Very hard lessons
With the new year, I decided to use my blog not just for gentle biblical devotions, but to examine lessons from my life’s hard cases. I’ve endured a number of trials by fire over the past 61 years, from a near-drowning experience to slicing up a finger to burning the skin off my right hand. I tumbled through a real-life screwball farce that ran from a car wash debacle to repair bills I couldn’t afford to a counterfeit money transfer and a Secret Service investigation of my life (does that sound familiar?). A stupid decision to drive on black ice slid me into a nine-car pileup that crumpled the engine compartment and ripped the trunk off my sparkling new evergreen Neon. I helplessly endured years where my parents succumbed to dementia. One newspaper job forced me to probe police racism charges and a bloody suicide, while another put me at ground zero of the Oklahoma City bombing. And above all those hangs my divorce, bankruptcy, and separation from my beloved kids.
Such experiences give new meaning to biblical verses like Romans 5:3-4, which tells us: “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.”
That’s why I’m making this new year’s turn. I plan to share more about these refining fires so that, when my gentle devotionals touch on such things, you’ll know I’ve been there. And perhaps these words may help you with your own problems.
So let me tell you exactly what happened with The Attack of one year ago today.
There I was, walking to church this fine Sunday morning while reading In Cold Blood – I know that sounds ironic, and so it was, but I read while I walk, as many of you know, and that book represents that day’s read, so just pass over that and go on with this exciting tale.
So there I was, walking to church this fine Sunday morning while reading In Cold Blood, when I heard someone shouting curse words. I looked from the pages to see a probable homeless man, his hair somewhat frazzled, his clothes worn. He stood about a half-block down my path, a large silver beer can in his hands, his eyes on the skies, his focus being one long rant against the world. Deciding to give him a wide berth, I altered my direction and dove back into my book, for it was oh so tense, this classic. Soon I heard the interloper again, shouting the same angry words, though louder. Much louder. Realizing his walk had carried him to a corner in my way, I looked left to curve wide around him. I checked for traffic, then glanced back at my obstacle.
He had advanced through the middle of the street, eyeing me with a mad fury.
Having dealt with many a homeless visitor, I chose to win his trust with a calm, respectful approach. Standing my ground, I asked if everything was OK. I would have offered help, but it little mattered, as he didn’t respond. I wonder if he even heard me. On he came, throwing a rapid punch. I stepped back, raising my book between us. Flowing with obscenities, he hurled his can at my face. It hit my glasses, and both spun away. I suspect that’s when the cut opened just above my right eye, but I don’t know for sure. A sudden fog enveloped my world. I tried to back away, but I had no idea where I was going. My gaze was not just fuzzy, but cloudy white, as if in my maneuvering I’d looked right into the sun. Yet with this blindness I felt a calm clarity. I didn’t want to hurt someone I feared mentally ill. In truth, I never want to hurt anyone. I’m a Christian; I should be above that – and I bear enough guilt from past reckless wounds inflicted by my hand or tongue. But I could not help him if I could not see. I stopped, tried to spy my glasses, and envisioned the grey shadow of a fist surging my way.
I think it connected, but I do not know for sure, for in trying evasive maneuver omega, or something of that sort, I stumbled over the street curb and fell flat on my back, my book having somehow escaped my hold.
Another punch connected, though like the others, it was sloppily thrown, with little force. While I couldn’t help feeling sorry for this guy, something told me I couldn’t just lay there with him swearing and spiking me. He might actually connect some time…. like that one just then to my mouth.
I pushed him back and he came on. I repelled him again, rolling to my left – and felt something warm and wet. Blood, and from what I could tell, in more than one place. I had never experienced anything like that before. Indeed, I had not been in a fight since childhood – which may signal a possible lapse in my exercise choices. I got to my knees and touched my cheek, surprised to find fluid there. I feared this sight might egg his madness on, but as my vision started to return, I heard him yelling at someone else. A challenger from across the street had engaged him. I think my attacker charged this hero, though I could not see what happened – that blood occupied my mind. I could feel it flowing now, from somewhere around my forehead. I tried to stop that leak with my right hand when a lady’s voice asked if I was alright.
Noticing again my knees on the ground, I stood up to find one young lady at my side… apparently the driver of a car idling beside me. Another concerned lass leaned out of the passenger’s window.
My attacker was gone.
Their clear questions brought my focus back to my church trip. These ladies told me I was covered in blood, which I could see on my right hand, my jacket, and the legs of my dress pants. Not quite grasping how it might look to others, I asked my new friends if they thought I should go on to church like this. A concerned look flashed across their faces. The passenger called the police, and in her description of the scene, I realized I might indeed have a problem. I did then something I hate doing: I took a few selfies. That’s when I found the ladies were oh so right. My face looked like the masterpiece of some gore-loving makeup artist.
I debated stepping into the nearby Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market to clean up, so I wouldn’t scare the worshippers when I arrived, but as I pondered that, I realized I didn’t know where that restroom was. Looking for it would surely frighten the grocery customers. I also doubted it wise to wear those pants at church. Perhaps I could run home and change…
With that short mental exercise, a cop drove up. I thanked the ladies, we traded names I promptly forgot (not my own, just theirs), and I repeated my story to this policeman. He asked who had attacked me. Lo and behold, I saw my assailant over the officer’s shoulder, meandering angrily on down the block I had earlier passed. I pointed him out as one lawman signaled his approach, then another. My patrolman told them of the accused, who they soon apprehended. The officer then asked if I wanted an EMSA ambulance ride to a hospital emergency room. As I had refused such help after enduring a broken foot in a nine-car pileup, I refused it now. This was just a cut, after all. He smiled, then suggested I at least see the ambulance techs who had just arrived.
While I sat in that ambulance, trying to make sense of this whole mess, one tech cleaned my face and wound, the other posed questions. The policeman returned, wondering if I wished to press charges. I didn’t know what good it would do with someone either mentally ill or high on drugs… I’ve seen or read of so many situations where such people slipped through the justice system. He nodded and returned to the question. I said I didn’t want to hurt a man who obviously needed help, and since I’d seen him and failed to avoid him, this was partially my fault.
That, everyone insisted, was wrong – I was not responsible for someone attacking me. Everyone has the right to freely walk and live across these public lands – and that, I realized, was exactly right. But I still felt the need to be merciful.
Another officer pointed out that throwing the can – a large energy drink, not a beer can, as I’d mistakenly seen it – was potentially assault with a deadly weapon. They also told me this man had verbally confronted people dining at a nearby restaurant just two days before, though no violence resulted from it. That echoed tales my restaurant-operating friends had often shared with me… how they could do little about mentally ill visitors at their tables unless violence or obstruction resulted, which rarely happened if they handled these people with careful hands. Indeed, these managers trained for such situations, for they endure such incidents far too often.
I pondered all this while the EMTs asked if I wanted a ride to an emergency room. I repeated my natural response to that, which brought a recommendation I visit an urgent care office. I really saw no need – from what I could tell, the cut above my eye was not even a quarter-inch long. They contested that, doubting the laceration would stay shut without stitches. I expressed hope for a butterfly bandage… something they felt would not work so close to the eye. They then raised the ante, inquiring about my last tetanus shot… which I couldn’t remember.
Somewhere in all this, someone pointed out my leather jacket had a huge rip in one sleeve. They wondered what had caused that, and if I had any other injuries. I had no idea about the jacket, one of my dad’s old ones I cherished. My hands and right ankle ached from the unexpected combat, but otherwise I felt fine. No headaches.
The police returned, wanting a final answer on whether I would press charges or file a complaint. I asked for a recommendation. They could not make one, but explained what each option involved. Contested in my heart, I chose a complaint. The police told me to expect a court hearing in a short time. My assailant was released to stomp off anew, his police paperwork wadded up in his pocket.
By the time all this was done, my 9:30 church service was well underway. I decided to walk back home, wash up, change pants, set the stained ones to soak, and head back to church. But first I gave in to communications instincts and texted news of the attack to my family, with pics.
I will not go into the debate that followed. Just know that it echoed and enhanced everything covered above. End result, it offered another example that I am loved. I often forget that.
In cleaning this mess, I discovered dried blood in my hair. It provided a truly interesting crimson sheen. I had never thought of coloring those dead cell strings before. I suspect there are easier ways of doing it, but still, it intrigued me. Even more stimulating was figuring out how to get that mess off my noggin without jumpstarting the cut. My final method’s not worth noting, except to say it almost worked. Almost.
That, and the advancing clock, finally made me decide to go to urgent care. For as I finally got the pants soaking, the day ticked past 11 a.m. – the starting point of both my Sunday school classes and my second worship service. So I got into the car and drove with my aching ankle, feeling ever more comfortable with the urgent care choice as the blood flow picked up along my drive. Also, I figured these guys could say whether or not I needed the shot. While the latter proved true (or so I deduced from their evidence), the nurses decided they could not tackle the cut. It was far too close to my right eye. They also raised the ante, saying I needed a head scan to make sure my skull held no fractures. The ER anchored my horizon after all.
Heading toward their recommended site, I warded off new nightmares of pending bills. My newspaper background gave me detailed experience in health care reform concerns. I also feared endurance issues, as every one of today’s health care professionals warned me to expect long service delays. Concerned, I called ahead, but received no assurances either way – so I went in and sat it out. The end result did indeed take me past 4 p.m., leaving me quite hungry from missing breakfast and lunch. But through this endeavor:
• I received my first CAT scan, which offered a cool view inside my brain. I have no idea what the images mean, but the insight was interesting.
• I now know I have had a recent tetanus shot, which should see me through another five years of potential cuts and infections.
• I endured my first lesson in eyebrow needlepoint. Tis an interesting thing to watch, though most of the time I kept my eyes shut. Those little curved pins have a certain ironic appeal, one tempered by a required return visit in a week to have the thread removed.
Speaking of irony, I also enhanced today’s read. Now my copy of In Cold Blood will carry splotches of my own cold blood for the rest of its life. Imagine that value on eBay!
Yes, irony. The truth is, I was fortunate to emerge from all this with just a very expensive cut – one that, when all the billing ended, ran to nearly $10,000 – all for three stitches, a shot, that MRI, and the services required to get them. Gathering together all these memories taught me a very hard lesson: I had lowered my guard to a dangerous level. I saw this man on my path but took inadequate defensive measures. Recklessly positive, I walked into trouble. If this man had held a knife or a pipe instead of an energy drink can, I might be dead. But he didn’t, and I’m not. This time.
Let me close with some words of Christ that put this in some perspective. “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace,” Jesus said, His words captured for all time in the 16th chapter of John’s gospel, verse 33. “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
This goes well with another quote of Christ, this one found in Matthew 10:28 – “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”