Saturday night, Jeff was on duty as an auxiliary police officer for our town; and as always, I was missing him but feeling proud of him for his willingness to serve the community in this way. As I laid down to sleep, the thought zipped through my head: "If Jeff doesn't make it home, I guess a few officers will come to the door and wake me to tell me the news." And then I fell asleep.
Little did I know that a friend of mine, someone I've known since our time together in a church youth group during our high school years, would be the wife who would get the bad news about her husband that night.
When Jeff got home the next morning, the sun was already up as he prepared to lie down for a few hours of sleep before church. I woke up enough to ask him how he was and to sense his downcast spirit as he told me that it had been an intense night. But it wasn't until later that he told me what had happened.
A state trooper had been sitting in his car in the median of the highway that goes right through our city, monitoring the speed of passing cars, when a drunk driver went off the road and hit him head-on at a high speed, smashing both cars and seriously injuring the trooper. Jeff and the officer he was teamed with that night were second on the scene; and from the looks of things, Jeff thought the trooper must surely have been killed. It was a bad scene.
When Jeff told me about it, I thought, "Oh no, that's horrible." But then I thought, "Well, I only know personally one state trooper in Virginia, and surely it's not him." When I asked Jeff the name of the trooper and he said "Johnson," my heart stopped. It was him. He was also in our youth group, back in those days of teenagerhood; but what's more, he is distantly related to me. And now, while fulfilling his commitment to protect and serve the citizens of this state, he was injured in a horrific crash by a drunk driver in the early morning hours of a Sunday. How could it be?
The incident was even more poignant to Jeff because not only did he feel the kinship of them both being in law enforcement and have the remembrance of seeing the injured trooper in his demolished car with his own eyes; but just a couple of hours before the incident, Jeff and the officer he was with that night were sitting in their police car in that very spot, doing the same thing the trooper had been doing. They had been summoned away by another call so had left that area, but knowing that he had been in that same location fulfilling the same duty on the same night showed Jeff so clearly that it could have been him. That's sobering, to say the least.
With fervent prayers in our hearts, we went to church that morning where Jeff was scheduled to give a short meditation before we took communion together as a congregation. Jeff did a phenomenal job of sharing from his heart--and yes, letting his emotions show--as he described what had happened just a few hours earlier. His example of the trooper replacing him and taking the blow that could have been his (as well as the example of Moses in Exodus 32) made the actions of Jesus in replacing us and taking our blows so vivid. It was an incredibly meaningful time.
The whole day, I could tell that Jeff's emotions were just simmering under the surface; I hadn't seen him that moved in a long time, and it moved me, seeing him that way.
It also happened to be our 18th anniversary.
All through the rest of the day - during a much-appreciated Sunday afternoon nap, a graduation party for a friend, some time at my dad's house helping him with a project, etc. - a refrain of solemn gratitude sounded in my heart. Being brought face-to-face with the possibility of Jeff's life being snatched away in an instant, or at the very least, dramatically altered, made me appreciate all the more the gift of his life and our years together.
It was our 18th anniversary, and I could have been rushing to the hospital to be at his bedside--or even at the funeral home, picking out a coffin. Instead, I was able to enjoy an "ordinary" but special day with the love of my life; and I DID NOT TAKE IT FOR GRANTED.
Life is not a given (a lesson I OFTEN thought about in Israel, but give heed to much less often here in Virginia). So even though our 18th anniversary may never make the list of Top 10 Most Romantic Anniversary Celebrations, it was perfectly amazingly wonderful. Thank You, God, for this gift.
P.P.S. Thanks be to God's great power and mercy, the trooper who was in the crash lived--and not only that, but had injuries that were much less severe than first suspected. As a matter of fact, he was released from the hospital today, which shocked both Jeff and I when we heard the good news. God was definitely watching over his life that night, and we give Him abundant thanks for that!!!
P.P.P.S. For a more traditional anniversary post, here is one from seven years ago with photos and memories from our wedding. :)