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27 January 2015

At the intersection of life and death

Lately Jake has expressed an interest in attending church more regularly.  I honor his request.  I'm not sure there is anything more beautiful than a child's desire to Love God.

I particularly like this church because we can walk to it. The members are long time residents of our eclectic little island, beautiful sinners, a small aging, but hopeful bunch, and the Pastor speaks a plain truth from the gospels.  The walls of this white Folly church shake when the organist leads our traditional hymns: "I Love to Tell the Story," "Pass it On," and "Where He Leads Me."

This Sunday was not unlike many, but Jake had a concern weighing on his heart.  After church, as we were walking home, my sweet boy said, "Did you hear what the pastor said about social media?"  I hadn't.  Really, I wasn't entirely sure Jake was listening to the same sermon I was.

I asked him to explain and he said, "It was like God was speaking directly to me.  I can't let social media or the people on it define me."
I maybe heard the pastor mention it briefly I guess, but I wasn't sure.  I validated that God always speaks to us, and to hear him we must listen.

Under the bright sun and the brisk air, we walked back home.  I had a busy day lined up, so after getting everyone settled into their Sunday afternoon, I rushed out to the grocery store, just a mile up the road.  My plan was to get something in the crock pot and rush downtown to a poetry event at the College of Charleston where a student of mine was performing.

As I crossed the second bridge, I noticed between two big orange construction barrels a car pulled off the side of the road, broken down maybe?  As I passed I saw a man, with the driver's door of his Saturn open, sitting sideways facing the road, his head in his hands, hunched over.  That's strange, I thought... but I kept driving.  Too strange maybe.

Then, I remembered what I heard the Pastor say about being too busy, rushing to and from our events that we forget to do God's work, we don't make time for worship and fellowship.  I paused.  And at Bowen's Island, I turned around.

I've never stopped to help a man on the side of the road before.  I was reluctant and cautious as I approached the barrels near his car. I parked sideways, hoping to draw attention to the scene from other passers by.  I slowly stepped out of my car and said from a distance, "Do you need some help?"

In a fragile voice he responded, "I think so... I might be having a heart attack."  With my phone in hand I approached much more quickly, dialing 911.

About that time, another car approached, a young man and woman. "Do you need help?"

"Yes, please call 911, a possible heart attack." I replied.

I knelt on the ground by the hunched over man.  He wore a white beanie cap on his head and black pants.

I said, "Sir, I'm sorry.  I don't know what to do, but we've called for help.  You are not alone.  It's going to be okay."

He replied, "I hope so." Continuing, "I've tried to call my wife.  I hope she's on the way."

I kept repeating, "I'm here with you.  You're not alone."

My heart was racing, his was struggling.  Much of the next few minutes has a shroud of gray fog covering it.

So helpless and fearful, I said, "Can I pray with you?"

He glanced up at me, for the first time, and said, "yes, please."

I called God in the way he taught us to pray, "Our Father who art in heaven..."

While asking for God to bring us strength and courage and comfort I stopped, and I said to my friend, "I'm sorry, I don't know your name."

He said, "Richard."

And so, as if God didn't already know, I prayed with Richard, and for Richard, by name.

He asked me to take him to the EMS.  He feared he wouldn't make it if we waited.
The young man and woman that stopped offered to help get him in my car.
The three of us weren't able to move him.  Richard sat on the ground between my car and his.
Two women pulled up and asked if we needed help.

Yes, we definitely did.  I stepped back as the nurses took over.  The nurses asked him questions, he replied, "The pain is in my stomach. I can't breathe."

From only a few feet away, I had a better glimpse of him.  It was then I realized, I was looking at the organist from my church.  I called to him, "Richard?  Richard Rewis?  Are you Richard Rewis?"  He affirmed that he was.  I knew him. 

I didn't actually know him.  Prior to this roadside encounter, I had never spoken to him.  I had however been blessed by the power of his worship; from his fingers to his shoulders and with a sway of his head, he danced on the keys of that organ. 

I called home and instructed Abbey to get the number for the pastor off the church bulletin and text it to me.

Standing on the side of the road, with two strangers who wanted to help, praying for Richard, waiting for a text, watching two nurses,  I paused in reverence at the intersection of lives.

The ambulance was near, I could see the lights in the distance.

Richard, hang on buddy, the ambulance is almost here.  I'm calling the church Richard.  I'm going to get in touch with your wife.

The EMS team took over.  Richard was in the ambulance.  Police were directing traffic.
I gave his keys to the police as I spoke with the pastor's wife on the phone.
I told her what I knew and asked if she would please phone Richard's wife, and if it wasn't a burden would she please call me later to tell me Richard was okay.

I continued to pray.  There was nothing more I could do.

On to the grocery store because that's what you do after a man on the side of the road has a heart attack.  I had to get pork chops for the crock pot.

But I couldn't let it go.  That's the way it is with me.  I can't let it go.
I pondered throughout the entire day, What is it all about?  Why?  Surely there is something to this?  But what?

During the poetry event, I heard the voices of young orators reveal the oddities of life, and I prayed for Richard. After the performance, I listened to my messages.  The pastor's wife said that Richard was at Roper, in intensive care.  It wasn't a heart attack, a torn aortic valve.  He needed emergency surgery.

I decided to go to the hospital.  It was across the street from the college.

When I arrived, he was in surgery.  I wasn't family.  No one else was there.  And the nurses due to privacy couldn't tell me anything.

I don't know why I sat there. Maybe his wife would come in and I could sit with her.
Still helpless, I prayed.  I stayed for an hour or more. And then I left.

The rest of the evening was a Sunday evening like any other, except not at all.  We ate pork chops from the crock pot, with green beans, rice and applesauce.  And I prayed some more.

Monday morning I felt hopeful.  Between my first and second classes, I received a call from the pastor.

He told me that the surgery Richard had was routine and all went well.  However, when removing the machines in post op, Richard's heart quit.  Richard had passed.

My heart stopped.  It's a strange thing the way lives intersect.

Richard's wife called me last night.  I'm going to meet her Thursday.  Two widows grieving.

With a heavy heart I still feel helpless, so I write, and I pray.

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