In the days following the accident I had a lot of time to think and reflect on life. The stages of grief were not only present but violently shifting and incomplete. In a single moment I could go from Denial to Anger to Bargaining to Depression. Acceptance would have to wait a long….long time. The rest of April and May were spent mostly alone at the house staring into the computer screen at pictures confused and in a daze. I didn’t want to be consoled or encouraged, I needed time to sit, wallow and wail. I was not “blamed” for the accident, however I was responsible. The concept of responsibility versus fault was easy for me to get my head around. I also knew that in a situation with no answers, my blame would be the easiest and possibly the only resolution for most. With every trip to the hospital to visit the kids it became more and more apparent that I was not welcome there anymore. Upon entering one of the rooms everyone’s eyes would shoot anywhere but to mine. The conversation would turn to whispers then slowly the number of visitors in the room would decrease until it was just me. There was a tension in the room that I know the kids were picking up on. Like it or not I decided I wouldn’t be there any more. During that time at the hospital Wife #3 and her kids dad ended up “reconnecting”. Tragedy will bring some people together and rip others apart. After filing for divorce in June of 2009 I moved out of the house and became a bit of a nomad for a few months staying on couches and squatting where I could.
Back in February of 09 I had been talking to my buddy Phil on Facebook and he jokingly mentioned going on a Mission trip to Liberia. I hadn’t even needed to think about it at all, I was going. I had raised all the money for the trip through side work and donations. Then the accident happened and there was no way I was leaving. It took some long loud sessions of me screaming at God until I lost my voice for me to realize that there was no going back in time. There was nothing I could do about the past. It was done and all the obstacles that were in my way from going had been removed. In my mind it was the perfect escape from reality. Once I got to Liberia there would be no divorces or accident, just a couple of weeks in Africa talking to young adults and teens about choices.
Our flight left on June 20th. Every leg of the flight was longer then the next and despite my efforts they were spent replaying the accident and the woulda-shoulda-couldas. I tried my best to bottle up my emotions, but knew that each person who received my response of, “I’m fine” knew that I was anything but. When we landed in Ghana we had a chance to experience the chaos of the 3rd world for several hours between the flights. I realized really quick, and was reminded daily by the guys, that I was the target market for every bracelet maker or wood-carver. I had to learn to say no really quick. I didn’t and I have a lot of Liberian carvings if anyone is looking. We made our way back to the airport and were getting our boarding passes. I was trying to be a gentleman and let other people go ahead of me in the line. The problem with that was, by the time I got up there they had oversold the flight and could no longer give me a boarding pass. The other three guys had theirs and were getting ready to head through the security line. Let the adventure begin! After a bit of talking I had in my hand a piece of paper that said, “ok to board plane”, accompanied with some basic flight information. I walked up to the customs check line where the other guys were waiting as their bags were being carefully examined. I walked up and handed the Liberian Agent my passport and paper. He looked at me with curious eyes, held up my passport then looking back down while disapprovingly shaking his head. He gave me back my paperwork and waved me through. I was through the line and now waiting for the guys. i looked down at my hand to ensure I had everything. The Agent had given me back everything except for that five dollar bill I folded up and placed right under my makeshift boarding pass. Some argue that I was contributing to corruption, I argue that if corruption is being bought for $5 they have already lost that battle.
We were the only 4 white guys on the plane and were not able to find seats together. 6′ 5″+ Phil was in a window seat with a petite little thing sitting in the aisle. All of a sudden a gargantuan woman boarded the plane. I prayed as hard as I could that she would squeeze herself in next to Phil. Phil couldn’t help but laugh as he got pressed into the side of the plane to make room for the “seat belt optional” passenger. I laughed so hard, which was the first time I had laughed at all in months. We took off and were in route for Liberia. During the takeoff you could hear the murmur of quiet prayers from those first time flyers. Roughly one hour into our flight with the drink cart only four rows away the captain screams over the intercom, “STEWARDESS TO YOUR SEATS NOW!! EVERYONE BUCKLE!!!”. They abandoned the cart in the middle of the aisle and darted for their seats. The plane aggressively dropped causing the drink cart to raise off the ground then slam onto the floor. The passengers were in all out panic. It was as if each voice was cleanly filtered so I could hear it individually stand out in the symphony of screams. I looked out the window at the thunder heads we were passing through. All the screams blended together and dulled into a background buzz. It was weird, my heart rate didn’t even increase at all. I just stared out the window and thought it was kinda interesting. I just had a peace and knew that God wasn’t bringing me through everything I have been through to just die on a plane in the middle of Africa. That’s just not how it was gonna play out. Suddenly there was a sharp pain in both of my shoulders and the muffled voices were pierced by the screeching plea of the older woman behind me. As her nails dug into my shoulders she commanded, “YOU PRAY NOW!! PRAY NOW!!”. I placed my hand on hers and turned so our eyes could meet. When they met I just said to her, “I promise you, I already am.” I held her hand in mine for the next several minutes while the plane continued to fight to stay in the air. When the plane stopped being thrown around the sky and stabilized the entire plane erupted in applause, Praise and song! It was Church in a plane. As we got our baggage several people from the plane came up and hugged us and called us their Angels. We were just as happy as they were to be safely on the ground.
We landed and were getting ready to walk to customs when a man called us from the other side and then waved to another official. They waved us through without so much as glancing at our passports or bags. It was late at night and my senses were alive and aware of every eye that was upon us. The crowd before us parted and made a clear row to the truck that was waiting for us. Standing beside the truck was a group of nearly a dozen young choir members to welcome us to Africa. They sang 2 songs and then as lightning clapped in the distance and the loud roll of thunder passed through us they piled into the back of a pickup and we in a car behind them. We drove with the windows down in near silence reflecting on the past 24 hours. The sound of singing stitched itself in with the wind as the choir continued to sing as they drove down the road and I knew that this was going to change me more than I could imagine. I forced the existence or my real life down to a safe spot way deep inside and embraced the moment that stood before me.
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