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.