I lean back on the cold, rumpled, snow-covered ground with a relaxed sigh, protected from the chill of the December night air by a warm coat the same shade of red that smiling children use to colour in hearts on paper. As far as I can tell, I am the only warm and breathing thing in an endless landscape of frosty white. The evening is quiet and peaceful and perfect for gazing upwards with eyes and reaching upwards with thoughts in an effort to find meaning. Delicate flakes swirl gently above me and then float silently downwards to land on my outstretched body as I lie there, completely still. Under the lights from our street, my colourful winter clothing creates a striking backdrop for the tiny, frozen crystalline forms; I marvel at the perfect outline of each uniquely patterned flake and how the simple meeting of random forces in nature can create something so intricate and affecting. It makes me wonder what chaos the water droplets tumbled through to transform themselves into such complexly beautiful entities.
I solemnly whispered the words only a couple of hours later, eyes wide as I stared out our vehicle windows at the scene off to one side of the road. On a stretch of highway known to travellers north for often having difficult weather, emergency vehicles surrounded a car that had lost control on the snowy surface. The police officers wore grim faces and the car was a heap of mangled steel that seemed horribly out of place in the winter wonderland of pretty snow-covered trees that stretched for miles on the horizon. I imagined a family eagerly waiting for loved ones to come home for Christmas and hoped that by some miracle everyone in that car was okay. The realization that any of us at any moment in time could be only a breath away from a life-shattering experience like this surfaced from a place deep within where I usually try to keep it buried; it left me with an uncomfortable sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach as we drove on.
As it always does, the last leg of the trip was feeling long, monotonous, drawn out. We seemed to roll past the same landscapes over and over, ones dotted with trees and rocks and occasionally a motel or a truck stop or a small, quiet town. I was weary of sitting in one place for so long, and the fact that my hometown was only a little over an hour away was making me excitedly impatient.
“I’m good,” he answered cheerfully. “Not much longer, babe.”
“It’s okay -- we’ve got you. I‘ll take the baby first.”
I didn’t ever want to let go of my sweet, small boy again; I was suddenly and keenly aware of how precious it was to feel his warm little body next to mine, his heart beating in his little chest, his breath tickling my cheek. But I reluctantly passed him carefully to the strong, unfamiliar arms waiting in the open doorway above me, and then climbed shakily to my own safety with the help of several kind strangers. We stood on trembling legs in the dusk, waiting for the police and a tow-truck to arrive, trying to think clearly about what we would do next in this chain of unexpected and unwished for events.
A young man approached us from a minivan that had stopped on the opposite side of the highway. He had been driving behind us when our vehicle careened off the road, and he felt compelled to see if there was anything he could do to help. His final destination was only halfway to ours and the road conditions were still dangerous under a sky that grew darker by the minute, but he selflessly offered to drive Noah and me all the way to my parents’ house while Matt rode with the tow-truck driver to a car garage in the Sault. Like in nature where random forces meet and create moments of true beauty, there is loveliness in chance human encounters, too. I knew I would forever be moved by the generosity of this fellow who gave a meaningful gift to strangers on a quiet northern Ontario highway one evening and filled a family’s hearts with gratitude.
I sat warm and safe in the backseat of a stranger’s van, my baby secured snugly in his car seat beside me, and I sobbed uncontrollably as we travelled the last stretches of highway towards my anxiously waiting parents. I cried because I couldn’t help but think about all of the awful things that could have happened in the terrifying moments of that accident. I cried because I was flooded with feelings of thankfulness for the good fortune that had somehow kept all three of us from harm. Snowflakes began to land softly one by one on the windshield in front of me while I wept, and I realized that this powerful experience would leave its own intricate patterns etched in the shape of who I was. By tumbling through chaos, I, too, had the potential to be transformed in complex and beautiful ways.