Just like that, life can change
Updated: Jul 9, 2022
Portland, Maine—After graduating from Adelphian Academy, a Seventh Day Adventist secondary school in Holly, MI, I felt on top of the world. I had a girlfriend in Pontiac, had been accepted at Andrews University and felt as though life would be an endless collection of positive experiences.
While I was too young to realize it then, my parents were responsible for my surviving the pitfalls of growing up and shielding me from the dangers in the world.
My father, Virgil K. Lewis, was two when he lost his father to a lightning strike and grew up in Berrien County, MI, where his mother remarried a farmer from the Shuler family.
After a short stint in the Navy at the end of WWII, my father completed his bachelor's degree at Emmanuel Missionary College (which became Andrews University), and began a career in education. While teaching at Adelphian Academy, he followed the footsteps of his grandmother, writing stories and encouraging his students to write through his English classes and editorship of Adelphian's Shiawassian.
His journey in life and lessons he learned through family, education and reading were complemented by his master’s in communication from the University of Michigan.
But just like that, my father's life was thrown its most severe challenge.
It was after dark on a weekend and my parents picked me up from my girlfriend's house on Crocus Street on the west side of Pontiac. We made our way westbound on the busy five-lane stretch of M-59 heading toward Airport Road, where we would turn right on the way to our home in Holly.
Viewing the headlights from the heavy two lanes of eastbound traffic coming toward us along with the red tail lights of two lanes of westbound cars in front of us reminded me of looking through my kaleidoscope.
I started to think how everything seemed right with the world and I began daydreaming of my future. I was going to be a professional musician, having decided to enroll as a music major at Andrews. I was imagining myself performing "The Flight of the Bumblebee" on my trombone at Carnegie Hall.
The car was uncharacteristically quiet. No one was talking. My father had not yet turned on the car radio, which was permanently tuned in to WJR 760am, broadcasting from The Golden Tower of the Fischer Building in Detroit.
Then, just like that, the tranquility of the moment was shattered by the sound of the most unsettling thud and a piercing scream from my mother.
Even though I was looking straight ahead from the backseat of our four-door Ford Custom, I had not seen what we had hit. My father slammed on the brakes, bringing the car to a screeching halt on the left side of the two westbound lanes.
With emergency vehicles converged on our location, my father got off the car while my mother and I stayed inside. All she could tell me between sobs was that we had hit a man.
My mother and I finally got out of the car. While my dad was being interviewed by the police, we stood by to lend him moral support. We were all in shock.
The investigation seemed to take forever. Even though our family was not one to show much physical affection, I held my mother in my arms as she cried uncontrollably.
An officer came over to console us, and gave us details of the accident. A man had walked out of a bar on the south side of M-59. He foolishly attempted to cross the busy highway and ran across the first two eastbound lanes, stopping in the middle turn lane to wait for west bound traffic to clear. A car turned into the middle turn lane, and in an attempt to avoid that car, the man ran right into the path of our car.
The rest of our trip back home to Holly was incredibly difficult. Just like that, a man's poor judgment had cost him his life. My father was a wreck. It would take years for him to escape the nightmares. He could never completely shake the feeling of guilt, always wondering if there had been something he could have done to avoid the tragedy.
A thorough inquiry by the police and insurance company completely cleared my father of any wrongdoing. He was driving in a responsible manner and did not see the man prior to impact.
Persistence, hard work and a strong faith helped my father overcome this tragedy and continue the very successful path of his career.
My parents moved to Tennessee a couple of years later. For 12 years, my father was a successful PR executive and editor of Nashville Business Journal. He became friends with Johnny Cash, helping influence the production of the legendary singer’s promotional spots for the Seventh-day Adventist Church and its five-day smoking cessation program.
Then, just like that, a glioblastoma tumor took my father’s life.
I am forever grateful for the positive influence and mentorship my father had on my life. I will never forget the lesson I learned from him, that life can change, just like that.
Theodore Lewis is the former CEO of Guam Memorial Hospital and has a health care consulting business based out of Portland, Maine. He is collecting stories about lessons learned in life and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.