Mile Marker 223 – South of Birmingham
“I ain’t been through anything like that before!” Alexander cried and then continued to sob uncontrollably on my shoulder.
My only response to this seemingly ten year old boy was, “I know. I haven’t either. I just watched everything that happened to you and I gotta tell you that Jesus has a big plan for your life because he just saved you!”
Moments earlier my husband and I had been casually traveling down the back roads of Alabama. We were heading home after two weeks of work in Florida. The project that had been our “manna” in times of recession was nearly completed. Much had been accomplished and we could see the light at the end of that tunnel. Knowing from our sons that Arkansas had experienced torrential days of long rain, we were anxious to get home.
As we joined Interstate 65 North, headed into Montgomery, Alabama, we noticed traffic picked up and both of us became more alert. After successfully navigating through that city, things moved at 65 mph as we approached the southern edge of Birmingham.
Suddenly Tom said, pointing ahead of us, “Watch him!” I refocused my attention where he was pointing. The driver of a red car ahead of us had just lost control of his vehicle. The car skidded to the left and hit the median. It was spun around, turning 180 degrees. Then it careened back into our path. The vehicle then cut across our traffic lane ahead of us and hit the right embankment very hard. As Tom pulled our car to a stop, we watched this automobile flip two times and come to a grinding thud less than 25 yards in front of us.
Tom immediately said, “We must take a moment. Acting quickly in these situations is when a person can die. ”
“But the car is smoking, Tom. You MUST get those people out of that vehicle,” I responded as the reality of witnessing such an event sent adrenalin into my body.
“I know, Sydna. Okay. There’s a big truck pulling up behind us. You call 911 and I will go to them,” he said. “You MUST stay in this car, Sydna. It isn’t safe on the side of this road.”
I agreed and worked to make the 911 call. When the operator answered, I know that I screamed into her ear. I said, “There’s been an accident south of Birmingham…”
“Where are you?” the operator asked.
Realizing that I did not know exactly where we were, I leaned out the door to see if there was a sign nearby. I saw my husband kneeling at the damaged car’s driver’s side door, speaking to the passengers. Obviously they were alive because immediately a young boy jumped quickly from the vehicle, followed by an older man. Thankfully they appeared unharmed. Tom embraced the driver and listened to the advice of the person who had stopped right ahead of the crash. He instructed the two to sit down in case they were in shock.
In my rearview mirror I saw people were gathering behind our car. I yelled, “Where are we?”
One young girl answered but I could not hear her voice over the deafening traffic. I left the vehicle without thinking of my promise to Tom and put the phone to her ear so she could speak to the 911 Operator. As I listened she said, “We are at Mile Marker 223 going north into Birmingham on I-65.” She handed me back the phone and I heard the operator say, “Help is on the way!”
Realizing my husband’s wisdom earlier, I yelled at the gathering crowd to go back to their vehicles, saying, “People die on the side of the road of accidents. Please don’t make this worse and go back to your cars.”
As I turned back, I saw Tom speaking with the driver. He and the boy had sat down but were miles apart in body language. I realized that the driver was not this young boy’s father. My heart broke for the young boy who sat alone and uncomforted.
Looking back over to Tom, I saw his clear “Get back in the car!” stare. I ignored him and pulled a blanket from the back seat. Getting back into our rented car was simply impossible for me. There was a traumatized child before me that needed comfort. I was also thinking about potential shock and the fact that keeping them warm was important.
Tom started towards me and yelled for me to collect our water bottles. I grabbed our remaining two, partially filled water bottles and handed them to him. “I need a washcloth,” he said as he arrived at our car.
I handed him these items to him and asked, “Can I go and comfort the boy?”
With a big smile, Tom said, “Absolutely!” He then proceeded to walk me by the hand to the boy. Later he would relay his reasons for not making me go back inside our car. There wasn’t time to argue with me and I would be safer with the boy, down the embankment, than by the side of the busy highway.
When I arrived at this child, I didn’t notice that he was actually an older boy, somewhere between 10 and 12 years. I had thought he was 8 or 9. I simply said, “Little boy, are you okay?”
His response was immediate. You see, my eyes saw no color. He was a child to my mother’s heart. Tom would later relay that the young man saw my color. His skin was different from mine – black versus ivory white. We were also in Alabama where cross cultural issues were more strained. Tom felt he initially took offense at my calling him “boy.”
At the time I felt that the boy was initially rejecting my comfort because of the accident. I was very familiar with young men (my own sons) who could reject any physical reassurances in times of trauma. Before I was allowed to be this young man’s momentary friend, he needed to know I meant him no harm.
“Look in my eyes, honey,” I asked quickly and calmly.
I sat down next to him but respected his personal space. As our eyes met, I said, “I know what you have just been through because I watched it.”
Instantly he trusted me. With a big cry he leaned into my arms and sobbed on my shoulder. It was a sense of relief to be welcomed into the inner circle of this boy’s life enough to offer emotional support.
After I told him about Jesus having a big plan for his life, I caught my breath and simply gave him a motherly rock. I had often comforted my growing sons in the same manner. Then I rubbed the side of his head and realized he had a large bump next to his temple. I asked if that hurt and he could not answer. He was too busy crying and, back and forth, working to collect himself to be strong.
I scanned his body but there was only the dirt from the embankment on his legs. There was no glass or blood anywhere. Relieved, I helped him take a swallow of a sports drink the driver in the car ahead of us had provided.
Then I heard water spilling and looked up to see Tom helping the driver clean his face and hands of shattered glass with our remaining water. That was the reason for the wash cloth. When clean, the driver sat down next to us, purposely keeping a yard away.
While rocking the young boy, I looked over at the driver. Our eyes met and I could tell from his soft look that he was grateful for my presence with this boy. Understanding Tom was there for his needs, I returned my attention to the young boy.
Alexander and I, along with Tom and the driver, had maybe six minutes together by the side of I-65, mile marker 223. It was a life time.
I felt something rip from my heart then in understanding that for the rest of these young men’s life, they would remember this exact moment. Traumatic incidents are usually remembered vividly. Our comfort in these next moments would be a memory that could remain until their lives ended.
As the ambulance arrived, this little man grew more fearful, clinging to me closely. He said, “Why is that ambulance here?”
I said, “They are here to make sure you are okay.”
His response was, “I don’t want them here. I don’t want to go in an ambulance!”
By this point he had began to fight my embrace so I loosened my arms and looked him in the eyes again. I quietly asked, “Why don’t you want to go in the ambulance?”
As the paramedics approached us, he said, “Because they will take me to the hospital and I’ll have an operation!”
Suddenly my husband took my arm and said, “It’s time to let the professionals take care of him, Sydna.” As Tom pulled me away, all I could do was voice his concerns to the man that was taking over my position of comfort.
Later I would learn that while I was completing the accident report with the police, Tom had overheard the young boy tell the paramedic that his name was Alexander. It astounded me that I had never even asked his name in our brief time together.
When Alexander remembers the accident, it’s logical to conclude he may recall the comfort I offered. My prayer is that he will associate that comfort with Jesus. Likewise, I will always remember Alexander. This incident is part of my life now, like the names and hearts that are heard over Ramah’s phone lines. I know when God brings their memory to my heart, I will remember them in prayer. Perhaps that was God’s only reason in our path’s colliding!
Obviously, God can use us anywhere He wants to, at any time or circumstance. Sometimes it’s simply impossible to prepare because these events are suden and unexpected. It is in being used by God to help others that we are blessed, as outlined in Proverbs 11:25, A generous person will prosper; whoever refershes others will be refreshed.
I may never witness such an event again but if I do, I will be more prepared to respond. And hopefully, Alexander and the driver will remember that God clearly saved their lives on May 6, 2011 and discover His purpose for getting their attention in such a unique way!
Sydna A. Masse
June 28, 2011