28: Angel at the Wheel

28: Angel at the Wheel

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Hope & Miracles

Angel at the Wheel

We cannot pass our guardian angel’s bounds, resigned or sullen, he will hear our sighs.

~Saint Augustine

First, I have to mention that I am not a “seer of spirits.” While I do believe that anything is quite possible in this world, I have never had an angelic, ghostly or otherwise unworldly experience. I have heard things from other people, but have always taken them with the proverbial grain of salt—neither believing nor not believing. As I said, without proof I can touch, it is all wishful thinking as far as I’m concerned. Until last Thursday.

Taking a few steps back into the history of this tale, Joelese (Jo) Cornhall and I have been best friends since the day we met in 1968. Her talented fingers sewed dresses for my little ones and she has listened for hours as I regaled her with ideas for my writing and painting.

Over the years, divorces happened, people moved away, remarried — life went on and we tended to lose contact. I met Jo’s second husband Cliff, twice. Once right after they married and once when their son was about three months old. Her son is now in his forties. What used to be visiting every day turned into a call on a birthday and a Christmas card once a year.

But technology also moved on, and when Cliff retired, he became an avid e-mail friend. We connected on an almost daily basis through e-mail, sending updates on things going on in our lives or just passing on a good joke. He was repairing things for Jo, taking their dog to the local dog park, and having a very happy retirement.

Then the messages suddenly stopped. Jo contacted me to let me know that Cliff had passed away. A sudden heart attack. She invited me to a memorial his friends were holding at the dog park, where a bench and a tree were being dedicated to him. I begged off because of deadlines, but sent my condolences. I am so awkward with things like that.

But, time heals and soon Jo was back driving all over the country visiting friends and staying busy. We got together several times each year for just a “day out for the girls.”

This year I wanted to do something special. So, early in the year I bought all-season passes to the Laguna Art Festival and also two front row seats to the Pageant of the Masters.

The week of the Pageant, I had been knocked out by food poisoning, but thought my symptoms would be gone by that Wednesday. I drove the hour and a half to Jo’s house in Huntington Beach, and felt tired, but okay.

Jo took me to the park to see Cliff’s bench and tree. It is a beautiful little oasis set up as a butterfly reserve. Then we drove to Laguna. I could feel it coming on the minute Jo parked the car: chills, nausea, weak knees. But I tried to push on. I made it to the first bench at the first art exhibit and collapsed.

Long story short, I spent the rest of the day and night on Jo’s pullout daybed, in agony, sucking on ice and begging for death to release me. The only words I could utter were, “I’m sorry. I ruined the whole day—and evening. I’m so, so, sorry.”

In the morning, I washed up and changed, but was determined to drive home to take care of my cats. I’d left multiple bowls of water and dry kibble, and had fed them wet food the morning before. The AC was on — but even with several cat boxes lining the hall, it had to be an insane mess.

Jo wanted to drive me home in my car, with a neighbor following. But I insisted I was well enough to tackle the long freeway home. So, she allowed me to follow her onto the 405 and then I waved her off with my best smile, and started the hour-and-a-half drive home on what has to be the worst freeway in Southern California.

As I write this, I can’t remember everything about the drive. The chills started again, the headache, and the nausea. I was disoriented. I focused on hanging onto the steering wheel and just keeping in my own lane. But it was getting more difficult by the minute. Rather than kill myself and probably take a few other cars with me, I decided that I should get off the freeway. I tried to change lanes but couldn’t manage it. I started to cry.

Suddenly, a feeling of calm and peace came over me. I felt two strong arms take the wheel and hold my hands tight. Something enveloped me from the back of the driver’s seat and surrounded my shaking body.

A voice as clear as if it came from the radio said, “Don’t worry, Joyce. I have the wheel. I’ll get you home safely.” I never saw anything, but I felt the strength as the car whipped back into total control. I felt the presence, but never heard another word. I knew from the voice I’d heard so many times on Jo’s answering machine that it was Cliff.

We drove in silence through all the cities and suburbs until finally we came to the off-ramp that would take me to the city street that led home. Like a puff, the control of the car went back to me. The voice said, “You’ll be okay now.” All was quiet. I was alone in my car, heading for home. About a mile later, I pulled into my drive, shaking and weak once again. My neighbor came out and asked me if I was okay.

I waved her off, saying I was too sick to talk and just wanted to park the car and get into bed.

Later that day, I called Jo as promised to make sure she knew I arrived home intact. I told her of the experience and said I racked it up to the raging fever I had. But she wasn’t surprised at all. She said there had been other incidents where Cliff had interceded to help. “That’s my Cliffy. I know he was there to help you. That’s the kind of person he was and still is.”

All I know is that I am still recovering, and that I am sitting here, safe in my office, writing this all because eight days ago an angel took my steering wheel and saved my life.

~Joyce Laird

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