45: Shaken

45: Shaken

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Angels and Miracles


Miracles, in the sense of phenomena we cannot explain, surround us on every hand: life itself is the miracle of miracles.

~George Bernard Shaw

I was a nuts and bolts, black and white, no-nonsense kind of person. But that changed one spring day a few years ago.

It started with the weather, which can shift fast in South Dakota. I’d left for a gathering an hour and a half away under a sunny, blue sky. And now it was time to return home and an unexpected ground blizzard was brewing. Ground blizzards, for the uninitiated, occur when there is no storm, but loose snow and ice already on road surfaces are violently whipped about by very strong winds.

A lengthy drive north on an isolated secondary road was the only route home. So I stopped at a gas station to fill up and grab a snack — I knew the trip would take longer than usual because of the weather.

I was so preoccupied with the deteriorating weather that I forgot to put on my seatbelt when I resumed driving. Suddenly, I heard an extremely loud, commanding voice bellow, “PUT YOUR SEATBELT ON.”

I was totally alone in the car and a voice was yelling at me. Despite my confusion, I obeyed and strapped myself in. Of course, now, in addition to the poor driving conditions I had to wonder about my sanity.

Ten minutes later I hit black ice. I held my breath as I slid out of my lane into the empty oncoming lane, and was just about to relax as I glided the car back when I glanced up. There, barreling down at me over a hill, also out of control on the enormous ice slick, was an eighteen-wheel double tractor-trailer hauling coal.

The truck jackknifed, and I knew a collision was unavoidable. There was nothing I could do and nowhere I could go. Though not a believer, I remember shouting, “God, this is in your hands!”

After impact there was nothing at first, and then an image appeared. I was looking at myself, a traveler ready to embark on a journey into a dark, hazy space. Then I suddenly realized how much I’d miss my two children. Instantly, I was catapulted back to reality — to find myself miraculously in one piece in my smashed, upside-down, windowless car. I was hanging mid-air, facing the rear, secured by my seatbelt.

Incredibly, my only injuries were a broken bone in my left foot that didn’t even need to be set, and a messy four-inch gash on the left side of my head. It was nothing short of miraculous.

But about that head gash . . .

Savvy South Dakotans keep emergency kits in their cars due to the weather’s vagaries. My kit, stashed in my car’s rear hatchback area, consisted of a plastic bag stuffed with a blanket; some pull-tab cans of sardines and peaches; a plastic fork; a chocolate bar; a bottle of water; batteries; a tall, thick, long-burning, glass-enclosed candle; and matches.

Immediately after the accident, facing the rear as I hung from my seatbelt, I saw the bag within reach and gratefully snatched the blanket to staunch my bleeding head wound. As I hung there suspended above piles of shattered glass waiting to be rescued, frigid winds started raging through the blown-out windows of the car. Between shock and the cold, I started to shake violently. I reached down again into my emergency bag for the candle and matches to create a bit of warmth. They were nowhere to be found. I searched again. Though every other item was in place the candle and matches were missing.


A few weeks later, I went to sign a release to have my car scrapped. I was handed a plastic bag with personal items from my car. There, right on top, sat the missing candle and matches. I asked the scrap dealer where he’d found the two items, explaining how I’d needed them after the accident but couldn’t find them.

He looked at me strangely. “These two? They were wedged so tight under the glove compartment I had to use a screwdriver to pry them out.”

He paused, and then he said, “Y’know, you’re one lucky lady. That truck hit you where your gas tank sits. There was gas everywhere. Had you lit one of those matches for the candle you would have gone up in flames — big time. You’d have been a goner.”

I stood there — shocked, grateful, shaken to the core. How had the candle and matches become wedged in the front of the car, under the glove compartment, when the emergency kit and the rest of its contents were seven feet away in the rear? Why had the blanket still been exactly where I could reach it to stop my bleeding? What was that voice I heard?

The accident became a pivotal point in my life — it shook up far more than my physical being. It totally shook my long held belief that what you see is what you get. I know now, without a doubt, that we’re never truly alone; that help is always available. That some kind of benevolent presences we can’t see or interact with, and that aren’t tangible in this dimension, are nevertheless capable of interacting with those of us who inhabit this dimension.

And they must really care and love us to go to such trouble . . . .

~Marsha Warren Mittman

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