31: Are You All Right?

31: Are You All Right?

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Angels and Miracles

Are You All Right?

In the night of death, hope sees a star, and listening love can hear the rustle of a wing.

~Robert Ingersoll

I lay on the sofa for three hours, unable to move. It felt like there were heavy chains holding me down. On top of that, I kept thinking about Jim, my oldest brother.

“Jim,” I said aloud, and then prayed: “Lord, I don’t know what’s going on, but I can’t get my brother off my mind.”

Finally, I dragged myself off the sofa and into my studio. With quick brushstrokes, I painted a watercolor of a pink and yellow rose. “That’s for you, Jim.” My words startled me. What an odd thing to say. I shook my head and went to bed.

Jim lived in Arizona. He was a reserve deputy on the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Posse. Reserves aided in search and rescue operations. Jim was a veteran of hundreds of searches who had spent thousands of hours combing deserts and byways for people in trouble during his nearly twenty years of loyal service.

Heavy rain coupled with thawing snow from the mountains caused flooding around Phoenix that spring. Dry creek beds suddenly turned into raging torrents that washed away everything in their path.

Usually the men of the Sheriff’s department were teamed with partners for safety. On that particular day, my brother didn’t have a partner. He went alone to check on conditions at a nearby crossing. At the site, he found two young women who had driven into the riverbed on their way home and were stuck.

A neighbor was already at the scene trying to help. Jim said he’d try. He walked into the stream carrying a chain to attach to their car while the women waited inside.

Suddenly an eight-foot wall of water rushed down the canyon. Jim was swept downstream. They searched three hours before they found his lifeless body.

I knew nothing about any of this, though, when I was weighed down on the couch and then felt compelled to paint that colorful picture.

At 1:00 a.m. another of my brothers phoned to give me the news. “Jim was held under. His jacket was caught on a tree branch. They finally found him when the floodwaters receded.”

I called my husband at work. They allowed him to come home early from his twenty-four-hour shift as a paramedic. Later that morning we arranged to meet my mother and other siblings in Phoenix.

Most of my memories of the funeral have blurred over time. Except one.

I was shocked to see my brother lying in the coffin, but the bigger shock was to realize it wasn’t him. Oh, it was his body all right, but he wasn’t there. His body was like an empty suitcase with everything of value — everything that made my brother who he was — gone.

Back home after the funeral, I got a letter from Jim’s thirteen-year-old daughter. It had been postmarked the day Jim died. He must have mailed it for his daughter just before he went to help those two women. He had written a PS at the end of the letter, saying, “It has been raining again the last couple days and is now getting to flood stage! -Jim.”

That night I sat alone in our living room with the television on — more for background noise than viewing. I flipped through a magazine without seeing any of it.

From my place on the sofa, I had the odd sense that someone was peeking through the diamond-shaped windows in our front door. Maybe the neighbor kids were playing a game. I opened the door and stood on the stoop. No one was there.

After locking the door, I returned to my magazine. Numb once again. Suddenly I felt Jim’s presence in the room. He spoke into my mind, repeating, “Are you all right? Are you all right? Are you all right?” Just like a big brother to check on his little sister.

I finally said aloud, “It’s okay, Jim. I’m all right.”

Then I felt him in my mind, saying, “I’m going to check on everyone else.” And he was gone.

We visited my mother a few weeks later. She related the following incident.

“I needed so desperately to know Jim was safe. I stood here in the dining room doorway and said out loud, ‘Are you all right, Jim? I need to know!’ At that moment, the words of a song on the radio caught my attention: ‘It is well with my soul.’ Those words seemed like a message from Jim to me. And the peace just washed over me.”

So, yes, Jim is all right. And I am, too.

~SuZan Klassen

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