As I ran up to him, the first thing I noticed was the Bible.
It was small, a pocket-sized book, in black leather.
It had apparently been knocked out of his clothing when the car hit him, and had landed beside him in the snow, down off the shoulder of the road.
That was yesterday, a few minutes after 7 in the morning.
It was frigid and there was accumulation and black ice and two cars had slid off the busy Interstate. He had stopped and gotten out to help.
He had been on the way to work, with his son, and he saw the motorists who needed help and he stopped. Countless others of us drove on by. But he stopped.
And got out in the blizzard and was going to render aid when out of nowhere came a vehicle.
He was struck and thrown and he landed where I found him, motionless in the snow, by his Bible.
There was a young man standing above him. A nurse from Strong Memorial Hospital was also there, and maybe another man, motorists who had stopped to render aid.
I knelt by the man in the snow. I could find no pulse in his right wrist. The nurse could find no pulse in his left wrist. She felt at his neck and I counted his breaths.
They were the breaths of someone struggling to stay alive. It was as if he was snoring.
I asked the young man what had happened and he told me and he told me that the man was his father.
He looked to be in his late teens or early 20s. He was well groomed and in business clothes. And his father was at his feet. It struck me what a horror he must be enduring. I asked him if he would pray for us, and he squatted beside his father and we three bowed our heads as he prayed and said “Amen” when he was done.
The exact details of what followed are kind of blurred in my mind, but a lady called 911 on her cell phone and I asked her if I could speak to the dispatcher. I tried to describe the gravity of the man’s condition and I told her we’d need Mercy Flight. It was a foolish request, given the conditions, and she kindly told me that they couldn’t launch in the blizzard. Then I told her that we’d need the county fly car and she told me that it was on its way.
He had a jacket on with the name of his company on it. The ID tag clipped to his shirt said that his name was Ken. Though he was unresponsive, I talked to him and called him by name and encouraged him and told him what was happening.
Traffic was heavy and slow and I kept looking up from the man to see if I could see any emergency vehicles coming.
The first to arrive was a captain from the Department of Environmental Conservation police. His presence was calming and professional. He and the Strong nurse checked the various occupants of the various cars to make sure everyone was all right.
A man from a utility – maybe the electric company or the phone company – came to offer aid.
As the minutes passed, various passersby brought coats and blankets from their cars to lay over the man. One gentleman took the coat off his back and covered the man with it. Then he took off his gloves and put them over the man’s hands.
At a certain point, the man’s wife arrived. She had been called by the son and, their home apparently being close, had arrived quickly.
“Where is he?” I heard her say. “He is my husband.”
I looked up when I heard those words, and saw a woman walking toward us. I was dreading her arrival. I did not want her to see or experience this. I could not imagine the pain and sorrow inherent in a situation like this.
She was dressed as conservative Christian women sometimes are, in a long dress, it might have been denim, and I think her hair was long and up on her head.
As she approached us, she was calm and business like. She asked how he was and what had happened.
Then she knelt and began to pray.
She may have held his hand, she may have leaned in toward his head. As she spoke, I cast my eyes down and reverently listened.
She addressed God. Whether she called him “Dear Lord” or “Heavenly Father” or something else, I can’t recall. But she addressed him, and then she thanked him.
And she offered him praise.
Her words were not words of pleading, they were words of praise and gratitude.
And then she said something like, “If today you wish to call him home and take him from us – thy will be done.”
Thy will be done.
The line from the Lord’s Prayer. The hardest part of faith. At a moment when most of us would be begging God to give us what we want – to spare us our loved one – she asked the Lord to do his will, what he wanted. She trusted him, and had faith in him.
Where could there be a truer test or demonstration of faith than in the snow beside the broken and near lifeless body of your sweetheart and spouse? In that situation, there can be no pretense, no show, only the heartfelt honesty of a soul in direct communion with its Creator.
And in her moment of test, in her own Gethsemane, she literally prayed, like her Savior before her, not my will, but thine, be done.
But if it was not his time to die, if the Lord did not want to call him home, she asked for his life, for her and their children, and strength through the weeks of hospitalization and recovery.
And then she asked that this event would be turned to the glory of God, that somehow it could touch the heart of someone, that someone might find Jesus, that someone might come to salvation.
And that was her prayer.
While I listened for this man’s breaths, and rescuers sped on slippery roads, and neighbor helped neighbor.
Soon I saw a deputy and a trooper, and then a fire truck in the far lanes, and then firefighters around us and finally an ambulance.
They were angels in turnout gear.
They came with such a competence and earnestness.
One medic, a younger man, had an Avon patch on his uniform. He quickly worked to help the man breathe. Another medic, slightly older, had a Livonia patch on his uniform. He worked on the man’s body. Another medic soon came, directly from home, in office clothes, and with the help of the firemen the three of them loaded the man first onto a backboard and then onto a gurney and up into the Avon ambulance.
In a minor and unskilled way, they needed an extra set of hands, so I climbed into the ambulance with them as the doors closed and the rig pulled out.
It may have taken most of an hour to get to Strong Memorial Hospital. We stopped at one point to pick up the Livingston County paramedic. He was a stunningly professional man, and watching him and the others work was like seeing a nuts-and-bolts miracle.
It was high science and true compassion, a moment-by-moment tending of an injured man’s needs. Each medic attending to different tasks or coming together to achieve one. Like a choreographed dance or a loose symphony. I was grateful such people and such technology exist.
In his own way, the ambulance driver performed his own miracles. In stalled bumper-to-bumper traffic, over miles and miles of snowy highway, he pressed forward, moving between and around any obstacles that presented themselves, using his resourcefulness to get the patient where he needed to go.
In the back of the rig, I noticed in the pocket of the man’s shirt six or seven little tracts, religious pamphlets, about the true meaning of Christmas. The sort of thing that religious people pass out inviting others to get saved. As they pulled the gurney out of the rig at the Strong ED, the tracts fell to the floor of the ambulance, wet from the melting snow and stained with the man’s blood.
Later, I would recount this story on the radio, and receive e-mails from coworkers and church members. People who knew him and loved him.
He always carried the Bible and the tracts, they said. And he was the nicest guy they knew. He would do anything for anybody and he and his wife had eight children.
And for the past three years, he and his sons had built with their own hands a house for the family. A house for which they had only recently been granted a certificate of occupancy – a permit for the family to move in and begin its dream life.
He was a good man, doing a good thing, and that didn’t surprise anybody. He came to be hurt because he came to the rescue.
When I went to bed last night, his condition was very grave and prayer requests were echoing across the Internet.
And I couldn’t help but think of the verse from the Gospel of John.
“Greater love hath no man than this,” it reads, “that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
That happened on a cross once, and on battlefields countless times, and sometimes it happens on the side of the road.
I saw something sacred yesterday, and I hope I have communicated it adequately.
I hope I have done my part to help answer a good woman's prayer.