47: One Sunny Afternoon

47: One Sunny Afternoon

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Hope & Miracles

One Sunny Afternoon

All God’s angels come to us disguised.

~James Russell Lowell

I pressed my foot firmly on the gas pedal, wondering how much over the speed limit it would be safe to travel. After months of looking for a full-time position, I’d finally gotten an interview. The job wasn’t what I wanted, but as a new college graduate I couldn’t afford to be choosy. Perspiration dotted my forehead. With only fifteen minutes until the interview and twenty minutes of driving to go, I said a quick prayer before glancing down to turn up the air conditioner. When I looked up again, I saw him.

A medium-sized brown dog had scampered into the road and stood right in front of my car. I slammed on the brakes. The seatbelt squeezed into my stomach as the momentum threw me forward, but my car screeched to a stop just in time. The dog darted back to the side of the road. His fur looked matted and dirty. A broken chain dragged along behind him. A runaway, I thought, and lifted my foot from the brake to let the car coast. The dog continued to walk near the side of the road with his head down, sniffing at every step.

I sighed and steered my car to the shoulder. Someone in a red car honked and whizzed by, apparently in as much of a hurry as I was. But no matter how much I wanted to keep going, I couldn’t bring myself to ignore the dog’s plight. His chain could get caught in bushes or he might make another dash into the road. If I didn’t help him, who else would? I opened the car door and stepped out on rocks that scratched my new tan pumps.

“Here, boy. Come here,” I called out as sweetly as I could.

The dog stopped and looked at me with his ears lifted and his head cocked to one side. I held out my hand, wishing for a tempting treat to offer him as I inched closer. He stood still until I reached out to grab him. Then he cut away from me, past a small scraggly bush toward the expansive acres of an open field. There, he began to scamper in circles as though encouraging me to come after him.

Great. The dog seemed to think my presence meant it was time for a game of chase. I gritted my teeth and tried to keep an eye on him while picking my way over stones scattered helter-skelter on the ground.

The afternoon sun burned my face and sweat trickled down my back. The dog didn’t seem to mind the heat and continued what he thought was a game, always staying about ten feet away from me. His tail swished and I could see the sparkle in his eyes. I clenched my jaw and kept moving forward until something caught my leg. A thorny bush had snagged the fabric of my pants and held it tight.

I bent down and carefully pulled the cloth away from the thorns. It left a small, gaping hole. Muttering at my luck, I gritted my teeth and stood. I frowned and scanned the field. The dog had disappeared. I called and whistled. Nothing. The entire area was flat with no trees or large bushes to hide behind. I could see for what seemed like miles. But somehow, chain and all, the dog had vanished like a desert mirage. Finally I shook my head and trudged back to the car.

If I couldn’t help a dog, at least I could try to salvage a potential job. I nosed the car back into the road and tried to convince myself the interviewer would understand when I explained what happened. Thoughts of the stray dog shamed me into slowing down as I headed toward a hairpin curve not far from where my improbable pursuit had begun. As soon as my car rounded the curve, I saw brake lights and a line of cars. I hit the brakes and screeched to a stop. There’d been an accident. A car was wedged under the side of a dump truck. It appeared the truck had stopped in the road to empty a load of gravel. The car’s hood looked like a crushed aluminum can. My eyes widened when I recognized it as the same red car that roared past me only a short while earlier.

The truck driver and car driver both appeared uninjured. They stood next to each other writing on scraps of paper while the faint sound of sirens grew slowly louder. As my white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel relaxed, I looked around, still half-expecting to see a dog dragging a broken chain. Yet there was no sign of him. It was as though he’d never existed. I looked back at the accident scene and a thought struck me. Were it not for a bedraggled brown dog and the grace of God . . . Suddenly my spine stiffened and gooseflesh pimpled my arms. Had I stopped to save a stray dog or had a stray dog stopped to save me?

My heart pounded as I recalled how fast I’d been racing down the road, distracted by dozens of thoughts. If I hadn’t stopped, it would probably have been my car that rounded the blind turn and hit the truck. I closed my eyes and breathed a prayer of thanks. My disappointment over missing the interview melted away. All that remained in my heart was an overwhelming sense of gratitude and peace.

It’s funny how even the most trivial of events may prove to have a purpose beyond human understanding. Though I didn’t get the job I’d hoped for that day, a much better opportunity came along later—one that changed my career path forever. I know it wasn’t only coincidence that brought a stray dog briefly into my life one sunny afternoon. He’d been sent to protect and guide me, a special four-footed answer to a hastily offered prayer. And for that, I’ll always be grateful.

~Pat Wahler

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