Approximately sixty years ago, a man planted a Christmas tree in the front yard of the house he had built for his family. And rain fell and the sun shone down and it grew older. And the man grew older. Eventually a new family moved into the house behind the tree. Still the pine grew. It towered over the house, a quiet sentinel, marking time by pushing roots down deep and thickening girth, ring upon ring under gnarled bark.
Trees are quiet things. I had been largely oblivious to it. My mind certainly wasn’t on trees as I unceremoniously dumped water on little people’s heads that evening. The little people screeched their disapproval as mom’s waterboarding interrupted their bath time play. I continued unsympathetically with our nightly routine, warm water threading white rivulets through the spaghetti sauce on their round cheeks. Bath time is not a quiet ritual around here. So I missed the tree’s heroic moment. Heroic moments are sneaky like that.
I heard the thud. But one of the children was in the room overhead, rummaging through the Lego box like young thunder. Another was practicing long jumps across the living room rug and vaulting onto the loveseat. So thuds hardly registered on my internal Richter scale. It was only when my oldest called from the living room window, “Mom – there’s a truck on our front lawn…” That I felt a need to investigate.
Indeed – there was a truck on our front lawn. It was an odd place to find a pickup truck. I glanced over at my older children in mutual confusion as we stared out the window, watching the truck. The driver seemed as confused as we were. For a moment, he sat there, facing the tree that he had just crashed headlong into. Then he backed up, nearly hitting the telephone pole, swerving wildly, forward and back several times. He must have had trouble seeing over the smashed up hood, but I suspect his vision was compromised already since tire tracks proved he’d careened nearly 30 feet off the road. I strained to see the license plate, but the driver managed to find the road and speed away before I got a look. The oldest boys and I ran out the front door and surveyed the carnage. A headlight and bits of metal and glass littered the snow. The old pine had a gash across it, bark severed from the trunk, several branches hanging limp. I glanced back to the house. Two wet chubby bodies glistened in the front window, shameless in their curiosity. I hurried back and found towels to sop up the puddles left from their tub escape (and to cover their bright white thighs). My mind whirled. Should I call an emergency number if a guy just drove across our front lawn? I texted my husband with one hand as I toweled dripping children. He was nearly home from work, and drove in as I was strapping on diapers. “Call the police!” he remonstrated me from the doorway, and tromped over to survey the scene. I googled the number for the local police department and called. No answer. Nonplussed, I dialed 911. The dispatcher listened as I stumbled over my words. “A guy just drove over our lawn, hit our tree, and drove away…”
“Ok…” He responded. It was awkward. I explained no one was hurt, but the man (I was pretty sure it was a man we’d seen in the driver’s seat, but you never can tell these days) had seemed very confused and unsafe.
“I think they’re already on this,” the dispatcher mentioned. “Thanks.” And he hung up.
I continued with the evening ablutions of pajamas and books until the dispatcher called back a few minutes later. “Just wanted you to know,” he explained, “the driver crashed not far down the road from you. He won’t be going anywhere for a long time.”
“Thank you for letting us know.” I responded, and started to ask for more information, but the man said an officer would be in contact and bid me good evening.
About half an hour later, we saw a tow truck trundle by with a familiar smashed up pick-up truck on its hook. We had a good discussion that evening about how alcohol or drugs can impair your ability to think. (The cause of the driver’s recklessness was never revealed to us, but it opened the door for some conversation anyway).
As I lay in bed that night, it occurred to me how close the driver had come to my children and me. The tree was within ten feet of the corner of our house. He must have been going far above the speed limit to fly over thirty feet off the road, up the knoll, and still smash the vehicle into a tree with such force. I shivered. It had been dusk, and thankfully, wet and chilly, so none of my children had still been out playing in the yard when he came. But they could have been… I shut my eyes and breathed a prayer.
“Thank you, Lord, for that tree. Thank you for guarding us…”
I’ve often joked that I must have had a fat guardian angel, since there has often been a space of about 10 feet between my indiscretions and a true emergency. I remember the winter after I learned to drive my dad’s 4 cylinder pickup, sliding off slick white roads a couple times into soft snowbanks. I’d had to grab a shovel and work my way out, but it was harmless compared to what could have been if I’d made sudden contact with a telephone pole not far away. I’ve never (knowingly) met an angel, but I suspect their wingspan is far greater than the little Valentine cherubs of the cartoons. Perhaps the ten foot span that often came between me and peril was actually a supernatural warrior sitting in the snow – calmly flexing. A single angel has been known to wipe out entire armies (check Isaiah 37) and make grown men fall on their faces in fear (Daniel 10). A guy like that would have no trouble stopping a measly pick-up truck with his pinkie – or a sappy pine bough.
The driver himself wouldn’t have stood much chance at his speeds had he chosen to interact with the telephone pole down near the pavement rather than heading upwards over the turf for several dozen feet. I wonder if he appreciated this fact when he woke (wherever he woke) the next morning and realized how exciting his previous evening had been. I’m guessing he missed it. But we prayed for him to find purpose in his lease on life anyway.
Sixty years ago, a man had no idea how pivotal one little sapling would prove to be. But I know. My house and my kids were protected. Cupid strikes again. Ha. Like a rock.
God is so good to me.