As usual it’s been a busy week or so, loaded with all the minutiae which fill the minutes from waking to sleeping. I discovered I’d been exposed to covid, so I got another test which came back negative for covid, but positive for flu, though it was a light case that resolved shortly after I received my results. The school quarter ended, I submitted my grades, and started madly building modules for next semester. First my son, Chase, then my daughter, Abby, headed to Provo for school, leaving the house curiously quiet and rather cleaner. I also got my covid-19 vaccine.
For months we’ve all been bombarded with news of “Operation Warp Speed,” as pharmaceutical companies desperately raced to produce a vaccine to face-off against the covid bullies. I am not an anti-vaxxer, in fact, given our years traipsing through third-world countries, my family’s been vaccinated and then some, to escape the clutches of assorted and exotic flesh eating beastules. Consequently, I followed the covid vaccine story with great interest, and when it was finally released, I was pleasantly shocked to learn the Utah governor decided to prioritize teachers in the first wave of injections. A few weeks later an email invitation appeared in my inbox. I had my golden ticket.
Finally, the long-anticipated day came and I showed up for my appointment, which was useless because I still stood in line for an hour and a half. But suddenly I sat in the nurse’s chair, she wiped my arm, and plink, it was over. She was so fast I didn’t even feel it. All that furious worry, fear, and buildup, and poof, three easy seconds, bam. The Big Bully lost half his teeth, and dropped both gun and knives, though he will retain his sword for another 21 days until I can get the second dose. It was a strange moment of before and after, a tiny hinge when I looked at my agenda and blandly checked a dragon off the list.
This was also birthday week, and we celebrated Abby’s birthday by going through the Kentucky Fried Chicken drive-through because she was adamant that was what she wanted. This time we went two full hours before closing, but the clerk still cited vanished inventory and asked to use chicken tenders to make her Crispy Colonel Sandwich. If you’ve read about our prior KFC adventure, you know we were laughing our heads off, which frustrated the woman at the intercom who wasn’t quite so cheery and optimistic as the previous young man.
The next day we celebrated Chase’s birthday at Teppanyaki’s Japanese hibachi steak house, and when my sister, Roni asked for her fillet mignon “medium-well” the chef gave her the stink eye. “I give you ‘medium’” he said, “otherwise it’s jerky.” Nobody came to her rescue because we all agreed with the chef, who also had a few choice comments for two other members of the party. “Why you want chicken?? Nobody order chicken,” but they stuck to their guns.
After dinner we all drove to the Utah Valley Trauma Center, and I pulled out my phone. “Hi Shara, we’re out in the parking lot. Can we Facetime with Rachel?”
In the last week there has been so much minutiae, bits and pieces clattering through my days, but there was a big thing too, a really big thing that drove us all to our knees.
Rachel hit a tree.
It was a week ago yesterday. My niece, Rachel, was skiing with her family, as she’s done so many times. I’m not going to list her injuries, but according to the app on her phone, she hit going 54 miles per hour, and the impact caused her helmet to fly completely off, so you can guess we’re not talking scrapes and bruises.
Rachel is a good skier, and that speed was by no means uncommon for her. She’s a steady, well-mannered sort of girl, and when she saw someone ahead going more slowly, she tried to create a wide berth to avoid startling him. Unfortunately, she hit a patch of ice that stole all her control.
That night in the hospital parking lot we got to talk to Rachel for a few minutes, and then her mother, who is my sister, Shara, came out to hop in the car and talk to us. She knew the full seriousness of the situation, but instead of wringing her hands, she talked about the many little miracles that spared Rachel’s life, that protected her from brain injury, and allowed her to be found quickly, even though she was completely buried by snow and nearly invisible from the trail. Rachel is expected to make a full recovery, and we are all praying in gratitude for her life and asking for heaven’s aid as she heals. But a road like this won’t be easy.
“It all happened so fast!” We hear that phrase all the time. One minute she was skiing down the hill, whole and hearty as she had done a thousand times, and three seconds later she was broken and struggling to breathe from a collapsed lung and shattered ribs. Three seconds to mark the entrance of a dragon, installing a tiny hinge capable of swinging the whole weight of a life from one trajectory to another.
I do not mean to imply that Rachel’s life is ruined because it most certainly is not. It is her senior year of high school, and Rachel being Rachel, will keep up her schoolwork online, complete her Sterling Scholar portfolio, and continue carrying out her duties as student body president. But I’ve fought enough dragons myself to know that the girl who casually slid off the ski lift in January will not be the same girl who accepts her high school diploma in May. Rachel hasn’t yet met this other girl, but I suspect she’s already hearing distant whisperings of the ways her experience will stretch her, teach her, make her more.
Our lives turn on hinges, some of them big and planned, but most are tiny, buried in the minutiae, swinging silently from one second to the next, propelling us to the next level of our development. Some of our hinges are of our own design, fashioned from good decisions and bad ones, but sometimes we’re out on the mountain trying our best to do the right thing and we hit a patch of ice that sends us careening out of control. I wish with my whole heart I could have prevented this from happening, stood on the slope and reached out my hand to yank her out of danger! It’s not fair, she certainly didn’t deserve it, and every time I think of the moment of impact I feel the tears welling in my eyes because I cannot help but conflate it with another trauma that happened in my own family, and all that raw, awful ache comes bubbling to the surface. Yet my experience also taught me to understand why Shara sat in my car dwelling on the miracles rather than the pain. Miracles are proof that God holds his precious Rachel in the hollow of his hand, and that if she is willing, he will give her a sword and personally train her line upon line, precept upon precept, burying tiny hinges in the details of her days until the moment she sits in a chair and realizes she has slain her dragon, inheriting a treasure horde of understanding she did not have before.
As I said, it’s been a busy week, school, deadlines, birthdays, slaying dragons, and meeting new ones. I do not know what this week will bring, but I suspect if I look closely, I will spot tiny hinges tucked neatly between grading papers and making dinner. It might be years before I truly understand or appreciate all these little moments that quietly shift my life a degree or two, but in time I will look back and recognize that God put them there himself.