Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death . . .
Christmas, 1964, somewhere on the Interstate between Albuquerque and Santa Rosa, New Mexico. A sudden, blinding snowstorm. Visibility cut from several hundred yards to less than 50 feet, almost instantly. The rear end of the car in front of me looms into view. I can’t stop in time. There is a shuddering crash.
We were driving a Plymouth station wagon. There were seatbelts in those days, but nobody took them seriously. No one actually wore them, nuisance that they were. The seats in the back of the station wagon were down, creating a level “floor” all the way back to the tailgate. Perpendicular to the front seat I had secured a “baby carrier,” in which my 18 month old daughter stood holding onto the front end . The best way to describe it would be as the bed of a baby carriage lifted out of its frame. I looked back and our luggage had slammed against it crushing it like an accordion. My daughter was inside. I jumped out of the driver’s seat and opened the rear door. Forcing my hands between the edges of the closed carrier I pulled it open. There was my daughter, eyes closed, quiet and still.
My head and torso were inside the car, yet I still stood on the ground, the lower half of my body exposed to traffic. Another crash. The right front fender of the car behind me slammed into the left rear end of the car I had been driving. If it had been a mere five inches to the left, the second car would have torn me in half.
We were taken to the hospital in Santa Rosa, where my daughter awakened without a scratch, no apparent memory of what had just happened. My wife and I had bruises, but were fine.
September, 1965. I had just purchased a brand new Chevrolet Impala. We had owned it for two weeks. Passing through an intersection on 7th street in Long Beach, California, a group of young men ran a red light crashing into my left rear quarter panel, spinning us into a concrete light standard. It smashed into the car just inches behind where my now pregnant wife was holding the very same daughter. We all walked away, unharmed.
Fast forward forty years to 2004. The surgeon had performed a sigmoidectomy, removing a significant portion of my colon. The sutures ruptured causing peritonitis and emergency surgery. I felt the shadows of the valley of death creep over me. I have never been so sick and weak in my life. Almost three weeks in the hospital. A few months later, I felt tightness in my chest and an inability to breathe. I thought it was asthma, a problem I’ve had all my life. My wife rushed me to the ER. I was diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism infarct, meaning a blood clot had emerged from a Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) in my leg, passed through my heart and into my lungs destroying half my left lung. I was advised that 80% of those to whom this happened were diagnosed on the autopsy table.
At length we come to Wednesday night, October 26, 2011. Something was wrong with the television. I got up to fix it, bent at the waist to reach the power plug on the floor when suddenly I thought I was going to pass out. I began to sweat, chest pain, difficulty in breathing. I sat down, hyperventilating. I thought I was having a heart attack and told my wife to dial 911.
The ER doctors determined that it was not a heart attack. I had had another pulmonary embolism. Another DVT blood clot had passed through the heart and into the lungs. Another week in the hospital. This time, thank God, there was no infarct, no death or damage to lung tissue.
I suppose all of this is not that unusual. I suppose many of us have had close calls when there was nothing but a hair breadth between life and death. Inevitably, when these things happen to people for whom spirituality and faith are the most compelling realities, someone says, or someone believes that God’s purpose for the one so affected is not yet accomplished, that one had been kept alive for a specific purpose. How many times have I heard, have I believed, “God is not finished with you yet.”
And then I think of the holocaust. Over six million lives. I think of the tsunamis in the South Pacific and Japan and the hundreds of thousands of men, women and children who were swept away. I think of the hurricanes and tornadoes, wars, and the thousands of people that are killed each year by drunk drivers. I think of the millions of aborted babies and I ask, “What of their purpose? Was God finished with them?”
Do not look to me to provide satisfactory answers to such questions. Do not look to me to pontificate as to why some are taken by death and others slap it in the face; why some walk unharmed and laughing in the Valley of the Shadow of Death and others never make it through. It would appear that in the lives of many that the purpose of God is truncated. So it would seem . . .
I can only say, and speaking for myself, it is no small comfort to know that “I need not fear, for . . .Thou art with me! Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me!” No small comfort.