Saturday Snippet: There, but for the grace of God, go I…


I posted a snippet from the late Pentecostal pastor Jamie Buckingham in these pages back in 2020.  His wit and wisdom helped me in the past, and I still dip into his books now and again, because their message stays fresh even with the passage of time.

This one, like the previous example, is from his collection of short articles titled “The Last Word“.

This story in particular has always been a powerful reminder to me that I need to put myself into the shoes of others, rather than just look at things from my own, often selfish perspective.

I parked my car, shut off the headlights, and walked back to the little knot of people who were standing beside the darkened highway.

Lying on his back with body grotesquely bent was a man. He had been struck by a car. Both shoes had been knocked off by the impact which had picked up his body and smashed it against the windshield. Little bits of flesh and hair were still imbedded in the shattered glass and twisted windshield wiper.

The crowd seemed strangely disinterested in the man’s body. Someone had thrown a dirty canvas tarp over his legs as though this were as close as he wished to get. Little groups of people stood around talking to each other. Two of the men had cans of beer in their hands, having just stepped outside of a roadside joint nearby.

I knelt beside the man and heard him breathing. The neon lights from the tavern cast weird reflections on his twisted body. His eyes were open and glassy. His breath sounded like someone sucking on a straw in a nearly empty milkshake cup.

I put my hand on his chest but quickly removed it. It felt like a plastic bag filled with water. I turned his head so the blood would run out of his mouth rather than back down his throat. I tried to brush some of the dirt and gravel from his face, but it all seemed so futile. I looked up from my kneeling position but the people were still standing in little groups several feet away. No one offered to help.

He stopped breathing for long agonizing seconds, then came another gurgling gasp. His body was straining to stay alive, although I had the impression his spirit had already departed. I bent low over him to try to speak, but the smell of cheap liquor was so strong it forced me back. He was dying—maybe dead—drunk.

The ambulance arrived and the attendants gently placed his dirty, torn body on a stretcher and sped off into the night. I knew the report would read DOA: dead on arrival.

After talking to the patrolman who had arrived, I walked back to my car. I caught snatches of conversation—“been in every bar along the road” . . . “staggered into the path of a speeding car on the four-lane.”

A fat man silhouetted in the door of the honky-tonk muttered to a friend, “Serves him right. He deserved to get hit after acting the way he did in here.”

I wondered if he would feel the same way if it had been his son—and shuddered involuntarily as I realized he probably would.

The paper the next morning said the man was estranged from his wife and four children. Had no friends. Had been fired from his job. Belonged to no church.

That was a number of years ago. But I remember it took me several days to scrub the bloodstains from my hands. However, I finally got them clean, in time for church services Sunday where we sat in our cozy building and sang songs about how much we loved one another.

Would anyone care to join me in a heartfelt, “Ouch! That hurt!”?  It always does, to get a spiritual slap in the face like that . . . but we all need it, because we can very quickly lose touch with the reality of being human.

I’ll let John Donne have the last word today.

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.




  1. Some people commit suicide fast; some do it slow.
    The serious ones get it done, sooner or later.
    Feeling bad about it after it's far too late is easy.
    If the guy was moved enough to do something besides write about it, I'd respect the opinion more.

    Gone to the guy's funeral?
    Make sure he got a decent burial, rather than a burlap sack tossed into Potter's Field?
    See his family? See if they needed anything?
    Even light a candle for him?
    Nope. Too hard. Not his problem.

    Some people are estranged, friendless, and jobless for a reason. Some of them get tired of eating pig swill and walk home to 'fess up. Most never do.

    As it is, the essay is more of a virtue-signal that only cost a bit of time and ink. With a hat tip to still having a shred of basic humanity and conscience, once the price of one was marked dwon to pretty much being "free".

    Donne got some things right, and some things wrong.
    Every man's death doesn't diminish me.
    Some sadden me.
    Some make me happy.
    I can't cry for the person wracked with Stage IV metastatic cancer who's literally "free at last". I would that it had been home in their bed than on my hospital gurney, but the ending was the end of their suffering, and I can't get sad about that, at least not for them.

    And I've seen a couple of people fresh from careening into one, two, five, or more others, left dead and maimed, who then expired themselves, despite best efforts. Some too who literally brought a knife to a gunfight while sticking up a store, and paid for that poor judgement in haste. One rarely sees Eternal Judgement sentenced in human time frames and served out, but it's not always a bad thing when you do, IMHO. I'm sad for the victims – their own family's and others' – they left behind, sure. But for them, themselves? Not so much.

    And BTW, it takes about 2 minutes of soap and water and a bit of scrubbing to get bloodstains from your hands, poetic license to the contrary be damned. Ask me how I know.

  2. There are several personal experiences which have awakened me to the disgusting nature of human behavior. Even when one is quite able to aid another, its a sucker's bet that they will.

    Reading the many accounts in the Holy Bible shows that people haven't changed from the beginning to now. The parable of the good Samaritan is well known. But there are many accounts much worse, shockingly so.

    Yet always are people comforting themselves with the lie that they would certainly not act in such manner.

  3. Only A Boche

    We brought him in from between the lines: we'd better have let him lie;
    For what's the use of risking one's skin for a tyke that's going to die?
    What's the use of tearing him loose under a gruelling fire,
    When he's shot in the head, and worse than dead, and all messed up on the wire?
    However, I say, we brought him in. Diable! The mud was bad;
    The trench was crooked and greasy and high, and oh, what a time we had!
    And often we slipped, and often we tripped, but never he made a moan;
    And how we were wet with blood and with sweat! but we carried him in like our own.

    Now there he lies in the dug-out dim, awaiting the ambulance,
    And the doctor shrugs his shoulders at him, and remarks, "He hasn't a chance."
    And we squat and smoke at our game of bridge on the glistening, straw-packed floor,
    And above our oaths we can hear his breath deep-drawn in a kind of snore.
    For the dressing station is long and low, and the candles gutter dim,
    And the mean light falls on the cold clay walls and our faces bristly and grim;
    And we flap our cards on the lousy straw, and we laugh and jibe as we play,
    And you'd never know that the cursed foe was less than a mile away.
    As we con our cards in the rancid gloom, oppressed by that snoring breath,
    You'd never dream that our broad roof-beam was swept by the broom of death.

    Heigh-ho! My turn for the dummy hand; I rise and I stretch a bit;
    The fetid air is making me yawn, and my cigarette's unlit,
    So I go to the nearest candle flame, and the man we brought is there,
    And his face is white in the shabby light, and I stand at his feet and stare.
    Stand for a while, and quietly stare: for strange though it seems to be,
    The dying Boche on the stretcher there has a queer resemblance to me.

    It gives one a kind of a turn, you know, to come on a thing like that.
    It's just as if I were lying there, with a turban of blood for a hat,
    Lying there in a coat grey-green instead of a coat grey-blue,
    With one of my eyes all shot away, and my brain half tumbling through;
    Lying there with a chest that heaves like a bellows up and down,
    And a cheek as white as snow on a grave, and lips that are coffee brown.

    And confound him, too! He wears, like me, on his finger a wedding ring,
    And around his neck, as around my own, by a greasy bit of string,
    A locket hangs with a woman's face, and I turn it about to see:
    Just as I thought . . . on the other side the faces of children three;
    Clustered together cherub-like, three little laughing girls,
    With the usual tiny rosebud mouths and the usual silken curls.
    "Zut!" I say. "He has beaten me; for me, I have only two,"
    And I push the locket beneath his shirt, feeling a little blue.

    Oh, it isn't cheerful to see a man, the marvellous work of God,
    Crushed in the mutilation mill, crushed to a smeary clod;
    Oh, it isn't cheerful to hear him moan; but it isn't that I mind,
    It isn't the anguish that goes with him, it's the anguish he leaves behind.
    For his going opens a tragic door that gives on a world of pain,
    And the death he dies, those who live and love, will die again and again.

    So here I am at my cards once more, but it's kind of spoiling my play,
    Thinking of those three brats of his so many a mile away.
    War is war, and he's only a Boche, and we all of us take our chance;
    But all the same I'll be mighty glad when I'm hearing the ambulance.
    One foe the less, but all the same I'm heartily glad I'm not
    The man who gave him his broken head, the sniper who fired the shot.

    No trumps you make it, I think you said? You'll pardon me if I err;
    For a moment I thought of other things . . .Mon Dieu! Quelle vache de gueerre.

    Robert William Service

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