August 5, 2015 was just another ordinary day or so I thought. Traffic was light and I got home early. As I crossed the street on my way home from the bus stop, a black car, traveling on the wrong side of the street, struck me.
Pain seared through my body and disbelief in my mind as I hit the windshield and went flying down the road. Once I stopped rolling and was on my back, looked up to the sky and just kept yelling for GOD. I was in excruciating pain and I could not move except to retrieve my Rosary beads lying on the road beside me with my good arm.
Suddenly the driver of the car appeared over me. He just stared a cold uncaring stare with his cell phone positioned above me as if he was recording me on video or taking pictures of me. I begged him to call my wife but he just walked away. A crowd started gathering and I was told the ambulance was coming.
I was taken to the hospital, treated and released at 1 am. I was scheduled to be in the orthopedic’s office at 8:20 that same morning. As soon as I walked in, I was sent back to the hospital. Not only was my dislocated left shoulder and fibula broken, but my back was broken as well. The hospital staff read the x ray incorrectly and let me go home with a Fractured L1 and L2 vertebrae and I required surgery. The surgeon put two rods in my back, attaching them to my spine with 8 screws.
Post op was excruciatingly painful. No suffering in this instance was going to go to waste. I kept thanking Jesus for this beautiful gift of being able to share a little bit of his agony with Him. But unlike Jesus, I was not quiet; I opened my mouth yelling and complaining of pain.
My wonderful wife notified friends, co-workers and family about the accident and I felt the prayers from hundreds of people. Through all this I kept praising the Lord telling everyone of His miracle in me. The mercy and power of God had to be proclaimed; I wanted to shout it from the roof tops.
When I was stable, I was sent to a rehab facility. On arrival,I was greeted by my roommate David, who I found out was a renowned sports writer. As I waited for the nurse to get me signed in, I observed David. He was crotchety, angry and annoyed. He seemed like a real pain in the neck. I decided this was not the room I wanted to be in. I called for the nurse and asked her to put me in another room. I didn’t need to hear this guy complain. Then it hit me: I was running away from someone else who was suffering more than I was. This would be another opportunity to suffer for Jesus. I quickly called the nurse back and told her I would stay in the room.
I am not a fan of most sports. I explained to Dave that I knew nothing of sports; however, that didn’t stop us from having many good conversations about everything else. He had been suffering for more than 2 years with his illness and was in rehab for quite a while when I got there. Poor Dave would go from hot to cold. He hated the TV being on after 10 pm, including my TV and he let me know it. He got angry every time his phone rang and he hated the food. I on the other hand didn’t complain about anything. I turned my TV off at 10 pm and laid there in the dark in pain offering it up for my roommate who was suffering so much.
One day, my good friend Deacon Gino from my home Parish brought me Holy Communion. Out of respect for Dave who was sleeping we moved into the hallway down by a large sunny window. There we prayed. Deacon Gino told me that his wife was getting off the commuter bus shortly after I got hit. She saw all the commotion and the ambulances and police cars and called him to ask him to pray for someone who was just hit by a car. They did not know it was me they were praying for until a few days later.
As I began to recover and regain my strength, I walked the halls of the rehab offering to pray with patients who looked depressed and were suffering. Some said yes, others no but it truly was a grace for me in both instances.
Discharge and Forgiveness
On August 19, 2015, I was discharged. I was happy to be home but immediately became so depressed when I saw all the work that needed to be done around the house. Everything that I did, I could no longer do. I prayed for the guy who hit me. I had forgiven him at the scene as I lay there in the road but forgiveness is not just a onetime thing. It is a constant act of the will.
I love the Lord and I know He loves me yet I struggled with the notion that in some way I should not be suffering like this. I felt protected somewhat and insulated because I pray every day for protection. I know I have a powerful Guardian Angel and I was sure he was watching over me. I realized these thoughts were my pride. Who am I that I should escape suffering in this life when Jesus Himself suffered and died for me? Almost all His apostles were martyred and Mary suffered martyrdom with Jesus on the cross. Was this a type of martyrdom for me? Didn’t Jesus command us to take up our cross and follow Him? Well, that’s just what I did.
Suffering and Satan
I meditated on the fact that Fr. Benedict Groeschel also was hit by a car and suffered worse injuries than I did at an older age. I venerated him as a walking saint. In this regard I felt I was in good company. I saw it as an opportunity to grow in holiness if I could patiently endure this suffering and offer it up with, through and in Jesus.
So now after expecting it for some time, the Accuser’s question bubbles forth because the enemy works very powerfully to undermine the Lord’s work and to attack His people. God is his enemy and we are the pawns that the Evil One uses to get to God so to speak. The inevitable why do bad things happen if there is a God question had to pop up. My sister in law had told her friends about how God saved me and they asked her why God let it happen. I answered with the good Catholic answer of original sin, free will, Adam and Eve and of course, God allowed this to happen to draw good from it. Bottom line is stuff happens to millions of people each day and that is the mystery of life.
The movie the “Devil’s Advocate” has Al Pacino playing Satan. In one scene Satan is accusing God of all the things people accuse Him of. He goes on and on about the misery in the world and if God is so good and loves us so much why does He allow it. Funny how good people play the Devil’s Advocate and echo the enemy’s own words. He accuses God to us and on Judgement Day will stand by as our prosecutor, accusing us to God. We must be on guard not to adopt the “Prosecutor’s” stance but rather recall that God so loved that world that He sent His only Begotten Son to save the World and not condemn it.
Signs from God
Day 44: Little signs from the Lord mean so much. We all look for signs. For some it is rainbows, for others a butterfly or a song playing at just the right time or a flower. Signs are comforting. I was looking at my broken body in the mirror one morning and it upset me. Then I began to encourage myself saying out loud that I would fight my way back to complete health. Suddenly, my eyes were drawn out the bathroom window across the street to my neighbor’s garage. I realized that the sun illumined a cross on her garage. It was so bright and clear. I knew it was my sign. Take up your cross, follow me, you will be victorious. I have not abandoned you.
I ordered Father Groeschel’s book, “There Are No Accidents”. There were so many encouraging passages in the book and a few revelations as well. The greatest saints did nothing extraordinary in this world; they just did little things greatly. Fr. Groeschel quoted St. Ignatius of Loyola who once said: “If God causes you to suffer much, it is a sign He has great designs for you, and that He certainly intends to make you a saint.” The book went on to say that these words look nice in print but are a hard saying when the cross is imprinted upon your own flesh. That I can attest to.
All this basically comes down to what I have always believed and preached. We must always trust in God giving thanks in all things. Yes, even the bad things.
I went to daily Mass during my recovery. As I sat in church waiting for Mass to begin, I looked at the Divine Mercy painting and I heard a voice in my mind say, “you forgave the guy that hit you and you forgave yourself for not moving out of the way but you didn’t forgive God for letting it happen”.
I said to the Lord “I forgive you God for allowing this to happen to me”. I didn’t think I had to forgive Him but apparently deep down I had to. I felt great.
So there I sat smiling because God in His ever humble way opened that door of forgiveness to me but this time He allowed forgiveness to flow from me to Him instead of the other way around. Our God is so great and powerful that He enables a creature made of dust, sinful, vulnerable, broken and powerless to extend forgiveness to Him.
More than a year after the accident, I am still healing and the Mystery of this life continues. There is still pain every day. I feel sad at moments, but God is good. Every day brings about a new feeling, experience revelation and wonderment. When this first happened it seemed to me unnaturally that I had accepted it with patience and peaceful resignation. God gave me the grace I needed at the moment I needed it. God had a plan. I trust God in all things and my heart will choose to say blessed be the Lord. I have received many graces and gifts because of the accident including greater empathy for those who suffer and a mature understanding that this life is just a prelude to an indescribable life in eternity with the Lord.
I have learned that our God is a God of restoration who seeks only the good for each and every one of His children no matter where they are in this life. He strengthens those in faith and seeks out the lost or those who have forgotten Him. Each and every one of us is called to be His smile, His face, His helping hands, His ear to listen, arms to hug, lips to kiss, tears to console, laughter to celebrate and image to follow. God is good. Amen.