The Davies' children are Mac, 7; Gilbert, 6; Adaline, 5; and John Henry, 2.
A Father, on Good Footing
Things weren't looking good for John Davies following his car accident in 2008. Above, he is in the ICU.
By Felix Carroll (Apr 25, 2014)
Late one December evening on an admittedly reckless errand by foot, John Davies slipped on ice on the sidewalk, lay immobilized on his back, and stared up at the sky. It was as good a time as any to reflect on a tense discussion he had earlier that day with his wife.
She had tried to convince him to face a daunting new reality that things could never be the same again. He decided then and there that she was right and he was wrong.
Ever self-deprecating, John understood this was a particularly pathetic moment to have an epiphany — helpless, on his back, in the freezing cold — but lately he had become accustomed to being on his back assessing his life and trying to be honest with himself.
This was 2008, nine months after a horrifying car accident nearly killed him. The accident left him with a serious brain injury. After weeks in a vegetative state, John had come-to, but his speech was stilted, his vision somewhat blurred, he would get confused, and his short-term memory was compromised. He would walk with a limp. He would be unsteady behind the wheel of automobiles.
That December, as if in denial of his condition, John spoke of returning to work as a seventh grade school teacher. The tension between husband and wife was thick. The months of recuperation and uncertainties had taken their toll. Laura decided it was time to level with him.
"John, I know you liked teaching, but there's just no way," she said. The future, Laura argued, would require her finishing her Ph.D and securing a job while John stayed home and cared for their growing family.
From the Depths of Despair
His headstrong trek on this slick sidewalk along Genesee Street in Syracuse, N.Y., was his effort to prove to Laura that he hadn't given up — and to prove to himself he was ready to resume life as the family breadwinner.
Moments later, flat on the sidewalk, he felt God's grace plucking him out from the depths of despair. He got to thinking: "There are many jobs, after all, with many different purposes. Some are prestigious, some exotic, and some even lucrative. But none are as noble or rewarding as at that which humbly seeks to do loving service for others."
In other words, he loved his wife and he loved his children, and he was ready and willing to serve them in any way necessary.
When he finally pulled himself back up from the ice, John had come to a decision: He would be a stay-at-home dad — the best stay-at-home dad he could be. He then made haste to continue his errand and hobbled down to the grocery store. There, he bought a jumbo pack of diapers and two tokens of his love for his wife: carrot cake (her favorite) and flowers. He made it home on two feet.
When he got back, the house was quiet. Laura was rocking to sleep their youngest of three children at the time, 1-year-old Adaline. Laura and John apologized to each other. When John announced his intentions, Laura said "You're hired."
She had an announcement of her own: She was pregnant.
Word and Deed
John and Laura met in the choir at Le Moyne, a Jesuit college in Syracuse, when he was a graduate student and she was a freshman. Indeed, that late-night trek for diapers had a precursor: When John and Laura were dating, he would regularly hoof it up a mile-long hill to visit Laura at her dormitory — even if the visit could only be for 15 minutes. He felt then, as he feels now, that simply declaring his love for her — though imperative — was never enough. He had to demonstrate it.
This mindset corresponds perfectly with Christ's call for us to be merciful and loving through both word and deed. As it turns out, in the aftermath of the car accident, word and deed sustained the Davies.
John was on his way to work in the morning on March 14, 2008 when tragedy struck on a rural highway. He can't recall what happened, but police pieced together that the car he was driving veered into the opposing lane and collided with another car. John may have swerved to avoid hitting a deer, or he may have fallen asleep at the wheel. No one knows.
While the occupant in the second car was not injured, first responders found John unconscious and entrapped in his mangled car. They had to use the hydraulic tools known as the Jaws of Life to cut him free, and he was then rushed to a trauma center by means of an emergency helicopter.
By the time the state trooper came knocking on the door to inform Laura of the accident, doctors weren't sure if John would survive. He was in a coma for three and a half weeks.
"When I regained consciousness," John says, "my first question was, 'How is the other person in the accident?' Then, 'How's my family?'"
Leaned on Faith
Doctors didn't expect John would recover from a vegetative state. The Davies attribute his impressive recovery to the mercy of God and to the many, many people who rushed to their aid through word and deed.
Employees at the Marian Helpers Center in Stockbridge, Mass., learned of the accident on the morning it occurred through employee Theresa Barrett, the maternal aunt of Laura.
"After I received a call from my relatives, I placed John on our Divine Mercy Intercessory Prayerline," Theresa says. She also saw to it that John be included in the intentions during the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, which is prayed daily at 3 p.m. at the center.
At the school where he taught, his co-workers mobilized and donated sick days so he could stay on salary and benefits for an entire year. This was a huge help, particularly with Laura still being in grad school.
"We really felt the prayers of so many people," says John.
"We were given the support so that all we had to think about was just simply taking one day at a time," says Laura. "All the support we received brought a sense of calm."
Songs to the Lord
On Father's Day weekend 2008, John was released from the hospital. From there, he embarked on an intensive regimen of outpatient rehabilitation. With his cognitive functioning still strained, one of the things that helped him stay focused was singing — in bed.
"Laura brought me the church hymnal," John, a cantor at his church, recalls, "and I sang as much as I could. My voice was still very weak, but it felt stronger as I sang."
The hymns he loved singing most included "O God, Beyond All Praising," which the Davies sung at their wedding in 2004 and at each of their children's baptisms. Perhaps the most inspiring for him was singing the hymn, "It Is Well with My Soul," whose lyrics begin:
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
"The hymns inspired me to say 'OK, it's time to get to work. It's time to do what I need to do,' which I knew would take work."
It's Not Luck
Laura got her Ph.D in May 2012. The family now lives in Colorado where she works as assistant professor of writing at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.
It all worked out. She got the job. He stays home with their four kids. It's the best job he could have ever imagined. And the kids have both parents — alive and well.
"We are definitely not lucky," says John. "If we were lucky, I would not have gotten in the accident in the first place. But we are blessed. God has blessed us. We really leaned on our faith, and our faith was never shaken."
"It wasn't the wreck that changed me," John says. "It was the kindness I saw afterwards."
A kindness that motivated him to get back up on two feet.