I Almost Died

So far, the landmark Something-Zero birthdays—20, 30, 40—have been no big deal for me. But this year, I beg the kindness of my older and wiser friends, because I’d been moping a few months about the birthday due before the end of the year—60. I never knew when I crossed the halfway line of my life, but I do know sixty is definitely on the death side of the midmark of my life span, and I don’t like that thought.

Those feelings changed recently and rapidly, though. A few days ago I was within inches of not ever having a 60th birthday...or our 39th wedding anniversary...or another Christmas....

That afternoon I had the bright idea of checking out the new book outlet and stopping at the craft store for some colored cellophane to turn our picture windows into “stained” glass for the season. It was snowing, but this is Minnesota. If I let a little snow stop me, I’ll hibernate till April.

Cars were passing me on the freeway, but I was careful and stayed in the slow lane. Then the road curved to the right. But when it straightened, my car kept curving until I was stopped on the right shoulder, off the highway, facing in the direction of the oncoming traffic. My car and I both were fine and the snow wasn’t deep, but I didn’t dare do a U-turn onto the freeway when I couldn’t see around the curve to judge traffic. So I called 911.

Waiting for the State Patrol, I had a front row view of every vehicle that almost made the same slide I had. I played the scene mentally—a car certainly would total mine, but maybe it wouldn’t hurt me. But what if it were a semi looming against my compact car? I decided to get out and walk up the hill away from the shoulder and the highway.

I opened the door and stood up. In that instant, glancing over my car door I saw a gray minivan skidding toward me. It glanced off the front left corner of my car and then along the side where I was standing, until its left front bumper was stopped by my left rear bumper. The rear side of the van was jammed against the edge of my open door.

At the moment of impact, I was knocked flat on my back, parallel to my car, right next to it. I watched the bottom of the van slide past on the other side of me. There was just enough time to think, “I’m dying in one second.” Then the van stopped, and I thought, “No, not now.”

There was no time to be frightened or relieved. The woman in the van was fumbling to open her window, sobbing toward the place she’d seen me go down, “Are you hurt? Are you all right?” Reassuring her, I scrambled to my feet, standing within the triangle formed by the sides of our 2 cars, wedged apart by my open car door.

That evening, as the hours passed, I found new bruises—tokens of what might have been. She could have been driving 50 mph instead of 35. Not many seconds later, I would have been a couple of steps up the hill, directly in the van’s path. Standing just inches further from my car my fall could have thrown me under the van’s wheels. A slightly different trajectory and the van would have crushed my door against some vulnerable part of the falling me.

Instead, God used the van to brace my door in the open position, so that I was within a protected space. Within a triangle—a symbol of the Trinity, I remember now.

I notice that news reports these days call such an incident a crash, not an accident. Good choice. None of this was an accident—not one movement or position of either vehicle. I say this not just because I’m alive today. I pray that my children would recognize God’s loving precision, even if they were at the mortuary right now.

My birthday blues resonate with the newish “old saying”: “Growing old is hard, but it beats the alternative.” The author of that adage, though, doesn’t have the wisdom of Paul, who said, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21), whether death comes today, or sometime—God knows—after 60.

God threw me onto my back to make sure I know he wants me to be glad about my birthday. He might have been letting me know he wants me to have a birthday this year, but I’ll have to live a few more days to be sure. I pray for his help, that they continue to be thankful days.

Noël Piper (@noelpiper) is wife of John Piper, mother of five, and grandmother of twelve. She is author of Treasuring God in Our Traditions.