I am one who believes that God is intimately and personally involved in each of our lives. I believe He has His hand over each of us, and that one day we will be allowed to really see how many acts of intervention and protection we were privileged to have while here on earth. Some we are aware of presently, but I believe that many, many others go unnoticed by us because we simply cannot see from His vantage point. But I also believe that the more we look for His guiding influence in our lives, the more we will see. Maybe that is because a parent loves to give to a grateful child, or maybe it is because, like a divine radio signal, we simply become more attuned to the frequency of heaven. David Bednar called these little miracles "tender mercies" and I have tried to become more aware of them in my life. Sometimes people will call them coincidences.
I don't believe in coincidences.
After saying my tearful goodbye to Lyndsay, and enjoying my lunch with Annette, I drove back to Kelli's house with my van load of Lyndsay's dorm belongings. Kelli had agreed to store them and then take them to her on Saturday night and help her settle in. My luggage was still in Kelli's guest room, so I went in to pack up, and Kelli and her husband, Greg, unpacked my van and loaded the contents into their car. But before I went inside, I took out two boxes of books that I had picked up for Luisa (copies of her recently released novel, Dispirited), from her friend in Provo, which I would bring back to California and deliver to her. It was an easy errand to run for my friend, and I was happy to do it. I set the two boxes aside and mentioned something about, "everything but these two boxes," before I went to retrieve my bags in the house.
When I came back out, luggage in hand, I had another emotional goodbye with Kelli, thanking her for her help, and asking her to take care of my girl. Kelli's mother, who was also a good friend, passed away when she was a senior in high school, back when I was her Young Women's leader in Church, so she knows something about missing one's mom. I was keenly aware of the time, now past 2pm, knowing I had a ten hour drive ahead of me, so I threw my suitcases in the car, and backed away from her house, my vision blurred with tears.
To marinate in my sorrow, I cued up an audiobook I had selected for my journey home: Joyce Carol Oates' memoir, A Widow's Story. I figured I'd lose myself in her grief, and maybe feel strangely cleansed by the time I arrived home. And, I hoped that focusing on her elegant prose would keep me awake as I drove. (I think I am plagued with driving-induced narcolepsy, if that exists.)
I watched the scenery change to farmland. Then, with a bolt of adrenaline, I whipped my head around to the back of the van. The boxes! The boxes of books! Oh, my gosh, I hadn't seen them in the back of the van. They had been packed into Kelli's car!
Of course, I was instantly irritated with myself. My sadness had completely clouded my mind. I was about 20 miles out now, and there was no way around it. I would have to turn around and go back. 20 miles back, 20 miles again on the road, just to break even. What a colossal waste! Of time, of gas, all because I was absent-minded. And now it would be that much later that I would get home. I called Kelli and told her I was coming back. She was so sorry, she hadn't heard me say anything about those two boxes. They'd just packed everything. Of course, it was not her fault in the least.
I got back to her house, pulled into the driveway, dug the boxes out of the back of her SUV, and got back on the road, conscious of the ticking clock. I was already so frustrated that I had to go back to California so late in the day just for a fingerprint clearance that could easily have been done on another day.
I kept my audiobook playing loudly, over the sound of my tires on the road, the blasting air conditioning, and opposing traffic. I was lost in the story, a story of loss but also of survival, and now and then I felt a tiny whisper of strength in my Mother Heart. Something that said I had done something hard, given my precious daughter a gift in sending her off, and that not only would I be okay, but that she would soar, and we both would always look on this sacrifice as a sacred time between us. We had to part ways as Mother and Daughter in a day-to-day sense, so that we could come back together at a later time as more. Always Mother and Daughter, but also Woman and Woman, and Friends. I felt a spark of hope for what the future held for both of us, and I felt proud of myself for doing this hard thing (that was much more than a single act, mind you, but many years in the making) largely alone. I had helped her cross a gulf that had been impassable for me when I was her age. I had given her what I wished I had been able to have.
I was thrilled to make it to St. George, my first major milestone. That was four hours done. Six to go, but I would focus on the two to Las Vegas first, and then the last leg home. The traffic was in my favor, and my energy was sufficient. I was feeling good, even though from time to time I let my mind wander to those lost 40 miles. Adam called me as I drove through Vegas. I paused my audiobook to chat with him. Things were good, I was okay, I told him. He was worried about me driving alone. And then, just past the Strip, I heard an odd noise. A flap, flap, flap that was not right. I didn't feel anything, but I knew something was off. "What's that noise?" I said to Adam on the phone. "I need to let you go." And I hung up, and pulled the car onto the shoulder of the road just across from the South Point hotel and casino. I climbed out on the passenger side (where I'd heard the noise) and looked at my tire. The rubber had blown. Not all the way, yet, but there were strips of rubber hanging off of the tire, and the wire mesh underneath was completely exposed. A short distance more on the freeway and it would have been much more dangerous, driving at that speed. I called Adam back and told him the situation. Initially he wanted me to turn around and head back into Vegas, but there was no way I was driving that car another mile. Instead, he offered to call our insurance and utilize our roadside assistance coverage. I was frazzled and emotionally drained.
I thought to myself how grateful I was that he had called me when he had, because I don't know if I would have heard the flapping noise over the volume of the audiobook I was so engrossed in.
So, began a very long night. The first help came and was completely worthless and inept. I'd noticed by that time that my other front tire also had splits in the seam and was about to go. It was his advice that I go ahead and just drive on it. That's what he would do. And he attempted to put on my spare that had a huge slash in it with an old patch job oozing through. And exactly how was he going to tow me in that old white Honda Civic of his? I told him I just didn't feel comfortable with his level of expertise. Did he realize I was a woman driving alone, and in just a few miles I would be in the middle of nowhere for a very long time, in the middle of the night? I sent him off and my insurance company, who'd called to check on me, dispatched another tow service. I needed two new tires, no way around it, and I had to get home that night. I ended up waiting several hours on the side of that freeway for a tow truck who finally took me to a 24 hour tire joint in a seedy part of Vegas around midnight. The tire place could only sell me used tires, and they didn't recommend I drive a long distance, but I had the tow guy come and assess them for safety in getting home to Los Angeles. There was just no way around it. I was grateful--grateful that I had the insurance coverage, grateful for the tow service, grateful for the money to get the temporary tires, grateful that Adam had been on the other end of the phone helping me long-distance--but so very exhausted by this point. I didn't know how I would physically be able to make the drive home.
And then I had a peaceful awareness come over me. The boxes. Had I not forgotten them, I would have been 40 miles further down the road when my tire blew. There ain't a lot going on 40 miles outside of Vegas. The freeways are a lot darker, and I'll betcha 24-hour tire joints, even seedy ones, are non-existent. My insurance coverage only provided for 17 miles of towing service, and that would not have been sufficient. Forgetting those boxes had been a blessing. A tender mercy.
I pulled into the driveway just after 4am. I was so relieved to turn the engine off. I'd made it home, safely, miraculously, and in time to get my children off to school and head over to that blasted fingerprint clearance appointment.
No, I don't believe in coincidences.
I believe in Heaven watching over me.