School has begun.

And once again the roadsides are filling with children.Once again parents are recalling fatal crosswalk accidents of years past and praying for safety.

I'm one of them. I have a child in school myself. And I think about those lost children.

I also think about the drivers whose lives were changed forever in the blink of an eye.

A dear friend of mine - an ordained clergyman - was the dri-ver in such an accident. But unlike many others, he found a way to turn his distress into a blessing.

In fact, I think his story is key to Christian faith.

He gave me permission to tell that story but not to tell his name.

I'll simply call him "my friend."

Months ago he was driving along an urban street when he saw children on his left playing close to the traffic. He kept his eye on those children, which meant he didn't see the child darting into his path from the right.

The little boy was struck and killed.

And my friend's own heart came to a stop along with his car.

My friend had worked with kids for years. He'd taken them to movies, sharing an evening with a youngster who needed a father or just a buddy.

He'd traveled hundreds of miles to sit in dim rooms and counsel teens about the ills of the world. He was a youth minister.

And the fact he'd be behind the wheel that day seemed a gruesome twist of fate.

"I went with a police officer to visit the mother, but she wouldn't see me," he told me later. "So I helped with the burial in a roundabout way. The mother moved and I never did see her. Yet, you know, during the weeks that followed, God seemed to shield me from total despair so I could carry on."

For my friend, carrying on meant ministering to people in pain - both physical and emotional. And about that time another man was suffering greatly.

He, too, had accidently killed a child with his automobile.

He, too, had felt his heart stop cold.

If you believe in chance, the odds of the two meeting were slim. If you believe in Providence, however, the meeting was inevitable.

They met, spoke and opened their hearts.

"He was battling so many inner-demons," my friend recalls. "He felt like a monster. Then I told him about my own experience, thinking God might use it to help him."

The things the two men shared are the stuff of personal religion, not public religion. My friend held out hope and his new friend reached for it. They held on.

Today, my friend continues helping people in pain. He refers to himself simply as "a servant of God" and lives - I feel - a heroic life.

And the story he told will live with me forever.

It is like a Bible story, both heartbreaking and full of lessons.

It is also a story that almost didn't come to light.

You see, there's a postscript to this story. For months my friend refused to let me print it. The real story, he told me, was the other man's spiritual response, not his own small role. He didn't want to be seen as the central figure. And he didn't want the story to become another media piece with no spiritual component.

But I was fortunate.

Over the years my friend had helped me find my own heart, just as he helped that fellow motorist.

I told him the other motorist may have gone through a unique experience when he ran into that child. Yet even then he found someone else - my friend - who'd been there and understood his suffering.

I told him I felt it showed the essence of Christian faith. When we suffer, we have faith "another" has been there; that "another" - who has suffered all - will find us and offer hope.

If it could happen on a small scale in his story, it could happen on a grand scale for us all.

And I could say that because he'd helped me to believe, just as he'd helped that other motorist.

The phone line fell silent as my friend thought long and hard.

The fact you're reading this column was his response.