59: A Gentle Warning

59: A Gentle Warning

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miracles Happen

A Gentle Warning

We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.

~Epictetus

“Go home,” something inside me seemed to say. “You need to leave now.” I had no idea where this warning was coming from, but it wouldn’t stop. I tried to brush it aside as I stood watching a line of children waiting their turn to sit on Santa’s lap at the Sun Valley Mall, a shopping center thirty miles east of San Francisco.

Just two days before Christmas 1985, my husband and I had left our two young children with his parents while we did last minute shopping. First, we’d had dinner at a restaurant adjacent to the mall and then walked over to join the holiday shoppers. A heavy fog settled over the mall but this didn’t dampen the spirits of last-minute shoppers. Lighted Christmas trees, carolers, and a Santa’s Village set in the center of the mall created the perfect environment to forget one’s cares and abandon oneself to the holiday season.

“Let’s meet at the Santa village,” I told my husband, as we each headed in different directions for shopping.

With people rushing to and fro and carrying overflowing shopping bags, a special magic filled the air. Usually, I savored the hustle and bustle that only Christmas can create, but a nagging sense of danger cast a shadow over my joy.

The thought kept going through my head: “You need to leave now!” I stopped shopping and headed back to the designated spot where my husband and I were to meet. If he didn’t come soon, I’d go look for him.

Trying to brush aside the urgent feeling to leave, I watched a line of children patiently waiting to see Santa. Protective parents hovered and clasped tiny hands. Cameras clicked and bulbs flashed. Younger children cried when parents placed them on Santa’s lap. Older children smiled and shyly recited their wish lists in the jolly man’s ear. I smiled to myself: Treasured memories to keep for a lifetime.

I should have brought our children, I thought. They’d love to see these Sesame Street figures in the display.

But this was our “date night,” a tradition that started after our children were born. Each year, we’d arrive at my husband’s parents for Christmas, and they’d insist we leave the children and enjoy an evening together. Usually, this meant an early dinner, some shopping, and a movie.

This year would be no different, if only that sense of impending danger would leave me alone.

When my husband arrived, I said, “We need to leave. I’m not sure why, but I have an uneasy feeling. I can’t explain it, but something inside me keeps telling me to leave.”

“I thought we were going to a movie,” he said.

“No, we need to go home,” I said. “I just have a strange feeling.”

Fortunately, he didn’t argue. As we walked across the packed parking lot, the fog was denser than I’d ever seen. The mall looked like an eerie ghost shrouded in a heavy veil, and lights from the stores almost faded away.

“Are you sure you want to go home?” my husband asked again, as we climbed into the car.

“I feel uneasy being out,” I said. “Let’s go back to your parents’.”

Once we arrived at my in-laws’ house, the warning inside my head stopped. A great sense of relief swept over me, yet I didn’t know why.

The next morning, my father-in-law greeted us at the breakfast table by holding up the morning newspaper. “Read this,” he said.

Splashed across the front page were the words: “Plane Hits Mall; 3 Die, 50 Injured: Bay Area Shoppers Panic as Wreckage Spills Flaming Fuel.”

“This could have been you,” he said.

Not only had the plane crashed into the Sun Valley shopping center just moments after we left, but it crashed in the exact spot where I’d been standing—Santa’s Village! My heart sank. What about those poor children? What about the parents? “Oh, God,” I prayed, “please take care of everyone who was injured. Please comfort those who lost loved ones.” How could this have happened just two days before Christmas? How could it have happened at all?

Only then did I tell my husband and his parents about the sense that kept warning me to leave the mall. “I believe it was the Lord,” I said.

“If you had ignored it,” my father-in-law said, shaking his head, “you’d probably be dead or seriously injured.”

Why I got the warning, I’ll never know. But I had no doubt this was divine protection. Five more minutes could have been the difference between life and death.

To this day, I grieve for those who lost loved ones that terrible night. If only they had heard that same gentle warning.

~Jeanne Getz Pallos

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