When Kate was in high school but not old enough to drive yet, we used to make the trip to Viewmont High down I15 every day, waiting at the freeway entrance to jump into the steady stream of traffic like little girls waiting for the jump rope to come around. Each morning as I approached the overpass at the Centerville exit I paused, mentally, altering whatever was running through my brain for a moment; remembering.
That winter there had been a heavy snowfall. So heavy that the snow plows had nowhere to push the snow and it piled up on the sides of the overpass, all the way up the guardrail, so that the road looked like a ditch; like a new carton of vanilla bean ice cream into which the scoop had dug a straight strip; like a snowy luge where the sides had been air brushed gray by the chugging exhaust of traffic rumbling across the bridge. A Jr. High girl was walking over that bridge late one night after the snowfall. They’re not sure what happened - if it was intentional, or accidental - but she slipped over the edge and landed on the freeway below. Cars didn’t know what they had hit. News of it spread like stomach flu among the kids at school the next day. Parents drew their daughters into their chests and told them to call if they needed rides home; whispered I love you’s when they dropped their kids off at school that next morning; they drove away vowing to never let arguments escalate to where their kids stomped off angry; they turned on their car radios to try and overpower the images haunting their brains as they drove away. I did the same.
I made note of that spot every time I traveled southbound on the freeway, just as I passed under that bridge. I made note and whispered wordless prayers. Daily offerings, reminding God that we are feeble and weak, as if He didn’t know. Asking blessings on that girl’s family. As I prayed, eyes wide open, I pictured this in my mind: a girl, on the cusp of womanhood, whose name I cannot recall, moves through the chill of air on an anonymous January night. Her eyes look down at her feet, as much to protect her face from the icy wind as to watch where she is stepping. She quickly moves over to the edge of the bridge when a car passes. She loses her balance and cannot regain it. I imagine it is innocent and accidental. I know this is wishful thinking, but I let myself think it anyway. As she descends to the frozen road below I see two images separating, one hurling downward and one taking flight, rising wingless and weightless before the empty body reaches the earth. I imagine the quick and steady arms of an angel whisping in, scooping her up and rising heavenward, the only evidence a brittle winter wind hinting the scent from the collar of her jacket, familiar only to her mother and the boy to whom she gave her first kisses. It’s the same smell her father inhales as he buries his head in the cold pillow on his daughter’s empty bed.
One day a few years back Dave and I were having lunch with Del and Lynette Parson. Del had been commissioned by the church to paint a portrait of Jesus Christ wearing a red robe. A copy of it hangs in most of our LDS churches today. Del told about creating that painting, about the progression of the piece, and what he went through trying to represent the Savior as best he could. Del was invited often to speak about it, and about peoples’ reactions to the piece when it was first released.
I heard that Del was speaking in a Fireside one Sunday evening when a young woman in the congregation announced through her tears; “That’s him! That’s him!” The story goes that she had been a small girl when her mother’s boyfriend entered their apartment stoned and violently angry. The mother gathered her daughter into the closet and told her to stay there no matter what. From her dark small chamber she heard things no child should ever hear, witnessed the murder of her mother in darkness. Frightened and shaking, she felt the embrace of good strong arms come around her as she crouched there listening. The arms drew her into a firm strong chest, and she looked up into the eyes of someone vaguely familiar to her. He gently laid his hand over her ear and held her against his chest. She said she felt an uncommon calm in spite of the emotional chaos surrounding her. She does not recall words; only that the warmth of the person who had comforted her remained until a neighbor came into the silent aftermath of the crime and discovered the child alone in the closet. She told the neighbor that the man helped her not to cry. But of course no one saw him. Even the girl eventually decided she had imagined it.
Until that day when she saw the gentle eyes in the portrait Del had painted.
It may be an urban legend. I will ask Del next time I see him if there was such a woman with such a tale. It doesn’t really matter though, because if it’s the reality or if it isn’t, it doesn’t change the fact that it is a possibility. I have no doubt that it could have happened. I deal, in general, with lots of doubts. I am not a doubtless kind of believer. I fight doubt demons on a regular basis. It keeps my testimony alive.
But I do not doubt that angels exist, that we lived and will again live beyond this realm, and that Jesus Christ has the capacity to do miraculous things that defy our human logic. I believe He could in fact, have visited a child whose life was altering in unfathomable ways. And He could have dispatched one of his heavenly hosts to swoop down to earth on a snowy winter night and reclaim a daughter before she experienced an agony with which He was all too familiar. He can transform our falls into flights. I can’t say for sure that He did. But knowing He can is enough.