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The Day the Cows Could Count

Not only was God looking out for me. God has a sense of humor!

dairy cows grazing on green field on a clear summer day

I hadn’t wanted to get divorced. I kept hoping my wife and I would be able to work things out eventually. But she was set in her decision. She packed up and moved with the kids to a new place, some three hours from the house we’d once shared as a family. She was already dating someone new.

I looked forward to seeing my two young sons every Friday. But I dreaded the reminder of the way things used to be. We would never again have movie nights on a random Thursday after school. I couldn’t even see my sons on any given Thursday. I’d been relegated to picking them up from a nondescript parking lot every Friday night—a journey that took me six hours round-trip.

I wanted to believe that one day all of this would make sense, like they tell you in those books about finding your life’s purpose. That I would heal, move on and realize my time of suffering was a miracle in disguise. But that was impossible. My heart would never mend itself. Nice guys like me finished last. We didn’t get the miracles.

At least, that’s what I told myself. Until one Friday.

It was pouring rain that night. I’d had to pick up the boys later than the usual time, close to eight o’clock. My ex had been delayed. Something about having to meet up with her new boyfriend after work. The kids lugged their weekend bags from her car to mine. She barely acknowledged me before driving off into the night. We headed in the opposite direction, toward the old highway that cut through field after field of Mississippi farmland.

The boys were usually chatty on this leg of the journey. They’d fill me in on their week at school, play car games and compete with each other to get my attention. I loved every minute. This night, however, maybe because of the later hour, they had zonked out by the time I merged onto the highway. My youngest was in the backseat and my oldest was in the passenger seat, their heads lolling with every bump in the road.

I was actually thankful for the quiet. I needed to concentrate. It was pitch black outside, and I could barely see what lay ahead because of the rain pelting the car. I thought about pulling over, waiting for the weather to let up. But there were no shoulders on the tree-lined, poorly lit four-lane. And to be honest, I just wanted to get home.

How hard would it have been for my ex to meet me on time? She knew how long my drive was. Why hadn’t she considered my plans, my feelings? I couldn’t help but think of the future we might have had. If she hadn’t left, we might be out to dinner right now, the four of us. Laughing over something silly the waiter had said. Instead, I was stuck in this Mississippi monsoon.

I couldn’t see a thing. I switched on my brights. Even that didn’t help. The road went up a hill. I made it to the top and headed down the other side, lightning flashing all around. Then thunder. So close and loud that I almost jumped out of my seat. I glanced at the boys. Somehow they were still asleep.

I turned my eyes back to the road and nearly slammed on the brakes. Something was moving across the highway at the bottom of the hill! I got closer and gasped. Four huge somethings! Four cows crossing the highway in the dead of night, moving from left to right. They must have escaped from a farm. They walked in a straight line and were hardly moving. And I was 50 yards away, headed straight for them.

My mind jumped into overdrive. I couldn’t swerve—the highway had no shoulders. I couldn’t honk—that would do nothing. I couldn’t slow down—I was going too fast. If I made any sudden movement on the slippery road, we’d crash into the trees framing the old roadway. It was an impossible situation. Not sure what else to do, I yelled, “Jesus, help!” and prepared to step on the brakes.

Instantly, the cows stopped moving. And I heard it. A firm but quiet voice. Deep from within. “Don’t hit the brakes. Grab the wheel tight.”

I grabbed the wheel, kept the same speed and headed straight for the line of cows. “Oh God,” I said. “Oh God!”

It happened quickly but like a movie in slow motion. I thought I was seeing things. The cows separated— two rolled forward, two rolled backward. They didn’t walk. They didn’t run. No, they glided out of the way, as if they had roller skates on. Like some bovine rendition of Moses parting the Red Sea.

My car rocketed through the gap, no more than 12 inches of clearance on either side. I was too shocked to stop, too terrified to glance back and take my eyes off the road again. I was grateful—eternally grateful—but totally freaked out too. What on earth had happened back there? The boys never woke through it all; they hadn’t even stirred.

We made it home, and I put the kids to bed. I couldn’t sleep. I just couldn’t put that strange scene on the highway out of my mind. Had those cows moved out of the way on their own? Or had something— or someone—pushed them?

I talked it over with a farmer friend of mine. I told him how the cows had moved forward and backward, as if levitating. “You know, David,” he said, “cows rarely, if ever, walk backward. What happened to you is kind of a miracle.”

Just like how I eventually found my way back on my feet after my divorce. It wasn’t easy. But every time I was beginning to despair, I thought back to that rainy Friday night on that old country highway. And of the four cows that made me believe in the impossible.

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