“If you are going to write about this experience, I’d like to read the story.” The Police officer, David Fox, said with a smile as he was giving me a ride to our cabin. I promised him.
I love celebrating birthdays! To me, birthdays are the best time to honor life experiences. For years, I have taken time off from work on my birthday to ponder where I have been and where I would like to go, a slow motion review of the year. A wise person once said before we know where we want to go; we need to know where we have been and where we come from.
The list of celebrations of birthdays and special occasions for all those close to my heart is now in the thousands and I am not exaggerating. At times, it takes me a couple of hours to complete honoring the birthdays on a given day. Many friends contact me to inquire about birthdays of our mutual friends. You get the picture. I am the birthday guru.
For my birthday, I become a young child, really young inside, wishing for a fantasy birthday. I love to invite all of our family, relatives, friends, neighbors, and colleagues; almost anyone I know for an all day celebration. My birthday being in July, living in sunny southern California, I would love to have an outdoor gathering from 10a.m. to midnight. I would love families to come for a pool party, swimming, playing in the park, soccer, volleyball and Viking Chess to name a few. There would be delicious food available in our recreation room all day. There would be a chance of visiting with those I have not met all year for a one on one chat.
After a day of activities and dinner, then it is time for playing music, singing, dancing and sharing talents like an artist salon. Everyone would share something unique including memories we shared; my favorite. Remembering the memories we have kept and what we have let go.
Well into the evening, there would be time for quiet, soothing time reading Rumi, Hafez, Khayam; poetry for the soul. I love for our guests to share their favorite meaningful pieces of a poem, essays written by self or another. When friends play an instrument and we sing together, I feel a natural high; feeling life is precious.
One can imagine this is a lot of work. Yes, it is, yet it creates warm memories for the winter of life. We have had large gatherings in our home where friends sat on the stairs singing. Our home is way too small for my fantasy.
My loving partner in life with a warm look in his kind eyes shared his feeling. “I know you love big gatherings for your birthday. I don’t feel I have the stamina to pull it off and feel kind of guilty.”
“I feel so grateful. This is the best time of my life. We are in good health, our children are doing all right and this is the first birthday as a grandmother; my heart smiles just thinking about it. I would be most happy to spend the day with our family.” I thought that holding our grandsons would be the best gift ever.
“I’d like to do something to remember this birthday.” He knows me well.
“You know, we haven’t been to nature in a long time. We both love hiking. How about going to Sequoia National Park?”
“That sounds great. I will make reservations for a few days.”
In summer, National parks are filled with families. He was able to book for two nights for Thursday, August 4 & Friday the 5th, the earliest available. I usually celebrate the whole month of July and now I can extend it to August too, with much joy.
I park in front of our home. One day, around my birthday, for the first time in my life, I found a note on my car. The note said, if you wish to sell your car call this number with a name. To me, everything happens for a reason even though I may not like or understand the reason at the time. I love my car and had absolutely no problem with it for all the years I have had it. The car was always serviced early and was due for service in 600 more miles. I showed the card that the potential buyer left on my car to my husband as we left home for beautiful Sequoia.
“It is time for a new car,” He said with a smile. He loves new things and loves shopping, unlike me.
“But I love my car. It is a great car.”
“It has over 100,000 miles. Wouldn’t you like a new car? There is a buyer available without even looking.”
“I wonder if there is a message for me. What do you think about an oil change now?”
“We already have an appointment for general service, so we will do the whole service when we return, when it is due.”
As soon as we are in nature, my energy changes, just the view of the mountains and tress, away from crowded highways makes me joyful. Upon arrival, I noticed my husband had been mindful and chose a rustic furnished large cabin facing a beautiful roaring river with all the amenities including outdoor full kitchen, cozy dinner table and chairs with fire pit nearby and even a hammock hanging near the river. To me, being in a natural body of water is one of the most precious gifts of nature. Arriving there before check-in time, we immediately went to the river. The experience of the cool, clean water, surrounded by the green trees and mountains was mesmerizing. We thought we could spend the whole two days right there, resting and relaxing, and didn’t even need to go to the park or anywhere else. The water was washing away the stress of our daily life already.
After checking in, we drove to the beautiful Sequoia Park and visited the world famous Sherman tree, well known for having the largest amount of wood in its trunk than any tree in the world. We wished our children and their families could be with us. We remembered the good old times that we traveled with our three children every summer. Each time going to a new place or national park like Zion, Bryce Canyon, Kings Canyon, Grand Canyon, and Yellowstone to name a few. My husband was longing to go back in time when we loved to show them the wonders of the nature and the universe. I was grateful we were both in good health and able to hike and enjoy nature, hopeful to bring our grandchildren to the nature when they become old enough as we did with their parents.
“I am wondering and debating if we should go to Kings Canyon Park tomorrow for six hours of round trip driving in a narrow winding and steep road.” My husband, a planner by nature, said on our way back to the cabin.
“How about if we don’t plan and see how we feel tomorrow. We have been to Kings Canyon before. We are here to rest. Six hours driving on a winding road is too much for our two day vacation.” I was thinking to myself, we have been mostly running all of our lives, living a highly active life and it is time to learn to slow down and rest more.
“I wonder how come they have not built guard rails or barrier walls at the deep canyon side of the road edge at this high elevation! They have done it is some areas but not the entire road where there is a possibility for a malfunctioned car, if it swerves, can easily go over the edge and free falls into the canyon!” He added while we continued our drive back to the cabin. He is a civil engineer, has built many roads in his long career and notices what others may not. He is always mindful of the safety issues while driving. There is even a sign suggesting to use a lower gear, to save wear and tear on the brakes.
“Maybe you can make that suggestion when we get back.” He had a valid point. If a car would have some malfunction, the barrier wall or guardrail will protect the vehicle from a catastrophic fall into the canyon.
It was Friday, August 5, 2016. We decided to take it easy, have breakfast, and just go to the park for hiking leisurely. We left our cabin at 11:00 a.m., laughing and happy that we did not have to get up early at 6 a.m. rushing to go to Kings Canyon. I was writing in my notebook. The heavy traffic to the park was unexpected and made us think for a second to go back to the cabin and enjoy swimming in the river instead. We were almost at a standstill. Traffic was moving a few feet at the time. A three mile drive from our cabin to the park took more than one hour.
When we saw the gates, we were most happy. It was a hot day, around noon time. Then we noticed a sign that said if you have a pass take the right lane. Yes, we did have a lifetime pass to all national parks. He started to move into the right lane and we were a few cars away from the entering park gate. What happened then would be difficult to put in words.
All of a sudden and for no apparent reason, the car accelerated with high speed, so my husband turned the steering wheel to avoid the cars in front of us and crashed into the rocky hillside a few feet away with a big bang. I felt as if King Kong had attacked our car. The car was then rolled over onto the driver’s side with such intensity as if there was a 9.9 earthquake. The shock to the body and soul was traumatic. While hanging in the air, thanks to the seat belt, repeating oh my God, oh my God. I felt some entity was watching over us.
“Turn the engine off.” I said while thinking about the cars that I had seen on fire and blowing up in flames. For a second, I wondered if this was the end of this life for us!
I looked at my husband. He was conscious and turned the engine off. Thank God for the side air bag, without it my husband would have fallen on broken window glass or gotten a head injury. “What happened?” I kept asking trying to orient myself.
“Are you Okay?” A man was entering the car from the back door that had been opened up during the crash, a rescuer.
“Yes, we are OK.”
“Can you open your seat belt?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Just let go and lean on me. I am holding you.”
“I did and the man helped me get out of the back. His teenage son, wearing a green shirt, also was helping me get out.”
The man, an angel, then tried to get my husband out. It was difficult to get him out from the back. He suggested turning the engine on and opening the sunroof. He was able to pull him out when the Park Rangers and paramedic arrived at the scene. We both were traumatized, somewhat disoriented, yet felt no harm except my husband’s bleeding left arm from broken glass.
If I had seen the accident from an outsider’s perspective, I would have thought it was a fatal accident. We were pretty much unharmed. It was like a miracle and I felt like we were watched over.
“What happened?” I asked the man who rescued us.
“I don’t know. We were in front of you and heard the loud noise and came out to help.”
I hugged him on reflex.
“Thank you so much. How can we thank you?” My heart was filled with love for this man and his teenage son and daughter. He risked his life, helping us out.
“Please give me your contact information so we can thank you.” I was still in shock.
“No need Ma’am, glad to be of help.”
I hugged him and his children, kept saying thank you. They left when two police officers Mr. David Fox & Mr. Jeff Webb and the medical staff showed up along with the park rangers.
As I look back, I am more aware of the risk the man took. A friend once shared driving smoothly, suddenly her car turned upside down in a second. She was conscious, kept asking loudly for help. There were many witnessed to the accident around. No one came to help with fear of the car blowing up in fire. She found her cell phone and called 9-1-1.
Yes, our car was at risk, being on the ground on the tank side in that heat. With that heavy traffic, the fire engine would not have been able to get to the gate of the park. I delete the thought of that possibility in my mind with deep gratitude.
“Are you in pain? Would you like me to call an ambulance for you?” An officer asked us.
“I don’t feel any physical pain. I feel shocked.” I responded.
“I don’t feel pain either; just my left elbow is bleeding, need a band aid.” My husband said.
They sat us on the curb in a little bit of shade. Kibby, the medical person was a kind woman. She gently and mindfully asked my husband if he was orientated. I was used to such assessments when we did 5150 evaluations for involuntary mental hospitalization, checking if the person is oriented to time, place and people.
Officer Jeff Webb gave us water. He seemed to be experienced with such traumatic experiences. He was calm, mindful and kind. He asked me if I was able to fill out a form and write what happened.
“I don’t really know what happened. I feel the car was attacked by King Kong. I can try.”
I have worked with trauma survivors and appropriate humor can bring inner peace and gratitude.
The cars were driving by, looking at us. How many times in my life, I had witnessed an accident, prayed for them sending love and healing energy. I didn’t think it would happen to us; interesting. My husband has been driving for over 55 years with no accidents. What was the life message for us from driving in a stand still movement to such a heavy collision?
Kibby then checked me after putting a bandage on my husband; I had no pain, no cuts, a few minor bruises. The emotional shock was present. I looked at the car in disbelief.
“It seems no broken bones. You seem to be okay. If you wish, we can send you to the nearest hospital in Visalia,” Kibby stated.
“No pain, concerned about a possible concussion.” I asked the officers “What is going to happen now?”
“We have called a tow truck. The traffic is heavy; it is going to take a while. The truck driver will take you to Visalia where you can rent a car.” Officer David Fox was calm and reassuring.
The Velaro Brothers arrived with their tow truck. They skillfully raised the car from the ground. When I saw the damage to the car, I knew I would never see my car again, thanking it for years of service with no issues and many warm memories. I became aware of how attached I was to this car, remembered the day I drove it from the dealership feeling a bit anxious, a masterpiece of engineering. I wanted to give the car a hug.
Just before the engine accelerated abruptly, I was writing in my note book. My notebook has been my best friend for years now, my companion. Now, I noticed it was thrown out of the car with my glasses, unharmed! Officer Fox gave me my glasses, surprised that they were intact. When the car was on its side, we were asked to stay away from it because of the possibility of explosion. There was some liquid on the hot asphalt, most likely the liquid from AC, yet one can’t be sure. Now that the car was in standing, I asked.
“May I take my note book?”
Writing has been a therapeutic tool for me for years now. I needed my notebook, knowing that writing can help me the most to process the trauma. I kept reminding myself, everything happens for a reason. Even at that time, I felt deep gratitude. What if this malfunction of the brake happened at the top of the mountain? My body was shaking, deleted the thought created by ego, imagined a white light around us.
We could now take our personal belongings out before the tow truck leave. All of our emergency supplies including water, bars, first aid, toilet paper and portable urinal were on the asphalt. I couldn’t help myself smiling.
“The tow truck can only take one person with them.” Officer David informed us.
“I’ll go with them to rent a car. Would you be able to take my wife to our cabin?” My husband asked.
“Yes, of course.”
While the officer was driving me back, still in shock I shared, “I am a story teller. I write short stories and have a blog. I am going to write this story. This vacation was to celebrate my birthday.”
“You will remember this birthday.”
“That is what I am going to call the story, a memorable birthday.”
“If you write the story, I’d like to read it.”
“I’d like to express our gratitude also to your supervisor.”
“Thank you. I am doing my job.”
“Supervisors usually hear from people when someone is unhappy. You guys went beyond the call of duty to comfort us. This was a traumatic experience.”
“Yes, you guys were very fortunate.”
When I got to our cabin, the first thing I did was to call the Chief Ranger’s office and left a message.
Sitting down, I felt we were both given another chance. This was without a doubt a miracle. We could have easily been killed, burned, have head trauma, paralyzed……………..
Everything happens for a reason, I repeated to myself. We had done our estate planning many years ago thinking if we leave together, our affairs are in order. Yet, this experience was life altering for me; live today as if this is the last day on the planet. A thought emerged from a source beyond me; an intuition. I’d like to have all of our children and their families come as soon as we get back and read them this story.
“If prayer is you talking to God,
Then intuition is God talking to you.”
“Dance before the music is over.
Live before your life is over.”
This story is dedicated to the man who rescued us; the unknown angel. He and his family will always be in my prayers.