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Weeds: Doubt enters with a bang

It was a turn I’ve made a million times, coming home from town, left into the driveway. A bright sun was low in the west. I could make out the light of an oncoming motorcycle. I could have rushed to turn but came to a stop with my blinker on.

Often in that situation I look in the rearview mirror, but not this time. All of a sudden, and I mean a sudden, I felt a tremendous bang. A driver had not seen my car till too late and rear-ended it. They hit more the right side of my car causing it to spin around, ending up in the opposite lane. There was not a car following the motorcycle, or that might have been the end of me.

Both cars were totaled and both drivers got a short ambulance ride to Sleepy Eye Hospital. Thanks to seat belts and airbags, we both went home that night. Seat belts, airbags, and perhaps divine intervention?

It was a sharp reminder of my mortality. This came during a pandemic when we regularly receive such reminders. Those are easier to ignore than being struck at a high speed.

A few nights after the accident, it began to replay in my mind as I lay in bed. As I said, I was not looking back, so it was a surprise. Could there be a bigger surprise? Perhaps I benefitted from not being tensed.

Here is what’s in my memory. I recall the impact, but then nothing for a split second. It might be a thousandth of that second that is blank, probably knocked briefly unconscious. My memory returns as the car and I are spinning, my body pressed up against the seat like an astronaut in takeoff. The swirling around is vivid.

When the car came to standstill, I made a quick assessment of my condition. My parts all seemed to be in place. By then I guessed what happened. I was able to get out of the car, my door being the only one not crunched. Scott Juni, the motorcycle driver who thankfully just cleared ahead of the collision, stopped and was running toward me. He called 911, and together we turned our attention to the other driver. Soon police and ambulances arrived.

That scene keeps playing in my head, staccato-like: waiting, bang, nothing, spinning, stop, out, yelling to Scott, running, ambulance, lie down, ride to hospital. There’s lots of adrenaline.

One tiny bit of the drama grew in my thoughts in the dark. It was that piece of a second when there is nothing, right after the collision. It’s a blank. As I dwelled on it, it became a dark void, a mental black hole.

Then one night this came to me. What if there had been another vehicle that hit me as I spun, and I died there on Highway 14? And what if dying was like that dark nothing I experienced on impact? I wouldn’t say that haunted me, but it wouldn’t go away. It didn’t really scare me. If there is nothing on the other side, it wouldn’t be painful or sorrowful. It’d just be nothing.

You see where the problem lies. If death is an empty, blank ending, then what about heaven? And if there is no heaven, what about a soul? And if there is no soul, what about God? Everything I believe begins to fall like dominoes. These things come to you in the dark after an accident.

The thought forced me to face doubt square on. It is not the first time I entered the land of doubt and walked around there. I am a believer and a Christian. But doubt always hovers near, like something moving just off the corner of my vision.

Belief in a Creator has been a core belief as long as I remember. It is central to my being. It was first put there by my mom in little prayers and songs. My larger family, my church community, my teachers all built on the foundation.

I can’t see or touch God. Or hear or smell or taste. We know this world through our senses. This is not without pain. I watched my young children bang their head on a table or taste something sour. At some point we figure out that all tables hurt, and all lemons make us pucker. We learn pillows are soft and candy tastes sweet. Gradually we know the world this way.

But God and heaven? Here is faith. As a matter of fact, there is only faith. It is faith of our mothers and fathers and countless generations. We can strive for “perfect” faith. But we are imperfect human beings. Doubt is part of that. Not just in spiritual matters. Each spring I wonder if the seed I put in the ground will grow.

There is a scene in the movie “Prancer” (an odd favorite of mine) where eight-year old Jessica is angry at her best friend Carol. Carol is not sure there is a Santa Claus. Worse, she is not sure about heaven. Jessica’s mother has died, and if there is no heaven, then what about her mom? “Alright for you, Carol Wetherby! You’re not my friend anymore!”

I’m like Jessica. I take comfort that my mom and dad and others who’ve gone before me are in a “better place.” I long ago quit trying to describe that place to myself. God will show me when the time comes. I joke with friends about playing baseball in heaven, but I know that is fanciful. Will we have connection with people who were dear to us on Earth? I hope so.

I suppose my doubts are like those of Thomas, who wouldn’t believe Jesus had risen until he put his finger in Jesus’ nail holes. When Thomas does encounter the risen Lord, Jesus tells him, “Blessed are those who have not seen and who believe.” I want to be like the disciples who believed sight unseen, who believed without their senses proving it.

But that blank moment in my accident hangs around in my conscience. I want to believe. I know that grain of doubt sifting around in my head is part of being human. Until whatever day my end comes, I look for signs that might give clues. Here’s one I remember.

My brother Dean who was blind, built an impressive martin house in shop class during his last year at Braille School in Faribault. We put that up, but no martins appeared for the two years he came back to school in town here. During that time, he was dying of a brain tumor. He died around this time of year. When we came home from the funeral, some family members began shouting. And there they were, martins darting about, in and out of Dean’s house.

A sign from heaven? I can’t know that. It was a beautiful moment, regardless.

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