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