Angels in Plain Clothes


At the end of a long July weekend in the woods, surrounded by friends and mostly disconnected from the outside world, late afternoon was approaching, and it was time to start winding up our stay. I wanted to be home and unloaded by dark, so I started gathering my things and packing up to head back to town.

I love to escape into spaces where it’s not immediately obvious which decade we’re in, and since I liked phones a lot better when they were attached to the wall, I usually stash my cell phone under the driver’s seat whenever I’m away from home, or with people I care about, or just being purposeful in giving my full attention to something without a screen.

Over the course of a long weekend like the one that was ending, I might’ve checked the phone once or twice a day, and maybe I would’ve kept it out for a while to look something up or play some music, but I wouldn’t have kept it handy, and the last time I touched it that weekend I must’ve flaked on putting it back in the truck, because when I reached under the seat while I was packing up, it wasn’t there.

I didn’t fret too much at first because I’m kind of known for misplacing stuff, and I figured I’d run across it again while I gathered up what I’d brought with me to camp. But once I was all the way packed and the only thing between me and the road was locating my phone, I started asking the others, “Have you seen my phone?”

A curious sensation started to rise up in me, almost like some mild surge of panic. It wasn’t at all unusual in our house for someone to need a replacement for keys or sunglasses or a phone (especially me), but an urgency was creeping up in me that must’ve been apparent on my face or in my voice because pretty quickly after I said, “Hey, y’all, help me look around for my phone. I can’t find it,” I noticed everyone was looking.

I don’t remember where it turned up or who found it, but I know when I pressed a button to illuminate the screen, I had twenty-three missed calls.

None of them were my Mama.

I didn’t want to press any of the names in that call log because I knew one thing immediately: if she couldn’t call me, I didn’t want to know.

What happened between that moment and the one where I found myself on the highway, on the way to the hospital, only exists in flashes.

I know I didn’t cry.

I didn’t panic.

A cool, soothing sensation washed over me, and when I did a kind of look-see around on the inside of me, I detected only a profound … Quiet.

Every molecule of my being turned a laser focus on whatever was the immediate task at hand. And, when presented, the next one.

And in between there was nothing else. Only Quiet.

When finally the cells that transport thought in and out of the brain turned back to their usual duties, when no particular task demanded my attention, when all that remained for me to address were the twenty-two miles of divided highway between me and the big county hospital, the first thought through the gate was an unusual compliment someone had given me decades earlier during college.

The gal who said it was kind of a party girl, wild and daring, quick to cuss and fight. She was less the deeply philosophical type, and more the kind that might throw her engagement ring out a car window or fire a shot at the tire on her fiancée’s pickup truck.

“If someone had to tell me something horrible,” she said, “some hideous piece of news like my grandparents had been murdered or my baby was dead, I’d want it to be you.”

I can’t deny I’ve treasured that. It struck me as the most strangely wonderful thing I’ve ever heard anyone say about me. And even though I never gave another thought to how or why I might need that gift or what in tarnation revealed its very existence to one of my party pals in the wildest chapter of my life, I liked what she said when I heard it, and it stuck.

Twenty years later, when I saw all those missed calls, I didn’t intentionally embrace some commanding power or dig down to some place where I’m cool under pressure and press a button.

I didn’t make a conscious decision to take up some stabilizing mental stance.

In fact, I hardly had the courage it took to return one of those calls. And the one I finally made didn’t last any longer than it took to find out I needed to head for the big regional hospital.

When that called ended, a monumental Quiet started rising up that threatened to fill up all the available space, but by some small Mercy I remembered what that girl said about me all those years ago, and I realized what I liked about it.

What she said assumed that, in a situation where this gal—a toughy’un among toughy’uns—was weak, I would be strong.

That gave me just enough grit to make one more call, to a long-time friend and the only person I might be able to stand to recite this hideous new truth to.

“How are you feeling?” she asked. “What’s happening inside you?”

I didn’t have to ask myself to know the answer. “I feel like I’m just preparing myself for the very real possibility that I’ve already heard my Mama’s voice for the last time.”

She’d been in an accident, my precious little Mama.

She was trying to cross a divided highway where hundreds of cars were, not coincidentally, already stopped for a fatal accident just a little further north on Highway 49, the main artery for traffic between Mississippi’s capital and the Gulf of Mexico.

Like everyone for a mile or more in every direction, when her car wasn’t moving at a snail’s pace, it was stopped altogether.

But she’d finally made her way to a spot no more than about forty or fifty feet from the parking lot of a bowling alley where my little brother and his young family were waiting to share a few hours of fun with her, the day before his thirty-eighth birthday.

She was nearly there.

Just two lanes of stopped cars and a turn lane to cross, and she could get out and enjoy her day.

She hadn’t been long retired from the state’s chief enforcement agency where, among her duties, she managed accident reports, so she was well-acquainted with how quickly bad things happen and how fleeting safety can be.

When I imagine those last moments on the road, I know for sure she was wearing some cute shades, probably crusted in sparkling bling, and probably wearing little sandals to show off her perfectly polished toes.

She would’ve had NPR playing, not for any political reason, but because she loved intellectual conversation and savored the richness of well-chosen words.

She was probably fussing to herself about the traffic, and maybe she was still thinking about the awful accident that was clogging up the works. She might have even given a moment of consideration to how dangerous the scene in front of her was as she turned on her left-hand blinker.

What happened next is uncertain.

Either someone flagged her across, or she thought nothing was coming, but she successfully crossed both lanes of stopped traffic.

And then, as she moved out into the turn lane and entered that twelve-foot span of asphalt between her and the safety of the bowling alley’s parking lot, an enormous roll-back tow truck, hammered down in the turn lane, was trying to quickly get around the bottlenecked traffic.

There are policies about how long to wait for a towing company to arrive before calling another company on the rotation, and he had been dispatched to tow one of the vehicles involved in the fatal crash that had everyone for miles in a standstill that day.

One motorist, stopped several cars behind the one who may have flagged her out, was sitting with his wife and young daughters watching the entire scene unfold. He told us later that the tow truck went by so fast that it rocked his stopped car. He said he screamed when he saw her start across. He knew what he was about to witness and could only sit helplessly as an already inevitable horror materialized.

The impact was so fierce that it pushed my Mama’s little Avalon down into a roadside gulley and spun that enormous truck that hit her all the way around.

When both vehicles finally stopped, this motorist, a new insurance agent in the area named Michael, like the Archangel, told his family to wait in the car and not to look. He got out and went down into the deep roadside ditch where Mama’s car had come to rest.

He said that when he reached her she was struggling to breathe, and that he approached her from the passenger side of her car, which was so nearly destroyed that he could easily reach in and support her head from there.

Long minutes passed alone with her, he said. His arm was growing tired trying to hold her, and finally someone else climbed down into that ditch and joined him.

She was a woman wearing hospital scrubs, and together they worked to keep my mother alive until help arrived, going back and forth to their vehicles for supplies and taking turns holding her head up so she could breathe.

And what happened on the side of that crowded Mississippi highway in the sweltering heat of summer in the Deep South, had so affected Michael that he had to find us, to find her.

When he showed up in the ICU waiting room, he told us he hadn’t been able to get any information about my Mama by phone, so he had driven to the largest hospital in the area and just started questioning the emergency room staff and the visitors hanging around there. Finding nothing and no one, he rode the elevator up to ICU and repeated the same process.

Michael had taken the time to look at Mama’s driver’s license and commit her name to memory, so he knew who to ask about, and when I heard him say her name in the ICU waiting room, I looked up. He was standing closer to another family member then and trying to explain who he was and why he was there.

“I’ve been praying for her ever since,” he said. “I needed to know how she was, how y’all were.”

When he found me, he told me about the woman who’d helped at the scene, the woman in scrubs.

He said she’d had a passenger in her car, an older woman who must’ve been her own mother.

The older woman, Michael said with tears in his eyes, had opened the passenger door and stepped just outside the car in her house slippers.

This second woman, someone else’s mother, stood on the embankment where her daughter had pulled over, high above the spot in that gulley where my precious little Mama was gasping for breath, and she held both hands in the air, reaching toward Heaven.

“And she kept them up while we waited for help,” he said, his voice cracking. “She just held them up and started calling on the name of Jesus.”

This lovely Soul like a statue, fixed in a position of strength and praying over the scene in front of her, invoking the Mighty Hand of a Merciful God to protect another, completely unknown to her but so obviously in peril.

“What you do for the least among you, you do for me,” the Good Book says, and in that moment, when my mother’s life was the least among the hundreds surrounding her, when hers was so much less than the lives safely contained in cars lined up and down that clogged highway in both directions, this magnificent stranger got out of her car and stood in the gap with my Mama, calling out to God from a place of pure Faith, asking for protection, for Grace, for a Miracle.

The wake of that fateful day was immense. Over time, it spread far and wide across everything I knew.

When I tell someone about my Mama who didn’t know her, when my family history inevitably turns to the circumstances surrounding her passage from this world to the next, I say …

Losing her was the most hideously beautiful thing that ever happened to me. And after being a mother myself, it’s the greatest treasure I’ve known.

Hideous because nothing prepares you to hear someone speak about your mother gasping for breath in a ditch on the side of a highway, or to see her mangled body up close, with tubes and monitors strung all around her, or to have the image of her swollen head burned forever on the surface of your heart.

Hideous because tragedy assaults every morsel of what you believe life to be, no matter how prepared you think you are. And afterwards even the recognizable things are so terribly unfamiliar that it almost doesn’t seem worth the hassle to sort through the rubble and start again.

Beautiful because I’d have never glimpsed the most precious parts of my own life any other way.

Beautiful because of the way seeds planted in the fleeting moments just before she started across that turn lane, and seeds scattered across so many years and generations and lifetimes before she ever left home that day, flourished inside me.

I say what happened is beautiful because I am forever transformed by it.

I didn’t fully recognize what started that first day, in the waiting room outside ICU, sitting next to a kind motorist with an Archangel’s name, telling me the end of my Mama’s story. I was touched by his kindness, of course, but the siege on my life, my Mama’s life, on the lives of all of us who needed her, wasn’t over quickly, and that first day I couldn’t see what I see now.

But inside the first week after the accident, I noticed I wasn’t mad at the tow trucker driver, not even a little. When that tiny Mercy took hold, it gave me just enough courage to take a long look out across the scorched ground that was left around me.

And when I did, I noticed all kinds of little remnants of Life or Grace or Beauty that were mingled into this foreign landscape, little blades of green grass here and there on the ground where I stood, spots inside me that hadn’t been consumed by fire.

Every time I could muster the strength to look out past the obvious devastation, I could see little evidences of God. I started to collect them—or they started to collect in me—these little bits of happenstance or coincidence or whatever the popular reference is for explaining Him away.

And the more I looked for them, and at them, the more it stretched my ability to see.

Life exacted an awful price for it, but my perceptions of this life have been irreversibly altered, and for the better.

Hours before I heard the news, and at least a few long moments before she herself even knew her own life was changing, a man with an Archangel’s name was preparing himself to come to my Mama’s side. Soon another precious person joined him, and with her came a woman of Great Faith who immediately began to pray without ceasing over my little Mama, long before I knew to start.

So while the world we view through so many screens might have us believe that everyday stories of Biblical proportions don’t exist anymore—or at least that nobody wants to hear them—I like to imagine a world where theirs are the stories we most find most worthy of the time to tell, and to hear. Stories of tiny Mercies, of the kindness of strangers, of Angels in plain clothes.



About the Author

Ginger Weston

Ginger is a Native of the Gulf South, a Christian and a Proud American.

She's a semi-retired lawyer / broker / salesman / editor / small business owner 

who spends most of her extra time stretched out in the shade, 

wandering around in the great outdoors, 

and experimenting with micro-homesteading and permaculture gardening 

in the little river bottom where she makes her Home.

Ginger believes in capitalizing purely according to a word's importance 

and practicing Loving Kindness in everyday life 💚





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