It was only supposed to be an eight hour trip, honest! Sr. Madonna and I had started the day with Mass and our Hour of Adoration at St. John Neumann Church in St. Charles, Illinois. At approximately 10 a.m. on Friday, May 30th, we then headed for Canfield, Ohio, where our brothers and priests of the Society of St. Paul would host us at the "half-way" point on our trip to Boston, our final destination (which would require another day of travel).
The sun was shining, all systems go! This would be a long car ride, but we were undaunted and brought all that we needed for the trip ahead. We prayed the rosary, asking Mary to travel with us and bring us safely to our destination, and listened to a variety of CDs. We drove till 1 p.m., pausing to eat our peanut butter sandwiches at a picnic bench at one of the rest stops along the way. At about 5:30 that evening, we stopped for a light supper, then got back on I-84. We were now in Ohio. Sr. Madonna was driving.
The fork in the road on Interstate 84 seemed harmless enough: you could choose to go right or left. We chose the right side. Along we zipped, surrounded by beautiful Ohio farmland, so calming and peaceful.
The car in front of us starting slowing down. In fact, everyone in front of that car was slowing down. Then it became clear that everyone within sight on our side of the road was stopping. “Okay, we can handle this,” we thought. Twenty minutes passed. Nobody was moving. At all! Hmmm. People were starting to get out of their cars to find out what happened. Had I-84 turned into a parking lot on our side of the road?
A fellow traveler in Bermuda shorts and tattoos was strolling with his dog down the side of the Interstate. I got out of the car to ask, "Do you know what happened?" "There was an accident," he informed me, "and there’s no telling how long we will be here." I got back into the car to report to Sr. Madonna. "We really took the wrong side of the fork," we agreed, as we saw cars zipping by us on the left side. "At least we are alright and weren't in the accident,” she said. We counted our blessings. There was not much to do but wait, pray, and hope.
Ten minutes more passed. I was getting antsy. I thought to myself, "I'm used to walking miles, I can walk up there and see how bad the accident is. I'm sure they've brought those injured to safety, but at least I could see what's going on and pray for folks over there." So I started my trek. It was providential that I had my walking shoes for this trip. I walked, and walked, and walked. The line of cars had no end, and I kept walking.
As I passed by a group of young adults leaning against the cement divider on the construction side of the highway, I noticed that all I could see were cars, vans, and tractor trailers all the way to the horizon. I had already walked far, yet there was no end in sight! This was becoming more worrisome, and I decided to turn back.
"Do you know what happened?" I asked these fellow travelers before starting on my way. A young woman spoke first, "We have an app that tells us there's been an accident with two injuries, but it is not saying how long we will be here. Looks like we took the wrong side of the fork." "Yes," I said, "we said the same thing, but at least we are all safe." They nodded and smiled. "At least it's a nice day," we tried to be positive. I stared at the white rectangular tractor trailers that looked like so many small cubes stopped on the horizon. "I guess we can be grateful for a few things even with this setback,” the young women said. "Thank you," I said, "God bless you, and blessings on your travels."
Then I started the trek back. It was a very long walk on the side of Interstate 84, but a very interesting one. It is probably the nicest walk I've ever taken. Amazing, really.
At this point many people were out of their cars. A bus driver of a large, empty orange bus called to me, "Sister, have you heard anything?" I relayed the information I had learned. The friendly bus driver started to share his story with me. "I dropped the kids off in another town, went for some minor repairs and was headed back to pick them up. I'm supposed to pick the whole group up at 6:00, but at this rate I'll never make it." It was 6:30 and I-84 Parking Lot did not look like it would turn back into a highway anytime soon. "Oh, I'm sure they will understand,” I said. “After all, what can you do?" "I sure took the wrong side of the fork," he said. "Yeah, you and everyone else is saying that," I smiled. We looked at one another, companions in our ill-fated choice. "Thank God we weren't in the accident." He nodded. We stayed silent for a bit. "Aren't you glad you don't have a bus full of kids?" I smiled as I said it. "Yeah, I'm counting my blessings, Sister!" We laughed, imagining the mayhem that the peaceful bus would have seen had it been full of stranded kids. I waved goodbye and started walking, "I may see you again before this is over, blessings on your travels!" He waved back.
Then I met Cheryl. She called to me, "What happened?" I told her what I knew. Cheryl seemed kind of anxious, so I asked her if she was okay. "My diabetic cat has to eat at 4 p.m., and I hope she'll be alright." "I'm sure she will. Can you call someone else to feed her?" "No, there's nobody there." Cheryl was clearly getting more and more anxious about the cat and about the accident. "I spoke with my daughter, she said we could be out here all night!" She was trying to be brave. "Can you get out and walk a little bit? It might help you to get some air." "I can't, Sister, I have problems with my knee." "Oh, I see. Well, Cheryl, shall we pray for the people in the accident? We can say the Our Father, okay?" Cheryl and I prayed for the people that had been in the accident. We ended with her version of the prayer Jesus taught us, "For thine is the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory." She looked calmer. "Thank you," she smiled at me. I told her, "I need to get back, but we'll just keep praying, Cheryl. Blessings on you as you travel." She smiled as I moved on.
I walked for a bit and then a couple in a car hailed me. "Sister, can you tell us something? Will we be out of this soon?" "I'm not sure, we could be here awhile," I said. Then I shared all the tidbits of information I had picked up on my adventure down the highway. This couple repeated the words said by everyone else I had met, "We took the wrong side of that fork in the road." I commiserated with them. Then we said almost at the same time, "Good thing we weren't in the accident." I visited with the two of them, Joseph and Eileen, an elderly couple clearly devoted to one another. Eileen seemed quite feeble, but Joseph was taking good care of her. They told me about their daughter who works for a parish that had been renamed St. John XXIII since good Pope John had just been canonized. They asked me about my congregation, so I told them a little about what we Daughters of St. Paul do to bring the light of Jesus to people everywhere. I gave them my card in case they wanted to get in touch or find out more: www.pauline.org. We talked about how sometimes, even in situations like this, God can bring about good. Joseph told me about his devotion to St. Joseph. We talked for awhile about how we could pray, maybe a little extra today, since we were caught on the "wrong" side of the road. What a beautiful, faith-filled couple. I said my goodbyes and prayed for blessings on them as we each made our way home.
I stopped and met Chris, who was training for the Air Force and trying to get back to his kids for the weekend. I thanked him for his service and told him I would pray for him and his kids, asking God's blessing on his travels.
I laughed and greeted the teenage girls who were so full of life, laughing and taking selfies by the speed limit sign. We talked about how long we might be there and looked at the bright side of things. Others smiled and waved, like the man from India with his son, as well as the Mom and her fourteen-year-old boy. As we talked about how “we can't be stuck here forever," I smiled over at her son in the front seat. "Don't worry,” I said, “you will still make it to college!"
I walked further and found myself finally back at our vehicle and Sr. Madonna. I told Sr. Madonna about all the people I had met. We waited and prayed some more. I was grateful to have met and shared thoughts and prayers with quite a few people on I-84 that night. Gradually the cars in front of us started up and we could move. We thanked the Lord that we weren't going to have to spend the night on the road after all! Later that night we arrived safe and sound in Canfield, after twelve and a half hours.
I tell you this story so that you can marvel with me. An accident, and a five-mile traffic jam, became the occasion to meet many wonderful people, share gratitude, reflect on our blessings, and expand our hearts and minds. It wasn't rocket science, and I surely am not a mystic. I couldn’t sit still, and God used even this to get me out and about, sharing prayer, hopeful thoughts, and smiles at a time when we could have all chosen to be crabby. I thank Jesus for showing me that because his Spirit lives in me, yes, because God lives in me, any situation can be a sacred space where God comes in and brings light and hope. May we always allow him to use us and our humanity as a conduit for God's loving presence. In Christ, we can bring light into every situation and to every person we meet.
Sr. Martha Moss, FSP
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