey—the long drive to Memphis. I knew the route like the back of my hand, going often to visit my son. The road was scenic with mountains and hills, but somewhat monotonous.
I flipped through radio channels, trying to find something calming for my mind to settle on. A half hour into my drive I saw the road sign for the Nickajack Lake Lookout Point, a scenic spot where tourists could pull off the highway and take in the surroundings. Seemed like a good place to clear my head.
I parked my car and walked toward the overlook. I sat down on an empty bench,focusing on the blue-green lake. Chaz might have died in that accident, I thought. Tears came now for the first time since I got the call. I was so close to being at my son’s side after a long and arduous journey, emotions got the better of me.
Out of the corner of my eye I noticed an elderly woman approaching. She was distinguished looking, with a long overcoat and pretty scarf tied about her neck. She appeared to be gazing intently at the water too, lost in her own thoughts.
Suddenly she walked over and sat down next to me on the bench. Self-conscious, I wiped away my tears. “Gorgeous afternoon,” she said.
“Yes, it is.”
“My name is Sara.”
“David,” I said, and then, to my horror, I covered my face and broke down again. Sara took my hand. “I believe I’ve come by at just the right time,” she said. “Why don’t we sit here a spell?”
She talked and I listened. She told me she came to this spot often, pointing to a little island in the middle of the Nickajack. “My late husband rowed me out to that island when I was seventeen and proposed. We call it Engagement Island.”
We sat there together, Sara holding my hand. She didn’t ask what was wrong, and I was grateful. I cried for a bit, and then little by little calmed down. The relief I should have felt hours ago finally came. My son was okay and I would hold him in my arms soon enough. We’d been blessed.
“How are you feeling now, David?” Sara finally asked.
“Much better. Thank you.”
“Thank you,” she said. “It’s not every day a ninety-three-year-old woman gets to hold hands with a handsome stranger. But I have to run. I’m late for my own birthday party, at my great-granddaughter’s house.”
As I watched Sara walk off, I thought about all the journeys she must’ve had in her life—some glorious, like the row to Engagement Island; others painful, like my harrowing journey today. She’d gotten through them, just as I’d get through this, with the help of an earth angel’s hand to hold.