The triumph of peace over pain.
by Tina Luce
A slight chill hung in the April air as my cousin, Cindy, and I settled into the back seat of the Dodge Neon and positioned my Black Lab guide dog, Carmen, at my feet. We were traveling from Norwich, New York, with my Uncle Bill and his friend, Elaine, to a restaurant in Albany. There my mother and grandmother awaited us to celebrate Gram’s 84th birthday. We all looked forward to sharing this milestone with her and to catching up on family quality time — something we seldom did anymore.
“Are you sure I can’t sit in the front with Carmen?” I asked Bill for the umpteenth time.
“Now, let’s not start that again. Really, there’s more room for you two back there.”
I sighed, inwardly disagreeing with him. But after all, what could I do? I abandoned any thought of fastening my seat belt, and shifted sideways to make more room for Carmen, silently promising her an extra biscuit when we got out of these cramped quarters. Ah well, I mused. It’s 9:00 in the morning. Shouldn’t be too much traffic where we’re going.
As Bill and Elaine casually chatted in the front seat, Cindy and I reminisced about old times — the fun we’d had at Gram’s house as kids, the trouble we’d gotten into, and the laughs we’d shared together. We talked about her own kids, the struggles of child rearing, and the joys of seeing each little success as they grew.
My challenges were different. Shortly after my birth, I became blind because of a condition known as retinopathy of prematurity. I was reared and educated in a small rural community near Albany. Now I worked as a middle school choral and general music teacher in an urban Massachusetts public school. Quite an adjustment for an introverted country gal.
Suddenly, Elaine cried, “Hey! What’s this guy doing?”
“I don’t know!” Bill exclaimed. Then a sudden swerve, the screeching of brakes, and the deafening silence of an unanswered question. I learned later that a Ford Bronco had crossed the midline of the highway and erratically headed toward us.
At impact, I was hurled into the void of unconsciousness, unaware of the tragedy that instantly ended my uncle’s life. I knew nothing of my cousin’s semi-conscious horror at the sight of her father’s slumped, lifeless form, nor of the final agony of Elaine’s death rattle.
I did not hear Cindy’s frantic screams for help at the sound of voices outside the crushed car, nor could I comfort the terrified, bleeding dog at my feet. All I knew was this timeless chasm of nothingness that seemed to stretch to the very border of eternity.
As awareness dawned again, I found myself lying on the ground near the car with Cindy beside me. I heard the efficient but urgent voices of paramedics and the incoherent screaming of the man who had hit us. Smoke from the burning vehicle penetrated my senses, but strangely, I felt no pain.
“What happened to the two people in the front?” I stammered to the woman who was assessing my injuries.
“They didn’t make it. I’m sorry,” she replied.
In days to come, I would question, “Why couldn’t it have been me? Why was I spared and not they?”
But now I groped for Cindy’s hand. “Don’t worry. I’m right here,” she said.
“We’ll be all right,” I answered, with a confidence beyond my own.
For an instant, time turned back upon itself, and we were children again, lying on pillows beneath a tent we’d rigged across the two beds in Gram’s spare room. Nothing could harm us, save for the scolding we were sure to get when someone discovered that several of Gram’s best blankets had been used for the project.
I remained conscious during the ambulance ride and answered questions coherently in the emergency room. But to this day, my memory of those events is scattered and dim due to shock. Phrases like “She’s lost a lot of blood” and “Can you wiggle your toes for me, honey?” drifted through the haze from time to time. Everything felt so distant, as if I had been far beneath the surface of the ocean, emerging slowly from a long, deep dive.
After surgery and two days of drug-induced sleep, I finally learned that my left femur had been shattered, my left arm fractured in eight places, and three of my fingers had been broken. Now I also felt that mind-numbing pain that never seemed to abate, despite the cocktail of drugs flowing nonstop through the IV tube.
Perseverance and despair
There was some speculation concerning my injuries. Medical professionals questioned whether I would be able to play the piano again, but I would not allow myself to entertain such notions. After all, I reasoned, my musical abilities were grace-gifts and not to be taken lightly. So I was not giving up, despite the negative reports.
However, after a week of intense discomfort, grueling physical therapy, and more surgery to repair a newly discovered fracture in my arm, I found myself on the edge of despair. Unable to attend my uncle’s funeral, I tried to pray from my hospital bed, but the incredibly searing pain of post-operative trauma rendered me impotent. Drugs did nothing to take the fire out of this two-edged blade of pain that tore relentlessly throughout my entire arm, hand, and fingers.
Song of triumph
Therefore, prayers for my family gave way to haunting questions: What had I done that was so unforgivable, to cause this senseless tragedy to happen?
Oh God, I’ve never felt such pain. Don’t think I can endure it; I’m not strong. Please, God, no more. Let me come home.
There was no bolt of lightning, no rushing wind, no audible voice, no tingling or warmth in my body — not even a lessening of the pain. But deep within my heart I perceived a peace transcending pain, a comfort surpassing despair. I heard, if only faintly at first, the song of triumph despite tragedy, rising in sweet counterpoint to all that had gone before.
Marvel of grace
A few seasons have passed since that great growing time, and I still marvel at the miracle of grace that protected, preserved, and provided. From the caring and capable paramedics, to the orthopedic surgeon who had pioneered the procedure that would ultimately save my hand, to the expert care of nurses and support staff, as well as the love and prayers of family and friends — God provided everything I needed at exactly the right time.
Carmen survived her injuries and faithfully served me for another year-and-a-half before retiring. I survived my injuries as well. A year after the accident, I presented the orthopedic surgeon with a copy of my first CD entitled Eyes of Faith. Beyond the pain, my strength and my song emerged.
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