I sat in the old woman’s living room. It was a gaudy block home. The walls were outdated pastel colors, á la 1986. She was smoking menthols.
She knows she shouldn’t smoke, her daughter wants her to quit. Eventually, the old woman says she will.
“Quitting smoking ain’t hard,” she said. “I’ve done it hundreds of times.”
She is 93. By her own admission, she’s never been religious. There are no Bibles in her house. No cute embroidered scripture verses on the walls. She’s tough. You can see it in her face. The lines on her cheeks tell the tale of a life spent in the company of hard work.
She worked in cotton fields when she was a girl, in Georgia. She worked in a textile mill when she was a teenager. She survived two husbands. One of which abused her. She raised six kids. And she did it without any help, thank you very much.
She tapped the four-inch ash on her menthol 305. “I always thought, ‘Hey, if God’s real, he damn sure don’t care about me, so why should I care about him?’”
And that was her philosophy. She didn’t bother God, and he mostly stayed out of her way.
Her mind changed when she turned 50. It was a pivotal year. The doctors found breast cancer. It was a cruel joke on God’s part, she said.
Here was a woman who had raised children, who was about to retire. She had finally reached a time in life when she was supposed to be on Easy Street. And along comes aggressive ductal carcinoma.
The woman pauses, then falls into a coughing fit, which finishes with her spitting a gob of mucus the size of a regulation softball into a handkerchief.
“I thought I was as good as dead.”
The old woman says she lost her will. She quit trying. She woman freely admits she did not want to live anymore. And while she did not actively try to end her own life, she wasn’t all that enthusiastic about prolonging it.
Then something happened.
It happened late in the evening when she was leaving work at the mill. She clocked out. She got into her station wagon. She was driving through the ink darkness, smoking, listening to the radio, crying.
Something shot across the highway in front of her. An animal of some kind. Bigger than a dog. Smaller than a deer.
She swerved. The car fell into a skid. The vehicle collided with the guardrail. She tumbled off an embankment and into the icy December waters below.
“My car was filling up fast,” she said. “I was about to drown, I was trying to get out, but I couldn’t. My knees were pinned in. This was the end.”
And all at once, she realized that she did not want to die. There was fight left in her. She did not want to leave this earth. Not yet. So she said a word to the ceiling as her car sank into the river water.
What happened next happened fast. So fast she can hardly remember it.
A young man opened her car door. He pulled her from her vehicle. He dragged her to safety. He had a beard. Long hair. He was either a hippie, or a Grateful Dead band member.
“He wasn’t panicked,” the old woman said. “He was totally calm, like he went around rescuing people from submerged cars every day.”
The man laid her on solid ground. She was drifting in and out of consciousness, but she managed to say, “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” the man said.
And then he was gone.
It goes without saying that no witnesses ever saw a strange, bearded Jerry Garcia. When first responders placed her into the ambulance, it was because a local officer had spotted the mangled guardrail and found the accident.
“So,” I asked the old woman. “Who do you think that man was?”
The lady just looked at her cigarette for a moment. “I think he was the same one who healed my cancer.”
Cate - March 6, 2023 1:42 pm
God IS in control and works in very mysterious ways.
julieannhall - March 6, 2023 1:44 pm
Sean, thank you for telling this story! When I read the last line I got chill bumps from my scalp to my feet!! Wow! What a testimony!