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Amy Choate-Nielsen: Heavenly help may explain how potential tragedy wasn't so bad

Arizona Moritzky stands with her husband in the early 1900s.
Arizona Moritzky stands with her husband in the early 1900s.
Family photo

I have officially outlived my great-grandmother.

And lately, I’ve been thinking she’s the reason why.

I’ve often felt a connection to my grandmother Fleeta, who died before I was born. When I was younger, I imagined that she was my guardian angel, looking over me and helping me when I needed it. It was always a nice thought, if somewhat uncertain. I liked to think that she was there, cushioning the blows that came my way.

This week, I was thinking about Fleeta’s mother, my great-grandmother Arizona, with whom I share a birthday. Up until now, I tracked my life with hers. But this year, as I approach another birthday, I have surpassed the length of her life, which ended in 1915 just 10 days after her 38th birthday. It made me think about the times my life was in peril, and for the first time, I considered that maybe she too is rooting for me from the other side. Maybe this mother-and-daughter companionship, who share my blood, and my birthday, have joined together to watch over their little granddaughter who sometimes finds herself in danger.

I can think of a few times I experienced some serious peril and escaped unscathed, with what I can only explain as miraculous intervention.

Once, in high school, I attended a dance about an hour away from my house, in a neighboring state. My mother was a chaperone at the dance, and I wasn’t ready to leave when she was. I asked if I could stay a little longer and ride home with a friend of mine.

When I asked her, my mom said she instantly had the thought that something bad would happen if I rode home with that friend, but everything would be OK, and my friend would need my parents' help to deal with the situation, so she should let me go.

She did.

It was dark, and raining slightly by the time my friend and I started home. Along the way, we got confused about which way we were heading, and we took a wrong turn onto an on-ramp on the highway. Halfway up the on-ramp, we realized our mistake, and that we had no idea what highway we were joining, or where it would take us, so we made the executive decision as teenagers to turn around and drive the wrong way off the on-ramp to go back to the right road. That was a bad idea, I know. But nobody drove onto the on-ramp as we drove off. We didn’t hit the other car, head on, until we turned left off the on-ramp, right into the oncoming traffic of a light that had just turned green.

Neither car was traveling too fast, maybe 20 miles per hour each, but I was sitting in the front seat on the passenger side of a car that didn’t have a working seatbelt. When the impact happened, I felt my body rise up a little and it felt like the back of my head bumped against the roof of the car, then I sat back down.

It happened so quickly, and so gently, that when I sat back in my seat and looked at the circle of smashed glass in front of me on the windshield, I looked all around the car, thinking that a book or a ball or something from the back of the car must have gotten thrown against the windshield in the crash.

I felt the back of my skull, wondering if there was any blood or sign of impact, but there wasn’t. I was in disbelief. Surely my head wasn’t the object that caused that glass to break and splinter like a web of crystals.

A fire truck came. The police came. An ambulance came. A paramedic shined a flashlight into my eyes and asked me what date it was. I was a little shaken, but I felt calm. My head felt fine. I didn’t even have a headache. My neck felt completely normal. It was as though I’d been insulated in a bubble that absorbed the impact, and I was completely unharmed.

As I walked to the ambulance, I heard one paramedic tell the other, “Watch her. She just broke the windshield with her head, but she seems to be fine.” My friend wasn’t hurt at all either. But her car was totaled, and her parents were in a different country.

When I called my mother from the hospital around midnight, she knew from the first ring what had happened. She was calm. She and my father drove an hour to the hospital to pick us up and take us home. And just like that, something that could have been a total disaster, something that easily could have ended with me on the side of the road, was averted, and I am still alive.

Fleeta is gone, and Arizona is gone, but I think sometimes, they give me heavenly help to stay.