It’s been almost three years now, and I still don’t know her name. That thought occurred to me just yesterday, when I drove by the accident scene for the first time in several months.
She was the woman who stood in the ditch, with her back against the icy gusts, while blood ran warm down my legs. She held a blanket to my broken van window, and I never once asked her to tell me her name.
I couldn’t see her face.
I do know that she was wearing a skirt, because someone told me later she belonged to a church where the women adhere to particular dress codes. I think now about how that January wind must have been whipping up her skirt, gnawing at her legs, as she stood outside my shattered van window. She was my Aaron and my Hur, holding up a blanket for how long? Thirty minutes? I don’t know.
I do remember how my van landed in that ditch. I was driving south on an ice-patched highway. An oncoming car lost control and swerved into my lane. I felt my body tense as the glass shattered and the steel crumpled. The van spun. I ended up in the ditch, facing north.
I felt wind slapping my face, and that is how I knew I was alive.
I didn’t know what to pray, but perhaps in times like these, your spirit knows that the most rudimentary words are sufficient. I said them over and over again: Help me, God. Help me, God.
No one would have blamed her if she’d driven past. Several others had already pulled over to help. She had good excuses. She was on her way to somewhere. And she was wearing a skirt.
No one asked her to be a hero.
Someone told me later that she had an extra blanket in her trunk, just in case she’d ever need one.
She was an answer to my primitive prayer. She was a modern-day Good Samaritan who stood ankle-deep in snow to keep a stranger warm. I remember saying a muffled thank you from the other side of the blanket while the paramedics tried to figure out how to extract me.
Finally, the paramedics carried me through the passenger-side door on one of those stiff boards. They covered my face until they loaded me into an ambulance.
I didn’t get to see her face. And it’s true: sometimes you might never know the name of the stranger who enters your life for the sole purpose of washing your feet.
I suspect she watched as the ambulance drove off down that Iowa highway. I imagine her, something like a snow angel, shivering and wet as that wind whipped across an open Iowa field.
The sirens fade. And I see it in her hands, the blanket that hangs at her side.
If I look closely, I can—at last—see her face. She looks a lot like her Teacher.
Writing in community with Emily today …