For several years, National Public Radio ran a series called This I Believe that encouraged listeners to share short audio essays about core beliefs that defined who they were and how they lived their lives.
I always had a secret desire to submit my own essay, but I never did.
I just couldn’t identify only one belief that defines me.
I believe in karma.
I believe that the worst circumstances in our life are intended to teach us critical lessons that, in the end, will make us better people.
And I believe that angels show up in our lives when we need them most.
So it was last night when I got home from work in a foul mood. I was worn down by trying to do the right thing in a world often controlled by manipulative people. I was so angry that I had an almost physical need for everyone else to know exactly how I felt. I was already writing the words for this blog in my head,
But that was before I saw the package on my front steps.
My curiosity immediately overshadowed my anger. The return address was from my long ago babysitter, Carrie, in Oregon.
Growing up, I adored Carrie just as I had adored her mother, Ruby.
My childhood was spent living thousands of miles away from my own grandparents, and Ruby had stepped up and stepped into the role of foster grandmother.
Since Ruby had several daughters of her own, I never understood how someone as special as she was could possibly think I was special too. Not only was she was kind, gentle and loving, but she had the innate ability to draw into the light all the good in people while ignoring all that was ugly. When spending time with Ruby, you couldn’t be angry at the injustices in the world because you were too busy rejoicing in all its beauty.
When Ruby died in January 2007 at the age of 92, I never thought I’d hear from her again.
I was wrong.
The package on my front steps contained a photo album with the letters, announcements and photographs that my mother and I had sent Ruby over two decades. It also included a note with instructions.
As I read the note from Ruby and flipped through the pages of my life since I’d left Oregon, tears streamed down my face and my anger disappeared.
I had been touched by an angel who was reminding me not to focus on the negative. There is just too much in life to celebrate instead.
And so, thanks to Ruby, that’s exactly what I did.
I’ve been thinking about angels lately.
I’m not referring to generous, charitable and kind people who make the world a better place.
I’m referring to guardian angels.
I don’t remember giving much thought to guardian angels before I had children. But when my son was a toddler, he got so sick I had to take him to the emergency room. The doctors ran tests, couldn’t determine what was wrong, prescribed medication anyway and sent us home.
My husband was out of town, and my daughter wasn’t yet born.
Needless to say, I was feeling a bit alone as I cuddled my son. But then he stirred and looked up toward the ceiling.
“Mommy,” he said, “that’s a really pretty butterfly.”
I had no idea what he was talking about, but after that, he slowly began to improve. Later, I told a friend what happened, and she simply shrugged and said, “He probably saw an angel.”
Just like I will always wonder about other circumstances when heartache or disaster were narrowly avoided by some unexpected intervention.
Two weeks ago, I was driving home from work when I heard a familiar ding and a light came on indicating my Jeep was low on gas.
I ignored it. I had kids to run to activities, and I was sure that I had sufficient gas to make it until morning. I knew the light was just a warning. After all, I’d been driving for more than 30 years and had never run out of gas.
As the saying goes, there’s a first time for everything.
Because my children attend school out of district, they don’t have the option of riding a bus. The north-south interstate between our house and the school complex is a truck route with lots of congestion and dangerous driving.
And that was before construction began.
For over a year now, the stretch of the interstate between us and the schools has been limited to exceedingly narrow lanes with only Jersey walls on both sides. There’s been no place to get off the road if needed. Even though the speed limit has been lowered to 55, most people still go 70. This summer, there were so many accidents, including several fatal ones, that the interstate seemed to be shut down on an almost a daily basis. The recent presence of police patrols has slightly improved the situation, but the road is still scary.
So, when my Jeep stuttered to a stop in the middle of one of the two open northbound lanes in the construction zone, I knew my decision to delay filling up the gas tank had been a fatal one.
My daughter and her BFF thought the situation was funny and started calling people. My son told me not to panic. I turned on my emergency blinkers, called 911 and looked in the rear-view mirror as semi trucks and cars barreled down the interstate straight at us.
All I could do was pray.
Then a miracle happened.
Even though the interstate was busy and I was stranded where there was absolutely no place to get off the road, no one hit us. All the vehicles behind me managed to swerve into the other lane. Just as I got off the phone with the 911 dispatcher, a tow truck slowed behind me, pulled around then parked in front of my Jeep. The driver got out and motioned me to roll down my window.
“Ma’am,” he said, “You can’t stop your car in the middle of the interstate. It’s dangerous.”
I’ve always thought of myself as a fairly intelligent person who only occasionally makes stupid mistakes (like driving kids around on an empty gas tank), but I never thought I actually look stupid.
“Yeah, I know, ” I said. “I ran out of gas.” I have to admit that didn’t make me sound any more intelligent.
“Get out of the car, and I’ll tow you,” he replied.
There were four of us in the Jeep. On a busy interstate. During rush hour. With no shoulder. And we couldn’t all fit in the cab of his tow truck.
I was trying to tell the kids to jump over the jersey wall into the construction area when another car pulled up behind me then stopped.
My neighbor, who had overheard my entire 911 call because his daughter had been on the phone with his wife, had come to rescue us. He took the kids to school and me to the gas station. There, the tow truck driver unloaded the Jeep and waited to determine if an empty gas tank had been the problem.
When I asked how much I owed or if he needed my information, he said, “You don’t owe me anything” and walked away.
I was speechless.
I wasn’t sure if I could thank luck or a guardian angel.
I’m leaning toward a guardian angel.
In a world when life sometimes comes at us with such intensity that we make mistakes and get off track, guardian angels somehow ensure that we don’t completely run off the road. And in a world when we often try so hard to ensure our lives go in the direction we want, guardian angels often steer us to where we are actually supposed to be.
There are times in my life where there is no explanation as to why things go right when they shouldn’t have and why things seem to be going wrong when I’ve done everything to ensure success.
And maybe there are times when guardian angels drive tow trucks.