She was fighting for her life until a heroic “neighbor” answered God's call.
- Posted on Aug 26, 2020
I squinted. Was that a pothole?
Turning the wheel, I guided the car around potential danger. It was early, still dark, and the back roads that wind over and around our creeks in Fredericksburg, Virginia, were tricky even in daylight. The children were at home, still asleep, but I was driving to meet my carpool, all of us government workers in Alexandria, about an hour north.
A hurricane had just blown through our area, but apart from getting to work on time, I wasn’t worried. We were fortunate, with no damage to our property, and most of the rain had already passed.
I looked down for a split second to adjust the radio—and lifted my eyes back up to see…muddy water? Taking my foot off the gas pedal, I felt the car drift as water washed over the windshield. The little creek was now a rushing river. It carried me down what was left of the road, until the water pushed my car onto its side, wedging the vehicle on an exposed cement culvert. Water poured in from all angles. I had to get out, but how would I battle this current?
Headlights shone through the dark. A woman jumped out of her car, waving her hands frantically from safe ground. “Can you swim to me if I hold out my umbrella?” she called.
With no other choice, I slipped on my shoulder bag and pulled my body through the driver’s side window, hoping against hope that my feet would find the creek bottom.
I slid out carefully, but the current immediately took hold and pushed me under into murky darkness. The scream of rushing water filled my ears. I had to get my bearings. I wasn’t tumbling through the current; I was stuck. I struggled to take a breath, but I couldn’t lift my mouth above water. Just my nose. I could see I was caught against the driveshaft near the rear axle. There was no way I could swim toward the woman’s umbrella, but I took comfort in her presence. I wasn’t alone.
The purse around my neck was choking me. I yanked it off and watched the violent current take it away. I feared where that rushing water might take me. Lord, please don’t let me suffer if I’m to die here. But if you wish me to live, send an angel to rescue me.
The faces of my children flashed through my mind. I couldn’t wait for a miracle. I had to fight for my life. I turned myself sideways, stretching my legs, searching for footing. I could find nothing through my shoes. Cold and weak, I clung to the car with every ounce of strength I had. “Get help!” I yelled to the woman at the shore. All I could do was wait. And pray. Alone. The woman sped away.
I’d never felt so tired, but just when I feared I might pass out I saw lights in the distance. The sheriff’s car, neighbors with flashlights, reporters. Everybody watched in horror, but nobody moved. They needed a plan. The river was too dangerous. I had to hold on. Fight to save yourself, I thought.
Amid the confusion, a young man stepped into the water. How could a stranger be so brave? I had to stay calm and not make our situation worse. When he reached the car I said, “I will not panic; I promise I will not panic.”
“No,” he said. “I know you won’t.” He held onto me and asked me to take off my shoes to better grip the slimy stones beneath. “I’ll help you find the creek bottom,” he said. I trusted him, and I knew that if I slipped, the river would take us both.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Chris Hawkins,” he said. “I’m your neighbor.”
A neighbor, I thought. Perhaps that’s why he was taking this risk. With his arm around my waist, Chris guided me, and soon I felt silt and stone beneath my toes. Slowly we reached the shore.
When we stepped out of the river, exhausted but safe, the media swarmed me. Voices everywhere. Was I hurt? What had happened? How had I escaped?
“Chris Hawkins saved me,” I said, looking for his face in the crowd.
He was gone.
The next morning I called my neighbors to ask if anyone happened to know where Chris lived. “Who?’ they asked.
“Hawkins. Chris Hawkins. I want to thank him again for saving me.” Not a single person had heard of him, and my brave rescuer remained a mystery.
A year later, almost to the day, I was at home with my family when the doorbell rang. Two boys stood outside.
“Is this yours, ma’am?” one asked, holding up my purse.
“Yes,” I said. “Where on earth did you find it?”
“We fished it out of the creek.”
I paid them with money from the purse, still intact, and waved goodbye. My goodness, I thought. I’m so blessed. First surviving the river, and now this timely reminder of a good neighbor.
I’d learned since that county officials had opened a levy after the hurricane swept through, which flooded the creek unexpectedly and without warning. I’d been horrified to find strips of metal all over the scene when I passed it on my way to my carpool the next day. It was a wonder that I hadn’t been ripped to shreds. Or that I could only reach the creek bottom with Chris Hawkins’s help. Once more I thanked God for this neighbor I’d never seen again, the neighbor who no one seemed to know. I recalled thinking I couldn’t wait for a miracle that day, that I had to save myself. But what else could I think now, but that God had indeed sent an angel to rescue me?
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