Posted by: trevormeers | January 15, 2010

Chaos

8:12 a.m. was the tipping point, the moment in time when this Monday would teeter on the razor’s edge of normalcy, then go spinning off like a bullet nicking a branch.

In the literature of car accidents, aviation disasters and wilderness accidents, most experts view the world as an infinite series of possibilities resting precariously against one another. Life, in this view, is like a snowy mountainside, a mass of potential energy waiting for the day when the friction between snow crystals gives way, exploding peaceful vista into deadly avalanche in a finger snap.

A Christian’s worldview allows no such randomness. On December 28, there was utter precision in the traction my tires found one moment on pavement and lost in the next on black ice. Happenstance didn’t bank the median snow in just such a way that it would send my 4Runner tumbling, yet stop it before it made it all the way into the opposite lanes. No chaos theory altered my schedule by an unplanned 30 seconds when I went back in the house for my phone, when I chose to stay in the right lane, when I turned the wheels a certain way.

Events in God’s hands—which is to say all of them—can happen in no way other than what they do. But this doesn’t stop a fragile human from thinking about what if God’s hands had turned ever so slightly, producing a different event. It’s unavoidable when you come so close from a human perspective, barrel-rolling toward oncoming trucks with only Toyota engineering between your skull and the frozen ground. This wasn’t one of those, “It could’ve been me in that intersection if I hadn’t stopped at the store” moments. That, you can marvel at and forget after the first cup of coffee at the office.

This one wasn’t so easily shaken. After a truck driver dropped me off at home and Teri let me in the front door, I sat on the couch watching the kids play. In the half hour I’d been gone, it all had changed. I once saw a magazine story about the families of men who died climbing mountains. A photoillustration showed a young wife and kids at the dinner table, with a climber standing outside the window, banished to watch a scene that once had a place for him. This was my Monday.

Allison played with the dollhouse I assembled for her last night, which almost became The Last Thing He Ever Built. The Burt’s Bees tin in my pocket reminded me that when I kissed Teri good-bye that morning, she said, “Now my lips feel minty.” A forgotten moment very nearly elevated to a memory she carried for life. Everything I passed now seemed like an almost-artifact. I noticed what would’ve been the last comment I ever made in editing a story. I wondered what phone messages out there would’ve survived as recordings of my voice.

The night of the wreck, I drove past the ruts in the snow on my way to the body shop to retrieve my wallet from the 4Runner’s glovebox. As I approached the truck in the shop’s lot, I flicked on my headlamp and opened the door. I turned the key and the truck started, but it didn’t occur to me to so much as click on the dome light. I noticed that the dash thermometer read 13 degrees, then turned the engine off. Dark and cold seemed like all that belonged inside.

Like a salvage man exploring a wrecked plane, I went through the truck, my breath rising in clouds in front of the headlamp. Snow covered the seats. Dried meltwater showed on the passenger door where I’d stood to climb out. Pieces of our lives lay scattered: one of Allison’s flip-flops, Katie’s crayons, a plastic bottle of milk, the ill-fitting replacement windshield wiper I’d been cursing a few days ago. In their normal places, they’d gone unnoticed. Tossed around the truck, they were ghosts.

Forty-eight hours began softening my perspective. I drove to work and back without incident. I closed my eyes without seeing the Iowa countryside through an inverted windshield. And I came around to recognize that dwelling too much on the fact that Monday could have been the day devalued the fact that it wasn’t. This, like everything else, had nothing to do with chance. Ezra wrote in Psalm 119:71, “It is good that I am afflicted so that I may learn thy statues.” Taking his cue, now I go looking for the lessons to be had from one of my most teachable of moments.

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