Pray with Me Anyway

“Don’t let me fall,” the injured man said. The firefighter had both arms extended into the wrecked vehicle, and a grip on the man’s shirt. He knew if the crumpled truck went over the bridge he’d not be able to keep the man from going down with it.

“Just keep holding on, brother. We’re gonna cut you out of there,” the firefighter said. “What’s your name?”

The man must not have heard because he ignored the question. He was staring down the hood of the car at the rocks that spread out on the ground far below him like a stony crag gateway to the beyond.

“Hey. Hey, look up at me, man. Don’t look down.” The firefighter was trying to keep the man calm. He knew they were in a close struggle with death and he wanted the injured man to stay focused on him.

“I ain’t come far enough in my life for this,” the man said, looking at the firefighter with eyes that pleaded for saving. “Never once did I ‘magine I’d go out this way, fallin’ to my death in this piece a’shit truck.”

“You aren’t dead yet,” the firefighter said, though truth be told, he was not convinced that was right. The man was bleeding heavily. The firefighter used his other hand to put pressure on the wound. It was slowing the blood somewhat.

“Son, that’s just it. I feel like I been dead for a long time now. I’m alone. I got nothing to show for this life. I wanted to do so much. I wanted to be so much. Now I’m gonna fall down there and smash on them rocks and ain’t no one gonna give a good Goddamn.”

“You’ve got a family, right? A wife and kids? A mom and dad? Everybody’s got a mom and dad.”

“My mama is long gone and I never know’d my daddy. He died a long time ago. I got kids but I messed up there. We don’t speak no more. I guess I was not much of a daddy to ‘em. I doubt they’ll think much of my passin’.”

“Come on, man. That can’t be true. Nobody is a perfect parent. They need you.”

“They needed me, once,” the man said. “But I was too caught up in my own self to pay ‘em much mind. I thought it was their mama’s job to raise ‘em, while I worked and made us a livin’. I framed houses and built whatever needed buildin’, all the while they grew up without me.”

“Every man has to work. Surely they know that. They must know you did it for them.”

“Yea, I ‘spose, but even when I wasn’t workin’ I was not really there with ‘em. I never took the time, ya know? My boy would ask me to throw a baseball. But you know what I’d do instead? I’d tell ‘em I was too tired or too busy or had to grill the supper. One minute I was tellin’ myself I’d do it later and the next minute they was grown up and gone. They was just gone — like that. Now I’ll be the one gone and I’ll never get to tell ‘em I’m sorry for that.”

“You can tell them that yourself when we get you out of here, man. It’s never too late to tell them that. You’re their dad. They love you.”

“They may have once,” the man said. “I guess you’re right that they’d have understood my workin’. But they never understood my drivin’ their mama away. They hate me for it. I hate myself for how I treated her. She didn’t deserve what I done to her, no matter that I hated that woman most days. I just couldn’t go on that way, you know what I mean? I was like a dog in a cage and I ran around like a dog who’d escaped. I don’t blame her for leavin’ me. My kids don’t blame her neither. They blame me, though.”

“None of us are all good or all bad, brother. We all live our lives the best we can. We’re all selfish at times. Hell, most of us are probably selfish most of the time. We all make plenty of mistakes. It’s how we deal with them that makes us who we are. You can keep making ‘em and never look back, and go through life like a shark in the ocean, never stopping swimming. Or, you can stop and reflect and figure out what you’ve done wrong and be sorry about it and try to make it right. Just by how you’re talkin’, I can tell you have regrets and wanna make it right. That’s a start.”

“I got more regrets than I can count,” the man said. “There’s so much I’ve struggled to forget, to bury like a corpse. It all just keeps hauntin’ me, though. It’s hollowed me out over the years. It’s left me empty and like I can’t never fill up again with nothin’ that matters. I thought bein’ a builder with my own business would make me feel like I made it. But I couldn’t never get it goin’. The economy and all and I just couldn’t never get my feet under me enough to start my own thing. I passed up all that time with my kids and got nothin’ to show for it. I failed at it all. I’m just a damn common framer like a thousand other worthless men, with a woman who left him and kids that hate him.”

The firefighter lifted his hand to check the bleeding. It had slowed some but showed only a little clotting. The firefighter wondered what was taking so long to stabilize the vehicle on the bridge before the metal cutting started. He tried to look back but couldn’t crane his head far enough to see.

The hurt man and the firefighter were quiet for a spell. The man had closed his eyes. His breathing was shallow but still regular and the firefighter hoped and allowed himself to think the man might be stable, medically speaking. With his eyes still closed, the man said to the firefighter, “What’s your religion, son?”

“Catholic,” the firefighter said. “I’m Roman Catholic.”

“Well, pray with me anyway, if you would,” the man said. “I’m not the most religious man that’s walked the earth, but if ever was a time to find my way back to Jesus, this’d be it.”

“Alright,” the firefighter said. “You want me to do it, or do you want to say it?”

“I’ll say mine first. Then you say the ‘last dyin’’ prayer you all say, if you would,” the man said. The firefighter didn’t know the prayer for the Catholic Last Rites, not being a priest and all, but he figured he could say something that would work in the moment.

“Okay,” the firefighter said. “I can do that.” The man put his hand over the firefighter’s hand that was covering the wound, and curled his fingers around the firefighter’s hand.

“God, we want to thank you for sending us your only Son, the Savior Jesus, down to save us, God. We ain’t worthy of your mercy, God, nor do we always reckon we get it from you, deserved or not. Despite that, God, we ask your son Jesus to intervene in this moment and show this sinner your mercy in what might be his last moments, God. As you know, he ain’t done much to deserve your mercy, Lord, but he did bring two of your most beautiful children into the world, and that’s got to count for something, God. Watch over those children — grown now — Lord and guide them in the right path. And let ‘em understand, God, that their daddy did the best he could. Help ‘em if they hurt, Lord, and look after their mama, too, Lord. In your name, Amen.”

“That was nicely said, brother,” the firefighter said. “I can’t see how any God up there wouldn’t understand your feelings and honor your prayers.”

“Now say your Catholic prayer, son. Just don’t think you’re switchin’ me over or nothin’ while you say it. I just want to beseech the Savior up there from both angles if I can. You understand.”

“Of course,” the firefighter said. And he started: “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Lord, may you bless this man in his hour of need with your love and mercy and through the grace of the Holy Spirit. May You release him from his sin and raise him up to Your heavenly kingdom, Lord. We ask this in your name, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.”

“Thank you, son, that was real nice. Elegant, even. I guess we’re all squared now, come what may.”

“We’re gonna get you out of there,” the firefighter said. “They’re already cutting the metal, can you hear it? That’s the hydraulic tools. It shouldn’t be long now. Then you can go and make amends with whoever you think needs it in your life.”

“That would be real good if I could do that,” the man said, almost in a whisper. His breathing had gone shallower and he showed a glisten of sweat on his pale brow. “You know,” he continued, barely audible to the firefighter, “this world ain’t near as bad as I thought it was all these years. I wished I’d a’known that all along. I might not a’wasted all the time…”

The man’s eyes closed and his breathing stopped. The firefighter moved his hand and saw that no more blood flowed from the wound. It was pooled all around him in the remains of the vehicle.

He lowered his head onto the man’s chest and wept.

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Susan B
Susan B
2 years ago

Thank you Fru. That was a good story and I can see where your experiences framed it. You must have dealt with the issue a lot as a firefighter and as a SEAL dealing with sadness and the inevitable.

2 years ago

Always good to contemplate your own end before you’re there. It kind of prioritizes things in your life. And makes you appreciative for the good things you have been given. I agree with Eckhart Tolle when he writes “The secret of life is to die before you die and find that there is no death.”

2 years ago

Fru, this is awesome. What a powerful piece. I just loved it. I am sure this story was framed by your own experiences – thank you for sharing these with us in such a moving way. God bless, from one Catholic to another.

2 years ago

Dude. That hit the feels, hard. And then this, haha: “Just don’t think you’re switchin’ me over or nothin’ while you say it. I just want to beseech the Savior up there from both angles if I can.” <3

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