On a cold November night in 1994, the world as I knew it ended. It went spiraling out of control when a drunken driver slammed into the car in which my mother and I were traveling .
Seconds after that head-on crash, our vehicle was rear-ended by an 18-wheeler going full speed.
We were on Interstate 77, just across the North Carolina border and heading south. We were traveling from West Virginia, my home state, to South Carolina, where I attended college.
Heather Goodwin Henline
The Thanksgiving holiday weekend was over, and it was time to return to classes to finish the semester. Mom and I had gotten a late start. We had gone shopping until early evening and then took time to eat a leisurely dinner.
I remember day quickly turned to night, and the weather became inclement during our journey. Cold air mixed with swirling rain and pelted the windshield, as Mom and I?sat cocooned in my parent's newly purchased Nissan Altima.
The drive from West Virginia, through Virginia and into North Carolina had been a long, tedious one. I think we both were glad to see the North Carolina border when we crossed it, coming one state closer to our stopping point.
I remember seeing a set of headlights coming toward us in the distance, which was as opaque as a sea of ink. The lights looked as though they were on the other side of the interstate and that the car would pass us like two ships crossing in the night.
Moments later we realized the headlights were bearing down on us at an alarming speed and that the vehicle was traveling the wrong way on I-77. It was going north in the southbound lanes, and there was nothing we could do to prevent a collision.
Then there was the impact and a sound of shattering glass as metal collided with metal at full force. We had been hit, but we were alive. Then, without warning, our car was struck from behind by the 18-wheeler, which caused the Nissan to go airborne, spin multiple times and slam into a guardrail.
I was rendered unconscious after the last hit and awoke to a smoke-filled car in which my mother and I were trapped. She was pinned under the steering column and none of the doors allowed me to exit the vehicle.
We waited for help to arrive, alone, scared and desperate for a miracle. I remember my mother praying the "Our Father" over and over until we were extricated from the vehicle by emergency personnel. She continued that prayer while we were rushed to a major trauma center and up until she was whisked away to emergency surgery.
I've often thought of that night as one of the worst in my life. I was haunted by memories of the crash, of being trapped and helpless, and of watching my mother slip away from me.
No one knows how either of us survived the accident. Hardened emergency professionals shook their heads in disbelief, and my father dropped to his knees at the site of the crushed car in which we had been traveling.
I've often wondered why our lives were spared that night and what purpose I serve in this world, what mission God has for me to fulfill.
A recent phone call from a Sentinel reader, Bill Phillips, provided me with some semblance of an answer. He phoned to comment about my columns and how they have touched his life.
I was humbled by his praise and thanked him for his kind words. They meant a lot. Then, as we talked more about his family, he mentioned that he had lost his wife years earlier and he told me the date of her death.
I almost gasped when I heard she passed away the same day as our accident. My heart began to pound and chills prickled my arms. My mother and I were spared when this man's wife had succumb to cancer. I had to wonder why.
She left behind children and a loving husband. Suddenly, I felt very guilty for not celebrating the night of the accident for the gift that it was - the gift of another chance at life.
I've had my mother to cherish for the past 14 years. She has been there for my wedding, the birth of my children and for all of life's ups and downs along the way. And I have been here to do all those things solely by the grace of God.
Bill said he finds comfort in my writing and column each week. Not a day goes by that he doesn't think of his wife, but he said he feels close to her through the stories I share in this space.
He said my writing makes a difference in his life and in the lives of others. That means more than any award or professional accolade I could ever receive. And what I share here comes from my heart, is genuine and all me - flaws and all.
I'm glad that what I write touches others. As a result, friendships have been formed. Bill and I now share phone calls from time to time. He is a tender gentleman, who says he has become more sentimental in his older years and as his life is coming to an end.
I am touched by his raw honesty and by the connection that we share to a date that will live in infamy for us both. There is a reason I was spared on that rainy night in 1994, and there is a reason my path was meant to cross with his.
In an instant, I realized why I am here, in Lewistown, in this job and writing in this space each week. It has been a long journey from shards of broken glass and wreckage to words of hope.
What keeps us going in life is the faith that we have in Jesus and in one another.
All it took was one phone call to remind me of that, and an accident that had purpose after all.
Heather Goodwin Henline is managing editor of The Sentinel. She may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.