Driving home from a post-church barbecue Sunday afternoon, I tasted the very real possibility of my bubble being burst. The sun was shining, my belly was full of a delicious Chinese Chicken Salad and the seven of us were happily performing a very ill-conceived version of "Jet" as we enjoyed the country road home. Everything was right with the world. Everything was perfect, actually. I reached over to Mr. Blandings and snagged his hand for a squeeze.
Which was, apparently, the cue for the trauma to begin. Through my open window, something tiny flew in and landed on my skirt. Before I brushed it away, I gave a cursory glance--a hard-earned habit, as you will soon see. There, agitated and dancing, was a bee.
For most of the population, an irritated bee is a nuisance, but not an emergency. For me, any stinging insect that carries a venom sac is a potential agent of death. I don't say this lightly and I'm not being dramatic. Unfortunately, I am among an elite (snicker, snicker) group of folks who enjoy anaphylactic shock when we have run-ins with bees. Over the years, I've been stung more times than I care to count; each reaction seems to be incrementally worse. I carry an EpiPen, but it doesn't stop my reaction. It buys me time, however. And time, in an anaphylactic incident, is precious.
So you see why that second it took to assess the situation was so important; because I live with the knowledge that a bug--any bug--is a potential danger, I don't rush to shake hands with them. Thus, I didn't give the angry little bugger a chance to insert stinger A into hand B.
But clearly, judging by the looks of him, the bee was searching for some way to make his displeasure known. He was crawling over my lap, dragging his stinging end and seeking some form of purchase, which was proving elusive. I had chosen a flowy, tiered peasant skirt from the closet that morning and the layers of ripply fabric were stymieing his attack. My heart did a sick, aching leap in my chest as I took stock of the situation:
Driving on the backroad.
All of the kids in the car.
Nowhere to pull over.
Miles from the hospital.
I squeezed Mr. Blandings hand and croaked that last word out to him. He immediately sat bolt upright. When you've had the privilege of slamming a needle loaded with adrenaline into your wife's thigh on more than one occasion, you take this kind of thing seriously.
"Where?" he asked, twisting the volume down on the stereo and bringing an instant stand-still to our happy party.
"My lap," I told him, trying not to move.
My mind had already gone to the bad place, of course. The scary place. The place where I begin to feel the hot spread of the poison as it makes its way to my throat. The place where I feel my vision slipping its hinges, where the faces of my babies float just beyond me, and Mr. Blandings' voice is a deep throb in another reality. The place where I would breathe water, fire, anything, anything ... just let my body cooperate, breathe, breathe, breathe ...
With my children watching, horrified, scared, fearful and completely out of control as their father hangs on with everything he has to their frail mother.
The place where stillness is absolutely absent.
Mr. Blandings squinted at my skirt, and then back at the road, unable to locate the offender in the maze of colors and patterns. The kids were, by now, wondering what was going on. Questions were making their way to the front of the Suburban.
And this is the absolute mystery of these slow-motion, heart-stopping moments: you are still very much alive. And function you must.
"There's a bee on Momma," I called back.
Dead silence. My children have waved to ambulances from bedroom windows after Momma has hung out with a bee. They have endured EpiPen training. They have carted trash to public cans on hot days to keep Momma safe. Bees, in their economy, can be very, very bad.
"Let's all just pray, o.k.?" I managed. Mr. Blandings was searching for a shoulder, a driveway, a ditch ... anything.
It was Atticus' voice, shaky but clear, that rose above the rapid thud of my heart.
"Dear Jesus, you made bees. And we like them very much. We like honey and we like flowers. But Jesus, we like Momma better. So please let Daddy find a place to pull over and let him open the door and let the bee fly away. I know you're gonna' do this, so I'm gonna' say thank you right now. Thank you for keeping the bee from stinging Momma, Jesus. Amen."
My heart resumed its normal pace. In the face of such faith, how could it not? I flipped through the rolodex of my mind and settled on this verse:
The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him,
and he delivers them. Psalm 34:7
The stillness reigned for long, interminable minutes. I repeated that verse like a mantra.
As if according to script, Atticus' prayer was suddenly realized. Mr. Blandings found a shoulder. He raced to the passenger door, flung it open and watched as the bee buzzed away. I sat up (when had I slouched down?) and smoothed my skirt, my hair. All five children began clapping.
We got back on the road and went home. With the windows up, of course.
I suppose my day could have ended the same way that it began, with those few minutes of fear leaving no trace of change in my heart. But I try hard to take my lessons where I find them. That night, in my prayer journal, I wrote this:
Thank you, Lord, for rescuing me. Let me never forget that you are the one who protects me and keeps me safe under your wing. Thank you for the prayers of my children and the peace you sent me. And Lord, thank you for the gift of that terrible moment. Why does it take fear to turn my heart most fully to you? Help me to cling to that quiet vulnerability, even when there are no bees on the horizon.