The man scrambled down the side of the snowy ditch, arms stretched out like a scarecrow to balance himself.
He ran as fast as a guy can run through crusty snow — snow that was a foot deep but not solid enough to keep a grown man from falling in with each step. This is winter’s quicksand, the kind of snow that gets up under the hem of your jeans, cutting at your ankles with icy blades.
But he ran anyway.
He feared that the person in the van was dying, or was maybe dead already, with that whole front end smashed in like it was.
He had seen accidents like this, and he’d seen mortals die before. He had volunteered for years on the local fire department, and had been summoned to more accident scenes than he cared to remember. But he ran brave and sure, his breath making tiny white bursts of determined little clouds.
He was running.
And he was running late.
He would have been ten miles farther down the road, if it weren’t for the marshmallow. Had he been on time, he would have driven past here before the crash happened, and he would have been at the church by now, sipping Folgers from Styrofoam.
The man was supposed to be sharing his testimony with a group of Iowa men that morning, and he wanted to burn a marshmallow at the podium, until it turned ash-black. He wanted to show those farmers and accountants and grandpas and truck drivers what he thought his heart might have looked like, during all those years when he kept shutting Jesus out. It burned his insides, that heart of his on a campfire stick.
But he’d forgotten his marshmallow exhibit on the kitchen table back home, so he had to stop at the corner store for a whole bag of them.
And that’s why he was running late, and why he was running strong, where you see him now, racing down into a crooked ditch toward a smashed-up van.
* * *
She was stuck in the driver’s seat.
She was stuck, not dead. But bleeding. Stuff hurt.
She could see the shape of a man running, and he was some kind of hope careening into the ditch, like an answer to that one shaky prayer playing on repeat: “Help me, God. Help me, God.” Through the shattered windshield, she saw a figure, with arms stretched out, but it was a blur of color, like stained-glass. He was running. She knew that. But to her, it felt like he was crawling.
“Come quickly.” She may not have said it, but she thought it.
She hurt all over, and the wind slapped her cheeks red, right through the broken window. That’s how she knew she was alive. Because she could feel.
She saw his hand first, reaching in through the broken window, and then his face. He gasped.
She reached up and grabbed his hands.
She said it again. And she sobbed.
“Rob. Rob, I’m scared. Pray for me.”
It was her neighbor, the husband of her best friend, the woman who was her very first soul-friend after she’d moved to the farm. That man’s wife was the woman who rescued her from loneliness. And now her husband was reaching in through the window, like an answer to prayer.
He slipped in through the passenger-side door and waited until the paramedics could get her out of her smashed-up van.
And that took a while.
* * *
It’s been five years now, five years since she sat trapped in a car with a friend whose marshmallows sat in a paper bag in his car, parked at the side of the road.
She’s been thinking about that moment this week, as Easter nears, and she figures this is why:
When you’re wrecked and cold, and can barely see through the shattered glass in front of you, you kind of want to lose hope. And who can blame you? You think no one will come. And if they are coming, it feels much too slow.
But Someone is running for you, right for you, even if you can’t see it.
That’s how it went down 2,000 years ago, you know. Hope ran, even when it hurt. Even when it felt slow, and they’d been waiting for hundreds of years. They call it the “silent age.” And who could blame any of them if they gave up hope?
But it happened like this, all of a sudden –
Hope hurtled itself toward Earth, then reached out a hand, the same hand that would open up for a spike all on account of people trapped and cold and scared and crying out, “Help me, God,” again and again.
Hope answers. Hope leaves the throne, to claim His own. Passes up comfort, for the cross.
And we are alive — crucified with Christ, yet we live.
And I feel it again, because I was that woman trapped in the van, with the cold wind on my reddening cheeks watching that one brave hand reaching in through the broken window. I saw how a hand can reach straight into a mess, straight into the places that hurt.
Straight into the places to be redeemed.
Related: The Woman Who Kept Me Warm and There’s Just Something About Those Y’s.
(Remembering my accident from January 2009. A repost from the Easter archives, as I prepare for a weekend retreat.)
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