Monday, July 12, 2010

Thank you, Mr. Bellows

You know those times in life when something unexpected happens? Or rather, when someone unexpected happens into your life? The summer of 1999, a plain-clothed angel graced my path.

I was single and kicking it up in Chicago. My friends and I decided to escape the city heat and replenish up in Glen Arbor, Michigan. Mr. and Mrs. Bellows, the parents of a friend of mine, graciously opened their doors to us. My bedroom held exquisite views of the lake which sang to me at night. The bedspread (crafted out of t-shirt squares capturing moments from their childrens' camps, universities, fraternities, lives) cradled me in my sleep, surrounding me with softness and memories.

The days yielded a perfect cadence of hot summer sun with undercurrents of cool breeze. Water and sky created a rhapsody of blues--a kaleidoscope of azures, royals and ceruleans. Clear lakes. Perfect evenings--open windows and crisp temperatures. Blazing stars. Burned shoulders cooled during night swims.

After enjoying several days on Glen Lake, I planned to drive to Traverse City to visit another friend. Mr. and Mrs. Bellows graciously loaned me their car. With the open road, a borrowed SUV, a bathing suit and my baseball cap, I headed east. Another sunny, lazy, fabulous day ensued with my dear friend and her family on their heavenly slice of Lake Michigan.

I hopped back into the Bellows' car and headed back to Glen Arbor. I sang. The wide-open windows brought fresh summer air. I glanced down to change the radio station so I could continue my one-woman karaoke show. Two and a half seconds later, when I glanced up, I realized much too late that the pick-up truck ahead of me had stopped moving and lacked the convenience of working brake lights to alert me of its stop.

I slammed the breaks.
I crashed into the pick-up.
Air bag deployed.
SUV totaled.

After pulling myself out of the embrace of the air bag, I checked to see if the other driver was O.K. The SUV's once smooth and gleaming body was now a twisted, crushed mess. I hope I gave thanks for my working legs and continued life. But throughout those motions, this one thought coursed through my mind: "That isn't my car. That isn't my car. Holy shit, that isn't my car."

Someone called an ambulance. I luckily had enough of a reserve to call the Bellows to let them know I'd wrecked their car. (So thoughtful of me, I know. "Hi, remember me, the girl you just met whom you graciously lent your car? Well, I just totaled it.") I don't remember what they said, but it was wonderful and they said they'd meet me at the hospital.

The ambulance arrived. Super-kind EMTs strapped me and my bathing-suit-clad, still-sandy body onto the back board. They thought I was in shock. They were right. (When I smacked into that pick-up, I impacted at about 35 MPH.)

After I arrived at the hospital, the first person I saw was Scott, one of my dear friends. He looked so worried and his eyes radiated sympathy. Love him. Then I slept. When I came-to again, I opened my eyes and stared into the warmest, bluest, most-compassionate eyes I believe I've ever seen. The eyes belonged to Mr. Bellows. (Just a refresher--the car, that I just totaled, also belonged to Mr. Bellows.)

I started crying. Tears pushed down my sunscreened, beachy face. His lovely blue eyes streamed. I tried to apologize, inadequate words tumbling over words, "So so so sorry for wrecking your lovely Ford Explorer, Mr. Bellows." He wouldn't hear it. He kindly, dearly, so tenderly shushed me, his wise blue eyes full of concern. He took my hand in his and a calm enveloped me. I felt like one of his children. I felt safe. And forgiven.

With my hand still in his, Mr. Bellows explained that the only thing that he and Mrs. Bellows wanted was for me to heal (I'd acquired a mild concussion). He told me to rest.

He cared not about his SUV. Nor did he care about the pain-in-the-ass of arranging to have the car towed from the middle of State Route M72 back to Glen Arbor, nor did he fret over the cost of any of these inconveniences. Nope. Not Mr. Bellows. He fixated on the the well-being of a practical stranger. They took me back to their home, wrapped me in that t-shirt comforter and put me to bed. Mrs. Bellows tenderly mother-henned me, checked my eyes and smoothed my brow.

His lovely demeanor wound itself around my heart, opening and warming it. And showed it a path of selflessness, compassion and depth. I fondly remember Mr. Bellows--an angel in disguise. A classic. Emulating class and empathy always. A consummate gentleman whose kindness I will forever remember. Because of his example, I've extended compassion (instead of revengeful anger) in challenging and tough situations. I've remembered what it's like to be the wrecker...and what it's like to receive forgiveness and love.

Thank you, Mr. Bellows. You eased my path and lightened my burden. I've always worried that I didn't adequately let you know just exactly how much your sincerity and grace touched me. Hopefully, now you do.


Is there someone you want to thank for a wonderfully selfless act? Do you always remember them? Has their graciousness changed the way you've treated others?


Anonymous said...

My goodness, Denise, I have tears in my eyes. Do you know I can't remember a moment in my life when someone wrapped me in a warm embrace, or even held my hand and just said "It's going to be alright." I'm sure there have been times, but for the life of me I'm missing it. This is an amazing, wholesome story. I appreciate it's lessons, particularly as I move forward in parenting two boys!

Suzanne said...

Denise, This story did remind me of someone. Jesus. I could see him in every aspect of Mr. Bellows. He provides for me in ways that seem remarkable and unselfish. He takes my burdens on Himself, telling me to lean on Him for my care. He forgives and forgets my past transgressions only caring for my peace and eternal well being. This story is an incredible parallel to what Jesus wants to do for all of us.

Scott said...

Lovely, Denise. But as the person who was the first to see you in the hospital, I have to admit it's STILL tough to remember rushing there, having no idea if you were OK. I'm still so thankful that you were, and thankful for the generosity and caring of the Bellows, who have also touched my life in many, many ways.

becca said...

What an amazingly heart warming story. I do hope that Mr. Bellows will get to read this beautiful tribute/thank you that you wrote to him.

Ran Bellows said...

Dear Denise,
That time is still such a powerful memory, burned in my mind.
I am so glad you were and are OK.
Your writing stirs harrowing and warm memories.
In your writing what shines through is the person you are.
Whitney's reflection: "Denise is a class act."
Warm regards,
Ran Bellows

Jeff Bellows said...

Dear Denise, That Explorer is still steaming along. Its permanent home is Glen Lake and it has many, many miles on it. The Ford dealer in Traverse City did good repairs. It is great to hear how you are doing, family and all. If you are ever in the neighborhood in the summer we would love to see you. Love, Jeff Bellows, Whit's mom.

Sarah said...

I am stirred by this story. And mostly, how it's affected you through the course of your life--that the significance of the Bellows attitude and actions weren't lost on you after that trip was over.

Your writing here is so easy to read and wonderfully detailed. I love it. I am also very touched to see the characters in your real life drama in the comments section. How marvelous.

Mommyfriend Lori said...

Wow, what an amazing man. You are incredible for learning a lesson in grace that you have carried with you 11 years later. That was a wonderful reminder of the power of humanity. Thanks for posting this.