I thought I would know, instinctively, innately, an inkling would prickle the back of my neck, send shock waves down the length of my spine, but that didn’t happen. I remained blissfully unaware, until I was regrettably informed, dangling from the hands of a clock by my fingernails.
There were insignificant chores to be done, a prescription to pick up, a hostess gift to buy, and some last-minute food shopping to do before slipping into my car and heading home, gloriously normal for fifteen more minutes.
I’ve learned from people who enjoy delineating these things, that there are 1440 minutes in a day, which makes me question how a single second can change everything, sending one’s life on an igneous trajectory?
“Sometimes in life, a sudden situation, a moment in time, alters your whole life, forever changes the road ahead.” Ahmad Ardalan
It took five minutes to put the groceries away, before grabbing my computer from my room and heading out back to grade a few assignments in the comfort of the cool patio. Of course, I have to make a cup of coffee and adjust the curtain for shade, before opening Google Classroom.
There are sixty-five worksheets to grade, I’ll admit it’s daunting, so I reach for my iPhone, purposely avoiding that which needs to be done.
This is when I notice a missed call from an unknown number. Curious?
After clicking the voicemail message, I listen to the principal of Notre Dame, who’s calling me from her personal cell phone, the time is 1:15 pm.
“Hi Cheryl, this is Mary Beth, I’m calling from my cell phone. We had an odd experience in the front office today, someone called and said they were your son Dante? He wanted your phone number and as you know we don’t give out private information. He called from this number… but the name on the phone was Jaime? It seemed a little strange and I wanted to let you know.”
That does seem strange but I thought maybe Dante’s phone died (not the first time), and he was using a co-workers phone, but didn’t have my number memorized. I dialed the number.
A deep male voice says, “Hello”
“Hi, this is Cheryl Oreglia, I received a message…”
He abruptly interrupts, “Yes, this is Jamie, I’m a paramedic, your son Dante has been in an accident, he’s okay, but I took him to Kern Medical Trauma Center as a precaution for further testing.”
It’s the call no parent ever wants to receive because some memories you can never fully erase.
I was able to form one word, “What?”
The rest of the conversation is a complete blur, high-speed accident, rollover, fire, Good Samaritan, injuries incurred, car totaled.
With a single glance at my terrorized face, Julie and Nic spring into action, tears streaming unchecked down my cheeks, knees shaking, I’m the epitome of calm in an emergency.
Nic pulls up the phone number and address of the Kern Trauma Center in Bakersfield on his computer, Julie alerts her Dad, but all I can think about is getting to my son, alone in a hospital, four hours away.
Larry says, “Cheryl pack a bag, we might have to stay overnight” I move numbly to my room, grab a tote, throw in pajamas, my computer, and wander back into the kitchen suddenly nothing in my life makes any sense.
Julie says, “mom think about what you need,” but I can’t comprehend a single word she is saying, I fail to pack just about everything I would need for an overnight, including a toothbrush!
Nic has Dante’s nurse on the phone, she can give Dante a message, but we can’t talk to him? I don’t question anything, “tell him we’re coming, we love him, we’ll be there soon.”
The next thing I know is we’re barreling down the 101, the traffic is dense, the silence deafening. I’m trying to keep my emotions in check, but I can’t, so I just give up and let the tears flow.
I start making these little deals with God, okay if I could just get to Bakersfield immediately, I’ll refrain from cussing and I’ll serve the blessed poor.
Why does time pass so slowly when you need it to pass quickly? Neile Walshe says time is experienced as a movement, a flow, rather than a constant. It is you who are moving, not time, or the damn traffic.
Time should be equal as it passes through our lives, but it’s not, and right now I believe it’s the root cause of an inordinate amount of angst.
The I5 is straight, scaly, as if a snake of concrete, merciless, endless, and deadly.
Like boulders in the road, these enormous trucks randomly pull into the fast lane and cause all sorts of unnecessary delays. Suddenly I’m cussing like a truck driver.
Larry remains unscathed, focused, and unavailable.
There’s an endless number of exits all leading onto artery roads, I notice how they dissolve into the barren landscape, the traffic is as thick as blood, and we’ve become an immeasurable pulse in time, hammering our way along a corroded vein to Bakersfield.
Unawares I find myself pressing my right foot into the floorboard as if I had my own accelerator, my hands fisted into tight balls, I’m as lost as the disciples in a storm, complete with Jesus lounging in the backseat, scolding me about my capricious faith.
The hours tick by at a snail’s pace, God ignores my gratuitous offers, until we pull off the freeway, and suddenly I feel as if my prayers have been answered. Dante Alighieri said, “Oh how time hangs and drags till our aid comes,” and I’m thinking my son must be feeling much the same.
I don’t know why but this is what crosses my mind, one day you’re twenty-something, you make a few heady decisions, you blink, and you’re sixty, sitting next to a grey-haired dude, racing down I5, in the hopes of recusing one of those decisions we made when we were twenty-something?
“If you want to have a full and happy life, in good times and in bad, you have to get used to the idea that facing misfortune squarely is better than trying to escape from it.” Norman Fischer
We have the nurse on the phone and she informs us, “Only one person can go in,” and that will be me, it’s not up for negotiation.
I slap on my mask and run towards the flashing emergency sign, passing through the automatic doors, that part as if the Red Sea, into an abandoned waiting room, yellow crime tape blocks the chairs from use.
A nurse leans out of her cubicle, “Can I help you?”
“My son Dante Oreglia was admitted earlier today, a car accident, and I’m here to pick him up,” suddenly it feels as if I can’t breathe.
“Wait outside please,” and the Red Sea comes crashing down, an insurmountable barrier between me and my son. What I want to do is storm the doors, blitzkrieg every room, until I find him, but I was taught to be obedient to authority, I swallow this impulse as if bile, and quickly exit the building.
How often do we find ourselves on the outside looking in? I’m pacing with a community of rough-looking characters, all waiting for someone, each of us lost in our own misery. Somehow we recognize that which we hold in common, an overwhelming despair, and I feel my compassion swell.
There is some guy crouched over, holding his belly, his hair unkempt, he appears to be coming off some sort of drug addiction, his sweat pants are soiled, and he stands not five feet from me moaning in agony. I silently do the same. Another man in baggy jeans and a plaid shirt is smoking a cigarette as he leans against the banister, mimicking my worry. Two women wearing tattered jeans and tanks tops sit together on the cement steps looking at their phones but I notice their arms are touching, and the worry they carry in their tiny frames.
I wait, I fret, I sniffle, and silently moan.
After what seemed an eternity, but most likely was only minutes, Dante walks through the automatic doors, the body I lovingly made, is whole, disheveled, and in my arms. I’ll admit to a complete loss of composure. It happens. The relief wracking my body came in the form of sobs, this is when I notice his eyes welling up, and suddenly I remember who I am.
I am the mother, the protector, the one who makes it all better, and I purposely reembody this roll.
Arm in arm Dante and I make our way to the car, exhausted and traumatized he allows this new reality to sink in, and with every fiber of my being, I wish I could take it all away.
This could have been all so different, we silently acknowledge this, and a surreal atmosphere encompasses us.
As the tale unfolds, we learn that the traffic suddenly backed up, Dante was following too close, he swerves into the empty lane, overcorrects, and makes contact with a rigid concrete barrier. This sends his car rolling across the highway, landing on the tires in the dusty median.
No substances were involved, or miraculously any other vehicles, he was returning home from a long week of work in Pasadena. A few Good Samaritans follow his truck into the dirt, jump out and race towards the burning car. These are the kind of people who God enlists because they are more concerned with what will happen to their neighbor if they do not help, than their own safety, and perhaps that is our most important calling?
The windshield and windows are blown out and he can hear them yelling, “get out of the car, get out of the car.”
The door is jammed so he attempts to crawl through the window, they reach for him, and lift him out. Bleeding from several wounds but able to walk, they race across the freeway, away from the burning car, and the gas tank that’s about to explode, dodging the debris scattered across the road.
His guardian angel was working overtime and for that, I am forever grateful.
They hand Dante water and a clean shirt to stanch the blood flowing from the wound on his head. An undercover cop pulls over and attempts to control the traffic. Within minutes the cops roll up, along with several fire trucks and an ambulance. They retrieve his wallet, some cash, and a broken iPhone from the doused and damaged vehicle. Everything else turns to ash.
The scene is secured as Dante is loaded onto a gurney and his sweet paramedic Jamie attempts to contact his family. Thank God they thought to contact Notre Dame or it may have been hours before we knew what had happened to our son.
He leaves the hospital with a few staples in his head, stitches on his arm, and several bruises, but of his own accord.
Our next stop is the wreaking yard, it’s after hours, but they graciously let us rummage through the wreckage. We are shocked by the condition of the car and the realization that his survival was indeed miraculous. Life can profoundly turn on small choices, I say slow down, give each other space, arrival is the goal, not the capricious passage of time.
I don’t care if the time passes quickly or slowly because I’m no longer dangling from the hands of a clock. I’ve become ensconced, held, time now passes in unison with my beating heart.
John O’Donohue says everything we experience somehow passes into a past invisible place, when you think of yesterday and the things that were troubling you and worrying you, and the intentions that you had and the people that you met, and you know you experienced them all, but when you look for them now, they are nowhere, they have vanished.
The destiny of all things is that they will disappear, but I believe gratitude is permanent and remains forever, this might be God’s most compassionate grace.