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THE BEGINNING
 
 
 
A guardian angel o'er his life presiding,
Doubling his pleasures, and his cares dividing.
Samuel Rogers, Human Life
 
 
It was just past midnight on December 24, 1983. The Midwest was
shivering through a record-breaking cold spell, complete with gale-
force winds and frozen water pipes. And although our suburban Chicago
household was filled with the snug sounds of a family at rest, I
couldn't be a part of them, not until our 21-year-old son pulled into
the driveway. At the moment, Tim and his two room-mates were driving
home for Christmas, their first trip back since they had moved east 
last May. "Don't worry, Mom," Tim had reassured me over the phone 
last night.
"We're going to leave before dawn tomorrow and drive straight through.
We'll be fine!"
 
 
Kids. They do insane things. Under normal circumstances, I figured, a
Connecticut-to- Illinois trek ought to take about eighteen hours. But
the weather had turned so dangerously cold that radio reports warned
against venturing outdoors, even for a few moments. And we had heard
nothing from the travelers. Distressed, I pictured them on a desolate
road. What if they ran into car problems or lost their way? And if 
they had been delayed, why hadn't Tim phoned? Restlessly I paced, and 
prayed in the familiar shorthand all mothers know: "God, send someone 
to help them."
 
 
By now, as I later learned, the trio had stopped briefly in Fort 
Wayne, Indiana, to deposit Don at his family home. Common sense 
suggested that Tim and Jim stay the rest of the night, and resume 
their trek in the morning. But when does common sense prevail with 
invincible young adults? There were only four driving hours left to 
reach home. And although it was the coldest night in Midwest history, 
and the snowy highways were deserted, the two had started out again.
 
 
They had been traveling for only a few miles on a rural access road to
the Indiana tollway, when they noticed that the car's engine seemed
sluggish, lurching erratically and dying to ten or fifteen miles per
hour. Tim glanced uneasily at Jim. "Do not--" the radio announcer
intoned, "repeat--do not--venture outside tonight, friends. There's a
record windchill of eighty below zero, which means that exposed skin
will freeze in less than a minute." The car surged suddenly, then
coughed and slowed again.
 
 
"Tim," Jim spoke into the darkness. "We're not going to stall here, 
are we?"
 
 
"We can't," Tim answered grimly, as he pumped the accelerator. "We'd 
die for sure."
 
 
But instead of picking up speed, the engine sputtered, chugging and
slowing again. About a mile later, at the top of a small incline, the
car crawled to a frozen stop.
 
 
Horrified, Tim and Jim looked at each other in the darkened interior.
They could see across the fields in every direction but, incredibly,
theirs was the only vehicle in view. For the first time, they faced 
the fact that they were in enormous danger. There was no traffic, no 
refuge ahead, not even a farmhouse light blinking in the distance. It 
was as if they had landed on an alien and snow-covered planet.
 
 
And the appalling, unbelievable cold. Never in Tim's life had he
experienced anything so intense. They couldn't run for help; he knew
that now for sure. He and Jim were young and strong, but even if 
shelter was only a short distance away, they couldn't survive. The 
temperature would kill them in a matter of minutes. "Someone will 
come along soon,"
Jim muttered, looking in every direction. "They're bound to."
 
 
"I don't think so," Tim said. "You heard the radio. Everyone in the
world is inside tonight---except us." 
 
 
"Then what are we going to do?"
 
 
"I don't know." Tim tried starting the engine again, but the ignition
key clicked hopelessly in the silence. Bone-chilling cold had 
penetrated the car's interior, and his feet were already growing 
numb. Well, God, he prayed, echoing my own distant plea, You're the 
only one who can help us now.
 
 
It seemed impossible to stay awake much longer... Then, as if they had
already slipped into a dream, they saw headlights flashing at the 
car's left rear. But that was impossible. For they had seen no twin 
pinpricks of light in the distance, no hopeful approach. Where had 
the vehicle come from? Had they already died?
 
 
But no. For, miraculously, someone was knocking on the driver's side
window. "Need to be pulled?" In disbelief, they heard the muffled 
shout. But it was true. Their rescuer was driving a tow truck.
 
 
"Yes, oh yes, thanks!" Quickly, the two conferred as the driver, 
saying nothing more, drove around to the front of the car and 
attached chains.
If there were no garages open at this hour, they would ask him to take
them back to Don's house, where they could spend the rest of the 
night. 
 
 
Swathed almost completely in a furry parka, hood and a scarf up to his
eyes, the driver nodded at their request, but said nothing more. He 
was calm, they noted as he climbed into his truck, seemingly 
unconcerned about the life- threatening circumstances in which he had 
found them. 
Strange that he's not curious about us, Tim mused, and isn't even
explaining where he came from, or how he managed to approach without 
our seeing him... And had there been lettering on the side of the 
truck? Tim hadn't noticed any. He's going to give us a big bill, on a 
night like this... I'll have to borrow some money from Don or his 
dad... But Tim was exhausted from the ordeal, and gradually, as he 
leaned against the seat, his thoughts slipped away.
 
 
They passed two locked service stations, stopped to alert Don from a 
pay phone, and were soon being towed back through the familiar Fort 
Wayne neighborhood. Hushed, Christmas lights long since extinguished 
and families asleep, Don's still seemed the most welcoming street 
they had ever been on. The driver maneuvered carefully around the cul-
de-sac, and pulled up in front of Don's house. Numb with cold, Tim 
and Jim raced to the side door where Don was waiting, then tumbled 
into the blessedly warm kitchen, safe at last.
 
 
Don slammed the door against the icy blast. "Hey, what happened?" he
began, but Tim interrupted.
 
 
"The tow truck driver, Don. I have to pay him, and I need to 
borrow..."
 
 
"Wait a minute," Don frowned, looking past his friends through the
window. "I don't see any tow truck out there."
 
 
Tim and Jim turned around. There, parked alone at the curb was Tim's
car. There had been no sound in the crystal-clear night of its release
from the chains, no door slam, no chug of an engine pulling away. 
There had been no bill for Tim to pay, no receipt to sign, no 
farewell or "thank you" or "Merry Christmas..." Stunned, Tim raced 
back down the driveway to the curb, but there were no taillights 
disappearing in the distance, no engine noise echoing through the 
silent streets, nothing at all to mark the tow truck's presence.
 
 
Then Tim saw the tire tracks traced in the wind-blown snowdrifts. But
there was only one set of marks ringing the cul-de-sac curve. And they
belonged to Tim's car.
 
 
When Christmas carols fill the air, and our worries regress in a
temporary whirl of holiday nostalgia, everyone believes in angels. But
it's harder to accept the likelihood that the "multitude of heavenly
host" on that long-ago Bethlehem hillside has relevance in our lives
too, that God's promise to send his angels to protect and rescue each 
of His children is a faithful pact, continuing for all eternity, 
throughout every season of the year.
 
 
Angels don't submit to litmus tests, testify in court or slide under a
microscope for examination. Thus, their existence cannot be "proved" 
by the guidelines we humans usually use. To know one, perhaps, 
requires a willingness to suspend judgment, to open ourselves to 
possibilities we've only dreamed about. "The best and most beautiful 
things in the world cannot be seen or even touched," Helen Keller 
said. "They must be felt with the heart."
 
 
Was it an angel? Our family will never know for sure.
 
 
But on Christmas Eve, l983, I heard the whisper of wings as a tow 
truck driver answered a heavenly summons, and brought our son safely 
home.
Copyright 1992 by Joan Wester Anderson.