Finding Meaning in a Near-Miss

When Nicole Pugh saw the look of terror on her husband Chip’s face, she knew something bad was about to happen. Something really, really bad.

jimmy_johnsThe couple and their two young daughters—Rory, age five, and Reagan, age four—went to lunch at Jimmy John’s sandwich shop in Jackson Plaza after church a couple of weeks ago. They sat in the booth just to the right of the front entrance, with Nicole’s and Reagan’s backs to the window. “We were eating and talking and having fun when, all of a sudden, Chip’s eyes grew wide and he threw up his hands,” Nicole told me. “Then he threw himself over Rory.”

Next came a deafening crash, followed by waves of broken glass raining down over all of them. “It happened in a millisecond,” Nicole said. “There was no time to figure out what was going on. I just closed my eyes and covered Reagan’s body with mine.”

For a few seconds afterwards, everything grew deadly quiet. Then screaming and cursing filled the air. Someone yelled “Call 9-1-1!” Nicole opened her eyes to see a gray SUV less than a foot away from her shoulder, the entire vehicle inside the restaurant. An elderly woman sat behind the steering wheel, with an elderly man in the passenger seat next to her. They were staring straight ahead, neither of them talking or moving. Chip unwound himself from Rory and rushed over to the car. Were the people inside OK? And was the car turned off?

Within minutes, emergency personnel arrived at Jimmy John’s. EMTs determined that no one was badly injured. Firefighters found no safety threats. Police began interviewing everyone on the scene.

And Chip and Nicole, badly shaken themselves, tried to calm their daughters.

“It was all so crazy and confusing. And frightening,” Nicole said. “We had come within inches of being maimed or killed while having Sunday lunch. My whole focus was on my family at first. But then I took a long look at the woman behind the steering wheel of that SUV—the horror on her face, her whole body shaking, and I realized this was as terrible for her as it was for anyone else.”

When the Pugh family got home, they talked about what had happened. Everyone told his or her own version of the story. Rory gathered paper and colored pencils and created “Rory’s Car Crash Book.” The cover features an ambulance and the inside consists of three illustrated pages—the first with the family sitting in the booth eating sandwiches, the second with the car in the restaurant right next to them with glass all over the floor and the third with her dad throwing himself over her so she wouldn’t get hurt.

“We talked with our girls about all the people who helped after the accident and how thankful we were for them,” Nicole told me. “We prayed that the driver and her husband would be OK. We talked about how we all make mistakes and how important it is to forgive.” They read Psalm 91, which helped give the event meaning. Where was God when the car crashed into the restaurant? “He was there, shielding every one of us from injury,” Nicole said. “God watches over us and gives our lives purpose. It’s up to us to figure out why we’re here in this time and this place and to try to fulfill that purpose.”

And they agreed there’s another take-away from the incident at Jimmy John’s, a take-away that’s less spiritual but significant nonetheless. “We probably won’t choose to sit in a restaurant booth near a parking space any time soon,” she said.

(September 11, 2016)