"Dear Heavenly Father, we ask thee that we will all arrive home safely...."
I imagine people in other faiths do this as well. Do you know of anyone who has ever gotten into a wreck while driving home from church? I certainly do not.
So I thought the same principle applied when taking your son to the Missionary Training Center (MTC) in Salt Lake City.
My mother, the 18-year-old boy, Baby Hippo and I were fortunate enough to have been able to fly, but John decided to drive up the rest of the family in the 15-passenger van.
Upon meeting up in SLC, the adults attended a meeting at the Salt Lake Temple, after which we all piled into the van, all thirteen of us, including my mother, for a rendezvous with the 21-year-old girl's boyfriend's mother. Sadly, we didn't make it.
As we were driving down a busy six lane road, I heard John suddenly say, "Why is he stopped at a green light?", then slam on his brakes, hard. He came to an abrupt stop behind a small, light-colored pick up, missing his bumper by only centimeters.
My first thought was, "Whew, we didn't hit him." My next thought was, "If there is someone following close behind us, we are going to get hit."
No sooner had this thought manifested itself did all of us hear the sickening smash of metal against metal, as we felt out bodies being suddenly heaved forward, but our heads attempting to stay behind, as they were unsupported by the low van benches. We had been hit, hit so hard that the red sports car behind us had plowed our huge van into the truck in front of us. I never learned if the driver had been distracted and had not noticed we'd had to stop so quickly, but we never heard any brakes, just metal being impossibly bent into contorted shapes.
Baby Hippo immediately started screaming, and Twin B began to cry, but I knew they were all right because they had been firmly strapped into their car seats. They had been startled by the loud sound and sudden, swift movement. I was sitting in the fourth row, and I turned to look back at the other six of my children to ask if they were okay. They all were.
"But Mom," the 18-year-old boy said, "That lady behind us is hurt."
Upon hearing this, I immediately went into help mode and scrambled from the back to the front of the van. Our side door doesn't open unless you perform a complicated operation from the outside, so I commanded my mother, who was in the front passenger seat, to move out of my way so I could get out and help the girl.
I ran back to her car to see that she was leaning out of the open passenger door with blood on her face. I looked at the windshield and could see that her head had made a convex dent in the glass, which hadn't quite shattered, but was badly broken. Some of her blond hair had been tore out and was hanging from the broken glass. The young girl was probably in her early twenties, but tiny, smaller than the 15-year-old girl, and dressed to the hilt, wearing hoop earrings, a belly shirt, 5-inch heels, and tight jeans that would later be cut off by paramedics.
I told her to stay still and that she was going to be all right. Then I remembered that Baby Hippo was crying, and that I should pick him up. By this time John had come to help the driver, who was relatively uninjured, so I went back to the van for Baby Hippo.
Here are the steps that one must perform to open the side door. First, you must open the front passenger door, then access the child security lock on the front of the side door. Once you do this, you must engage the child security lock, reach your hand to the inside of the side door and grab the door handle, then push it away from you, then pull it toward you, then disengage the child security lock, then push the door handle away from you again. This will open the door.
I was so flustered over the plight of the young girl that I could not for the life of me remember the sequence of steps to open the door. After trying for what seemed like an eternity, I finally was able to get it opened, got Baby Hippo out of his seat, encouraged all of the other children to stay in the van, and got out my cell to dial 911. As the phone was ringing, I saw that the 21-year-old girl was already talking to the dispatcher on her phone, so I hung up and walked back to check on the young girl who had been injured.
When I got there, she had gotten out of her car and was stumbling on the pavement nearby, crying, holding her head, and she cried to the driver, whom we later learned was her sister, through spit and blood, "Look at my tooth!" because her front tooth had become knocked halfway out.
I immediately realized she was going into shock and that I needed to protect her from walking into oncoming traffic, or from fainting. I put my left arm around her, as I was still carrying Baby Hippo in my right, and told her that we were going to help her to lie down. I asked my mother to open the back door so we could lie her on the back seat, but there was a car seat strapped in the middle of the seat, so I asked my mother to quickly unbuckle it and take it out.
While I waited for her, the young girl kept trying to walk away, so I wrapped my left arm tightly around her waist. She would then intermittently begin to falter, as if she were about to faint, then try to get away again, to wander off into traffic, so I held her even tighter. It wasn't difficult, because she was such a small girl, but it felt strange to have my hand pressed up against the tender flesh of a stranger's bare stomach.
Even as this was happening, I thought of how odd it must have looked for me to have a fat baby on one hip and this young girl plastered tightly against my other hip.
Finally the 18-year-old boy got out of the van, I handed him the baby, then I continued to try to get the girl to lay down in the car. She wouldn't cooperate. At that instant a young, large man pulled up behind us and said that she needed to lie down in the street behind her car. I explained to him that I was trying to get her to lie down in the back seat, but he firmly stated that he was a medical professional and that she should lie on the ground. I was relieved to have someone arrive who knew what they were doing, so I relinquished my authority to him, grabbed a sweatshirt from her car, laid it on the ground under her head and helped her down.
This all must have happened within a three- or four-minute period, for when John saw that I had the baby with me, he asked me to go back into the van to keep us both away from traffic.
EMS units immediately arrived and began assessing the young girl's needs, and police began blocking off lanes of traffic.
A few minutes later a police officer approached me and told me that he would need the names, birth dates, and locations in the van for each passenger. This process alone took over fifteen minutes.
During this time, I looked over to Twin A in his car seat, and he was limp, having fallen asleep. I was startled and quickly asked the 21-year-old girl, who had been with him all day, if he had taken a nap that day. She said he hadn't, which relieved me, knowing that he was just exhausted, so I let him sleep. Twin B kept saying, "Carey, oww-yide" (scary outside), and it made him feel better if I held his hand, so I did.
After about an hour on the scene, the young girl was placed on a stretcher and lifted into the back of an ambulance, we were cleared to go without a citation, and after I insisted that none of us needed medical care, the paramedics released us.
The strange part? Before leaving the underground parking lot, John had had a feeling that he should move the small fold-out luggage rack to the open and down position. It was this rack that absorbed probably 95% of the impact. It has been crunched into a mangled tangle of metal, protecting the van from the same fate. Had the rack been folded up, the four kids in the back would have most likely been hurt as the seat is only inches from the back door of the van.
We feel so blessed that things weren't worse; that the girl, although her injuries were painful, including a broken leg and tooth, was wheeled away with injuries that will heal, and that the only injuries any of us suffered were sore necks. It was a testament to us and the kids of the importance of wearing seat belts, as these two young ladies had not been using theirs. But most of all, it was a testimony that God knows our paths and watches over us and prepared a way that we could drive home, even though our van had been wrecked both in front and in back.
I'm so grateful for this small reminder that life is so short and can be cut off in an unexpected instant. Events like this put your priorities in check and help you to remember what is important.
Thanks for listening.
P.S. Sorry if there are tons of typos. It's late, I'm out of town, and I'm going to bed. If you'd like to point out the typos, please do in the comments and I will fix them!
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