December 19, 1971 was a Sunday, the last one before Christmas. I was ten. My sister was eleven. We went with our family to the evening service at Trinity Baptist Church in Boyd, Texas. After services my parents left us with a group that was going Christmas caroling. We never made it to the first house.
Our church was on the highway on the western edge of town. Our group of about 20 carolers walked along the side the highway toward the first neighborhood a few hundred yards away. The leaders were in the front and back of the group. My sister and I were with the kids in the middle. My memories of what happened next are episodic. I don’t know if this is because I was in and out of consciousness or if my mind will not let me remember. This is what I do remember.
It is a dark night. We are walking along the side of the road. My friends are around me. Two headlights. Screeching tires. Screams. Darkness.
Laying in a ditch. Where is Robin? Grabbing hands full of weeds as I crawl in the ditch. Why can’t I stand? Darkness.
Laying on the side of the road. Someone has laid a coat over me. A crowd has gathered around a car. Yelling. A man is beating someone with his fists. Darkness.
The flashing lights of ambulances. My mother is here. She is hysterical. She is screaming and fighting with a man who will not let her into an ambulance. Darkness.
In an ambulance going down the road. My father is beside me. He weeps silently. Darkness.
Bright lights of a hospital. A doctor is wrapping plaster around my leg. I see one of my friends on the other side of the room. Sleep.
Later I learned that a drunken 19 year-old man had swerved toward the group as a joke to frighten us. He lost control and drove into the middle of the group among the kids. Eight were injured, including me and my sister, and one nine year-old girl was killed when the car pinned her against a highway post. This girl was wearing the same style coat as my sister, and my mother had fought to get into the ambulance with her, thinking it was her daughter. My sister was in a different ambulance, and my father was weeping because the entire trip with me to the hospital in Fort Worth he thought Robin was dead.
Robin was not dead, but she was badly injured. She was hit so hard that her body became a projectile that struck another kid and broke his leg. She sustained a broken nose, a broken leg, a broken arm and injuries to her spinal cord. She had operations and lived a fairly normal life, though she always struggled with fine motor skills. Over 40 years later, in 2014, complications from her injuries caused her to become a quadriplegic. She lived six more years and died in 2020. By comparison, my injuries were slight, a broken leg from which I fully recovered.
What to make of all of this? Terrible, senseless things happen to children as Ivan Karamazov recounted in his famous indictment of God. How can a loving God allow this? I have contemplated the theodicy for decades, and in that time I have learned only one thing for certain. Ivan’s indictment cannot be refuted by logic. If it can be countered at all, it can be countered only as Alyosha countered it, by faith in God’s love as demonstrated though Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Robin trusted. She forgave. She did not allow bitterness to consume her soul. This is our second Christmas without her, but I will see her again. With joy in my heart, I sing the old song:
I’ll meet you in the morning
With a how do you do
And we’ll sit down by the river
And with rapture old acquaintance renew
You’ll know me in the morning
By the smile that I wear
When I meet you in the morning
In that city that is built four square