Turn Right Hard

Photo by Shirley Dilley

Re-edited for submission 8/10/11

The weather was changing and I was anxious to return home before the driving conditions became treacherous. Driving back at dusk from Gunnison, Colorado early in May of 1995, a light dusting of snow began to fall. It was a ninety-minute drive to Lake City, Colorado, where my coffee bar and gift shop was located. I hastened to pick up two large glass shelves from the glazier before heading out of town.

Several miles down the road, I approached a hill with a seventy-five degree curve at the bottom of the downward slope. The snow was starting to fall harder. My truck’s tires began to slide on the road’s frosted lanes. I turned the wheels in the proper direction for adjustment, reacting quickly to change my course.

Uh-oh, the weight of the truck is forcing a sideways motion toward the drop-off. I’m going over.

There was no metal or concrete barrier to deflect my small pick-up truck from disappearing over the edge of the cliff. As the road’s shoulder was a narrow twenty-four inches wide with a twenty foot drop at its edge, the situation was now perilous. I was certain I was going to fall off the shoulder and roll viciously over the steep, rocky cliff.

At that very moment, a man’s voice spoke loudly in my left ear.

“Turn right hard,” he said.

With no hesitation and no question of the wisdom of the action, I turned my wheel sharply to the right while traveling only inches from the cliff’s edge. What possessed me to follow such an order? Why would I point the truck deliberately toward the empty space and plummet into nothingness?

Moments later, I removed the seatbelt, opened the truck’s door, and stepped down into the pasture located far below the road. I circled the truck, marveling there were no dents, crushed parts, or broken glass. Remembering the two heavy glass shelves I had placed in the truck’s bed a short time earlier, I peeked in the back window expecting to see bits of glass covering the bed liner.

Nothing had moved or been damaged. How could this happen?

Thinking back on my flight over the cliff,  I realized there had only been a brief feeling of “floating” or “soft bouncing” after the truck left the road orbiting into the air. There was no memory of rolling, falling, or crashing.

I looked up at the sparsely traveled road hoping to flag down a motorist for assistance. Almost immediately, a pick-up truck slowed and stopped on the highway at the top of the cliff. A young gentleman exited his vehicle and shouted down at me.

“Are you okay? How did you get down there?”

I assured him I was not injured.

“Where are you headed?”

“I’m on my way back to Lake City. I have a coffee shop there. Can you help me?”

“Are you able to climb up the rocks to get in the car with my family? My name is Paul Hartman. I live near the water tower on Round Top Mountain in Lake City.”

I told him I thought I could climb up the rocks unassisted.

“Does your truck have four-wheel drive?”

“Yes, but I’m not sure how to use it. I’ve never needed it before.”

“Is there any damage to your vehicle? Do you think it can still be driven?”

“I can’t see any visible damage so I think it’s okay to drive.”

It was snowing harder by this time, so he quickly explained what he intended to do. He would climb down the rocks, change the exterior tire locks to four-wheel execution, and then drive the vehicle across the pasture to a dirt road leading back to the highway. Cautiously, I climbed up the icy, slippery rocks back to the road I’d been traveling only minutes before. I climbed into Paul’s truck and introduced myself to his wife, Margaret, and their two small boys, John and Matthew.

A short while later, Paul pulled up behind us with my truck. He waited while I secured the seat belt firmly in place.

“Drive carefully so you can arrive home safely. I’ll follow you back to Lake City to make sure you have no problems with the truck.”

After many thanks for his kindness, I was ready to leave.

“I’m glad to help anytime. It was fortunate I was on this road when you needed assistance.”

Upon awakening the following morning, I felt grateful and blessed but confused by the unexplained scenario of my accident. I decided to give tangible gratitude to my “rescue party”. I chose some toys, t-shirts, candies and cookies from the store’s inventory and headed for Round Top Mountain. This was the area Paul stated was their home place. Nearing the water tower on the peak of Round Top Mountain, it became obvious there were no cabins or homes in this location. Feeling disappointed and convinced I had confused Paul’s directions, I headed back to town.

Over the remainder of that summer season, I continued to question the town’s small populace regarding the family of Paul Hartman and the existence of any dwellings in the area of the water tower. Lake City has seventy-five year-round residents and several hundred daily visitors during each summer.  No one queried had seen or heard of anyone with that name or description.

What really happened here?

Who shouted “turn right hard” in my ear”

Was this command meant to help prolong my life for a future destiny?

Or test my faith?

Were angels sent as a family of Good Samaritans to assist me in recovering from the accident?

Or to remind me of the goodness of God’s people?

I’ve never fully understood the “how” or “Why” of my protection from harm on that snowy stretch of highway. However, now I envision myself sitting softly and safely in God’s gentle hands while being cushioned from life’s trials whenever I choose to listen and trust.

       

Photo by Shirley Dilley

Little Bird

Photos by Shirley Dilley

I share a lengthy history with a charming little bird. She’s consistent in her wardrobe choices whenever we meet. Her coat’s a multitude of brown shades, coordinated with a bright yellow vest. Not always does she appear as the same bird species, but consistently wears these coverings and is easily recognizable.

Let me provide a bit of backstory necessary for readers to understand the story of “Little Bird.” I was fortunate to have my beloved mother present for sixty-five of my almost seventy-six years and wasn’t anxious for the day I would be without her wise counsel and loving arms. When she entered her final year of life, we discussed the possibility of an afterlife and an ability to communicate with loved ones from that dimension. I asked her to find a way to announce she was still with me after leaving this life.

Two years after her death, “Little Bird” was born into my life. She visited daily, perching in a large hibiscus bush outside my home office window. Every few minutes, she would flit over to the window and peck on the glass. If I left the room and went to the kitchen, she followed and pecked at the kitchen window to get attention. This happened several times a day for over a year. I was certain “Little Bird” was Mother’s spirit and her daily visits a gift from God. In life, she was especially attached to my son and his wife. During their visit one weekend, “Little Bird” appeared at the kitchen window. She recognized her loved ones and started hopping up and down on the bougainvillea’s trellis outside the kitchen window, silently shouting, “Look here, it’s me, I’m here.”

We travel frequently throughout the United States in our motorhome. Whenever and wherever we visit, “Little Bird” arrives, perches on the passenger side mirror and pecks at my window. When I move elsewhere in the coach, she appears at that window and begins her pecking serenade. She’s appeared at outdoor cafes where I’ve dined and on trails where I’ve hiked. On a recent cruise to Alaska, the native Floridian bird took her most lengthy trip. My husband and I were strolling on the deck far enough out to sea that we no longer viewed seagulls or shore birds. Suddenly, “Little Bird” flew onto the deck and landed a few feet from us. We walked slowly and she kept pace with us. She even stopped and graciously posed for our cameras. When we share photos of her from places we’ve visited in the past few years, friends and family members no longer doubt her existence or my explanation of her identity.

Recently, we moved and several people asked if I sent a change of address to “Little Bird.” It isn’t necessary. She knows where I am. The day after we moved into our new temporary second-floor dwelling, she appeared in the tall palm tree outside our dining window. She sat quietly on a palm frond waiting for acknowledgement. I waved, smiled and said “Hi Mama” before she flew away.

On our most recent trip out west, we were near Glacier National Park and settled for the night. I sat at the computer in the motorhome typing out recollections of our daily exploits in my travel journal. I noticed movement outside the window. When I looked up, there was “Little Bird” flapping her wings and hovering inches away from me outside the window. When I waved to her, she flew to a nearby shrub and quietly posed while I took her photograph. After I placed my camera on the table, she returned to the window, flapped her wings a few times and flew away.

“Little Bird” continues to appear in each area we travel. I feel her watching over me. I find comfort knowing when I breathe my final breath and begin that journey, “Little Bird” will be my escort.

 

A Life Well Loved

L to R. My daughter Nancy, her daughter Erin, me

This story was just published in the latest Chicken Soup for the Soul “Hope and Miracles” book. 

It would never be the choice for me. The medical and religious communities felt it was the right thing to do, but their string of reasons made me even more resolute in my decision.

“Your thyroid cancer has spread to ten lymph nodes.”

The surgeon appeared stricken. His pained facial expression looked like he was delivering news to himself rather than the patient sitting in front of him.

“You will need a radical neck resection placing you under anesthesia for seven or eight hours. The four month fetus you’re carrying could be severely deprived of oxygen during that time so a therapeutic abortion is recommended. Otherwise, you could be delivering a child with multiple deformities or health problems.”

Spreading cancer, abortion, deformities. This can’t be happening. Why me? Why these horrible things for my child? Spinning out of control, my mind spun like a runaway carousel. Quietly, I begged to be let off the ride so my life could settle back to a normal pace.

The doctor exited the examining room leaving me with disturbing thoughts for companionship. My husband joined me moments later to assure me any decision I made, he would support.

A nurse practitioner entered the room along with my parish priest and began a litany of reasons why the therapeutic abortion was being recommended.

“Whenever there is a pregnancy involved, cancers spread more rapidly.”

“You will need radiation immediately after surgery and it shouldn’t be delayed for the four or five months until your baby is delivered.”

“You’re only twenty-four years old with four other children at home under the age of five. Who will raise them if you’re gone?”

My parish priest, Father Bill, stepped gingerly into the conversation with tears in his eyes. “Shirley, if you’re worried how the church feels in this situation, don’t be concerned. The church makes exceptions when a mother’s life is jeopardized and this is certainly justified.”

I listened and went over each argument carefully in my mind. I believe in a good and loving God, not a cruel, punishing God. I’d put him in charge of my health and my family. Believing this was best, I decided to carry my much-loved child to term, no matter the consequences. He or she deserved all the love and opportunity I’d been given by my mother.

“Schedule the neck surgery.” I said to the nurse practitioner. “I’m keeping my baby.”

My husband and Father Bill looked at each other with concern, but both knew I must be the one to make the decision.

After the surgery, the surgeons and obstetricians were surprised my pregnancy continued without problems. A beautiful baby girl, Nancy Ruth, was delivered and placed in my arms five months later.

Before we left the hospital, the pediatrician came in to tell us the status of our daughter. He explained she appeared in good health, no deformities of any kind. But there was a problem. My breathing stopped and I felt sure my heart must have discontinued beating also.

“Her cries are shrill and piercing and she stays tightly curled in the fetal position. These are generally definitive signs of spastic cerebral palsy. There is no cure for this condition and the child will probably need lifetime care. It affects the nervous system, brain, and muscles. Every facet of her life may be affected. Learning, eating, walking, talking.”

The doctor’s manner was detached and I felt he wanted to break the news and hurry from the room so he wouldn’t have to deal with devastated parents.

“What caused this?

How did it happen?

Are you sure?

Are there any tests we can run to be positive?”

I had a thousand questions and refused to let him get away until he answered all of them.

“No one knows for sure how it happens. Generally something goes wrong in the womb. Lack of oxygen to the baby’s brain possibly.”

The very second he put a period on that sentence, the guilt train arrived in my brain.

How could I have been so selfish? What kind of life have I subjected this child?

Over the next several weeks, I held and cuddled my baby, trying to assure her how much she was loved, how I would always take care of her and mostly, how sorry I was for being responsible for her condition. Guilt never left my mind.

When Nancy cried, it sounded like a shrieking noise. Her arms stayed pulled in close to her sides, little fists balled up continually. Diapering her was difficult. You needed to pry open her little knees just to get the diaper on and secured.

One morning, after her bottle, I placed my sleeping baby on her side in the crib. She was lying in her constant tight fetal position. When I didn’t hear her cries for attention after a couple hours, I tiptoed into the bedroom to check on her. She was lying on her back, with her arms and hands open. Her legs were spread-eagled like a little frog. I was in a panic. My little girl must have died. When I grabbed her, and pulled her up to my chest, I realized she was smiling at me. Her little fingers curled around mine for the first time. A faucet of tears exploded from my eyes and I prayed this was not just a momentary change, but a permanent one.

A trip to the pediatrician gave few clues as to why this could have occurred. He was astounded. It was suggested the replacement thyroid I need to take daily, crossed the placental barrier causing hyperthyroidism in my child, possibly explaining her spasticity. Not wanting me to expect too much, he advised there might still be problems and this could just be a temporary remission or anomaly.

I knew better. My child was healed and God performed a miracle.

This special baby is now a special woman. She is a military veteran and has a college degree. Daily she works as a vice-president for a large financial conglomerate. Her grown son and teenage daughter are worthy of pride. She is a devoted wife, mother, daughter, sibling, citizen and devout in her faith.

God helps with our difficult decisions. Ask Him.